"A Christmas Tree" is a Christmas episode of Rankin/Bass' short-lived animated syndication series Festival of Family Classics, produced and aired as the show's eleventh episode. As the title suggests, it is based on the story by Charles Dickens. Since this episode is part of a syndication package and not a special in and of itself, it does not typically get shown alongside other Rankin-Bass specials around Christmastime.
The tale begins in a town or city square (perhaps London itself, the narrative is not specific) on Christmas Eve Night, as siblings Peter and Mary exalt in the sights, sounds and smells of the season, in the company of their Christmas houseguest, the noted author Charles Dickens. Lauding the time of year and all its unique and special properties, Dickens finds himself pummeled by the children's questions about Christmas in times past, in particular when he was a boy. He agrees to tell them a story about this after they have all gone back to their family's house - but he stipulates that not only must they hear his story, they must also live it, to which they gladly agree. They ask if there will be a Christmas tree in it, and Dickens assures them that there is.
Dickens, upon being seated before the house Christmas Tree, states that, when he was a boy, the trees seemed much larger and laden with toys all about, and a sense of adventure. As the story begins to take over, Peter and Mary see and play with toys, one troll and one a figure (Horatio the Giant, said to be Jack's giant), among others. Each toy and decoration is given a name, including an evil wizard named Mantu with an ornament being his crystal ball, a Snow-breathing dragon, and the troll-looking one coming to life and saying he was Peter Piper from the old fable and poem, confirming that he ate the pickled peppers as written, though not all that many. Piper warns that the essence of Christmas has been stolen by Horatio The Giant, who has taken it to the top of his beanstalk, which the Christmas Tree transforms into. Peter and Mary vow to get it back, with Dickens emphasizing this as the children climb the beanstalk.
At the top, amidst a forest of Christmas trees, Mary grows fearful, but Peter insists they need not fear the giant. Mary spots a creature, the well-attired Percival Mouse, who hates being called Percy, and Peter asks him if the giant still lives in that land.Percival tells them that the giant's castle is at the end of the road before them, and tries to warn them off. Thanking Percival, the two make for the castle.A kindly but worried housekeeper (or perhaps the giant's wife?), a Human-sized woman, warns them that, ever since Jack got away with so much treasure, the giant hates children. She invites them in to taste some of the giant's Christmas dinner while he is asleep. She laments that she never gets to use her great oven, as the giant only eats fried foods. As the giant awakens, she bids them hide in the oven, where they won't be seen and will be safe since she never is able to use it. As Horatio the giant approaches with his usual chant of "Fe Fi Fo Fum", the woman, whose name is Esmerelda, chastises him for using that same old tired rhyme. He apologizes, but his efforts at mixing it up go over no better, which Esmerelda uses to keep him from talking about the intruders he's sensed. However, Horatio is still suspicious, and orders the oven fired up to heat the place. Peter and Mary escape from their hiding place with the help of Percival, who guides them up the flue (a very large oven), but the noise alerts Horatio, who forces them out and traps them in a corner. Thinking quickly, Peter throws a pepper-grinder (made for the giant) at Horatio's nose, causing him to sneeze and fall while the trio run for it. Despite Esmerelda's urging, Horatio chases after them as they attempt to get back to the beanstalk. Peter bids Mary and Percival to keep going, using a branch to trip Horatio in his pursuit. Mary thanks Percival, who indicates he would not be understood if he climbed down with them. Esmerelda delights that the children got away, but Horatio cries and laments that he will be disgraced before the M.G.o.t.W. (Mean Giants of the World). Esmerelda tries to comfort the big oaf.
At the bottom of the stalk, the children lament their failure to get the essence, only for Dickens and Piper to say that, in fact, the thief is a powerful evil magician named Mantu, who had stolen it from the giant. Piper reveals Mantu lives in a castle to the east, and that three obstacles await the children: The River of the Gaddywine, where elves have been corrupted into trolls by Mantu; Orlando, The Snow-Dragon of Okabar, and the powerful Mantu himself. Dickens reveals that the star at the top of the tree will become their transport, and it enlarges to carry them. At first, the river of the Gaddywine looks like a long piece of ribbon candy, but rapids cast the children off, where they are found by the trolls. The King of that land demands to know why they are there, and the two reveal their quest. Fearing Mantu, the King imprisons the children. Fearing they have nowhere to go, the two despair until they sight the star-transport by the shore. Overpowering the guards (which they resisted doing until they had sight of the star). Peter exclaims how a close a call it was, while Mary finds adventure less appealing than she once did. Just then, a snowball knocks them and their star out of the sky, confronted by Orlando, the snow-dragon, who traps them in a cave, where his breath increases the cold and his claw pokes about for them. Peter remembers he has a Christmas candle and some matches on him, and asks Mary to grab twigs, branches and holly from the sides of the cave. They work to build a fire to melt Orlando. Wrapping the kindling around the claw, they endeavor to give the snow-dragon a hot foot, which causes him to first yelp in pain, and then evaporate. Reboarding the star, they realize that the greatest danger, Mantu himself, lies ahead.
Indeed, the evil magician sights them in his crystal ball, and bids his guards set up a carpet, his own flying transport, along with a magic icicle. Confronting the children in the air, he identifies himself and warns them of their impending doom at his hands, after which he launches the magic icicle. Like a homing missile, it pursues its target relentlessly, nearly knocking Peter off the star. Instead, Peter uses his momentum to launch himself at Mantu, holding him with the candy-cane staff they took from the Gaddywine guards. This forces Mantu to destroy his own icicle as it pursues Peter who holds Mantu in front of him. Peter steals back the bottle containing the essence of Christmas, tossing it to Mary who smashes it upon the star, releasing the essence to Mantu's dismay. He wanted the power to do evil, yet after he begins to feel good and the land around them improves and brightens. Bidding the reformed magician goodbye and Merry Christmas, the children find themselves waking up next to Charles Dickens, who says they fell asleep while he told his story. They insist that they had a great Christmas adventure with him in it. They are glad this was in the Christmas past, and think that Christmas with Dickens and his stories is the best Christmas. Dickens counters that "this Christmas" will always be the best Christmas, as long as there is Christmas and children to love it. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is sung while the story comes to an end.
- In the original short story, the adventure is based not on Dickens' own recollections, but on an unnamed older man, although he could be implied to be Dickens. Also, it involved a bit of ghost story in its narrative.
|Billie Mae Richards||Peter|