The Night the Animals Talked is a 1970 animated television animated special. It was directed by Shamus Culhane and written by Sam Rosen, Jan Hartman, and Peter Fernandez. The story evolved from an MGM Records children's recording written by writer and voiceover artist Peter Fernandez. Although the copyright status of this film is uncertain, bootleg copies are common.
The special focuses on an old Norwegian holiday legend regarding the birth of Jesus Christ. The plot focuses on a simple stable, which suddenly is showered with light from the star that guided travelers to the Christ child. The animals stir, and when they awaken they realize they can communicate with each other. At first, the animals use the ability to disparage each other and to establish superiority over each other, especially over the two hogs who are not allowed into the stable. An ox, the apparent leader of the animals, is angered by such behavior, as it reveals they are acting like humans. The animals realize the error of their ways, and attempt to make amends when word reaches them (through the mule carrying Mary) that an expectant couple desperately needs shelter.
At first, the animals refuse to allow the humans into the manger, as they look down on them and their behavior. But, the animals relent, and Mary and Joseph are allowed into the stable for the night. That night, as the Christ child is born, the animals are overwhelmed with love for each other—even the hogs are allowed into the stable for the first time to see the baby. Then, the animals come to the realization that they have been given the gift of speech to tell the world of the "miracle"--the birth of Christ. However, as they run through Bethlehem, each animal loses his gift, and they return to the stable in silence—but with newfound respect and love for each other. The ox, the last to lose his speech, is left to wonder if humanity will ever understand the miracle it has been given.
The special is known for approaching a variety of themes, such as segregation, racism, and vanity. The interactions of the animals spells out the problems of mankind, but they are seen through the vantage points of animals, in a manner similar to George Orwell's Animal Farm.
The program was remarkable in that it offered three songs from a duo of music legends—lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne. Their contributions ("A Parable", "It's Great to Communicate", "The Greatest Miracle of All") remain mostly unknown to their fans.
Unlike other holiday specials of the era, The Night the Animals Talked faded from the broadcast scene after relatively few showings. There are several reasons—first, the European studio animation was inferior to the other programs being offered, especially when compared to Rankin/Bass offerings. Second, the program is very heavy with Christian content, and media outlets were leery of offending non-Christian audiences. The show was last broadcast on a national level on the USA Network in the early 1990s, though it has been shown at various times on PBS stations.
The cartoon has seen a revival mostly through the manufacture and circulation of bootleg copies of the program. "The Night the Animals Talked" was never officially released in any form on VHS or DVD. McGraw-Hill released a 16mm film print for educational use in schools in 1975. The majority of the bootlegged copies reproduced are from the 1975 McGraw-Hill release. Distributors of these copies claim in their advertising that the show has since passed into public domain, which, if true, would makes such sales legal.
A play by Patricia Barry Rumble sharing the same title focuses entirely on the Norwegian legend, and has no connection with the animated special.