I am a huge fan of Arthur. I have seen every episode in the first nineteen seasons, and in my old blog (which got deleted due to my address being deleted) I reviewed every season. Despite this I never saw this special until then due to bad times it aired. The special was around 15 years old when I saw it and to my surprise, I did not like it. It was too ambitious for what the writers were ready for at the time, and it was made when the show was on a rebuilding season. It is a typical episode stretched into an hour five times longer than it should be.
“Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” is the finale to season 5, which had many issues. In seasons 1-4 Ken Scarborough and Joe “Crazy Joe” Fallon were the head writers. They both left after season 4 leaving Kevin Hirsch (a veteran from all 4 seasons) as the new head writer, and he wrote “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.” Season 5 had some notably good episodes, but the rest were heavily lacking in heart and concept. They still had good comedy thanks to Binky.
In the typical season 5 episode the plot is rather dull, but Binky does something funny that saves the episode, and this is no different. His plot is rather small, as he has a few brief snippets of him trying to make a good dessert to give in a soup line. First he made pecan pie with shells in them. He then made brownies without sugar and banana bread with peals. The reactions are good physical comedy for comic relief. It is not very connected to the main plot, but that is true to the entire special.
At the time every episode was 11 minutes, starting two years later the show made occasional 22 minute episodes. At 54 minutes this is way longer than usual. The typical Christmas special would have around a forty minute plot and around 14 minutes of subplots like Binky. This has three main plots only connected by Christmas time. 2 are Typical episodes and the other is heavily padded. The plot goes back and forth between the three, but I will focus on one at a time.
In one plot Muffy declares herself “the princess of Christmas” and invites everyone to a party. Her best friend, Francine, is Jewish and instead goes to a Hanukkah celebration. As anyone could probably guess this plot is about accepting that your friends will have some major differences and keeping friendships. It is okay.
Buster has the best plot. His mom is always worried about her son being miserable on Christmas since his dad will not be there. Buster is worried about her, as she is visibly miserable during the time, and he asks her to not make Christmas a big deal and instead they make a new holiday, “Baxter Day.”
The final plot is with the Read family, Arthur, D.W., their parents, Grandpa Dave (he almost never shows up), and Uncle Fred. Who is Uncle Fred? It is also the last time Arthur’s original actor, Michael Yarmush, voiced him, and this is a bad farewell appearance. His voice was way too deep this season due to him aging, and the show has an immediate problem. It is a musical and the lead does a bad job at singing. In previous episodes they occasionally did musicals and Yarmush always did well, but this is different. It begins with a song that Yarmush does not sing in character. Until I read the credits I assumed it was a different actor singing, but it is Yarmush. His singing voice is so different that the song is terribly distracting. Muffy and Buster had songs that were fine because they were in character and it sounded like they were actually sung by the characters. This sounds like Arthur is lip syncing to someone else. To make it worse Arthur is constantly complaining that it may not snow on Christmas, and he keeps saying it is not Christmas without snow. This really bugs me. I am in my twenties, and I have never seen snow within a week of Christmas. Quit telling the Southern audience that we are not celebrating Christmas since it is only forty degrees here. It becomes apparent right away that the Arthur plot line is the worst one.
Another reason this is the worst of the three plots is all the padding. The other two had everything advance the plot, but this could have easily been half as long. A D.W. plot line is also introduced about wanting Tine the talking Tabby, a toy. This leads to another problem, the A plot is full of subplots. A plot is Arthur giving mom a great gift, a glass bird, as he broke one just like it. Other plots are waiting for snow, D.W.’s toy that is sold out, mom trying to explain that you cannot get everything you want for Christmas, introducing Uncle Fred, Uncle Fred’s car breaking and crashing with them, and a few others that are really short. The special explores all these with lots of padding. Arthur has a long scene shopping at the mall with lots of padding. The bird almost breaks several times before it does in long scenes, and it finally breaks in a very short one. Arthur has lots of daydreams which focus more on his sibling rivalry with D.W. It is occasionally interrupted by Binky but his filler is short and funny, and the rest is not. To add to filler the plot ends with Arthur badly singing the same song from the beginning.
I love Arthur, and I regret that I have few good things to say about this. Most of the jokes work, but it perfectly shows what is wrong with season 5 and the additional problem of being too long. At the time the longest Arthur story was 11 minutes, and this is five times that amount. The story is unconnected and full of padding. When I reviewed all The Land Before Time movies I realized how good they were at connecting seemingly unrelated plots at the end both thematically and in the climax for a great scene. That is what this needs. The only scene that connects all three plots is a party scene early in the special. On a positive note it has a uniqueness among Christmas specials due to its to one thing. Most of them dominantly take place on Christmas Eve, but this takes place dominantly on Christmas day. That is not enough to save it, but it is at least not generic. Sadly, this is a very bad representation of Arthur.
Sometime in the future I will review an hour long Arthur special that is good.