Of all of the new holiday fare sure to be paraded on the networks this season, PBS comes up with an instant classic with this delightful special that has something for everyone. “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas,” the first primetime one-hour special based on the popular children’s series by Marc Brown, is a thoughtful, inclusive and highly entertaining story for all ages.
Created by the team that has garnered three Emmys over five seasons, “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” follows the holiday adventures of the colorful characters of Elwood City. And like most folks around the holidays, even these animated animals aren’t immune to the pressures of the season.
Arthur, an eight-year-old aardvark, has big plans for Christmas, and like the harried adults around him, he wants everything to go perfectly for the holidays. But as the big day gets closer, unexpected obstacles get in the way.
To begin with, Arthur’s caterer dad decides to forgo the traditional turkey dinner in favor of an “authentic” Christmas meal with hummus and dates. Arthur’s four-year-old sister D.W. has her own ideas about decorating the tree and pesters her older brother with constant rewrites on her letter to Santa.
The idea of seeing the holidays as a time of pressure and stress even for kids makes for an interesting new twist, and writer Peter Hirsch works in many issues and ideas with a subtle touch.
While Arthur frets over his traditional Christmas, his friends face their own problems. Buster, Arthur’s best friend, is already exhausted from the nonstop holiday festivities that his mother has frantically organized in effort to compensate for an absentee dad.
Meanwhile, best friends Muffy and Francine get into a fight when Muffy declares that Hanukkah isn’t as important as Christmas. The Brain and his family have to explain why they celebrate Kwanzaa while Binky tortures everyone with his experimental cooking as he and his family prepare to work at a shelter on Christmas Day.
Director Greg Bailey handles all of these stories in tandem, yet never steers toward information overload or cheap holiday sentiments. Keeping the issues light and entertaining is a wonderfully creative score of original songs, including “Baxter Day” by Barney Saltzberg and “What’s the Use of Presents” by director Hirsch.
As usual, the animation is slick and colorful, although astute fans of the series may notice some discrepancies in the voice actors — D.W. and the Brain have a new sound and Arthur’s voice actor, Michael Yarmush, is growing up even though the his character remains a perpetual eight-year-old. The appeal of the show and its characters, however, is unscathed.
Tech credits are top notch with special kudos to the cadre of character and background designers who give depth and detail to this clever tale.