The Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree is a 1991 animated “Christmas” adventure-drama special. It only aired once on USA Network and has since resurfaced on YouTube. It is available to watch for free on that platform.
The film takes place in an orphanage run by the evil Mrs. Mavilda, who steals the orphanage's funds and tricks the mayor into thinking she's a good manager. The kids are so miserable that they latch onto a pine tree as a mother figure and a stray dog as their only friend. Things begin to change when a new family moves into town, and the mayor assigns the mother, Judy, to a position as Mrs. Mavilda's assistant. She and her two children named Pappy and Lily live at the orphanage, while their husband/father Ray must live elsewhere for his new job. Judy takes the orphans under her wing and tries to make life better for them. When Mrs. Mavilda decides to frame Judy for a crime in order to have her removed, the children make a desperate bid to appeal to Santa Claus for help.
Why The Tree Got Chopped Down And Burned For Firewood
- Poorly-done cel animation that's incredibly stiff most of the time since the only thing the characters move is their heads and mouths.
- One shot in a street shows a man teleporting into the scene out of nowhere.
- In other shots where Mrs. Mavilda is calling somebody, it's very painstakingly obvious that her animation is being reused when she talks.
- The character's faces are usually completely inexpressive; when they do have expressions, they nosedive straight into the Uncanny Valley, especially when the kids are smiling.
- Voice acting that sounds like not a single one of the actors is even trying. The orphan children, in particular, are clearly not actors and are probably the production staff's kids. Their line-readings are flat recitations, like a small child delivering a report to their class. This isn't helped by the characters often having completely neutral facial expressions.
- Of note is Judy, Pappy (what kind of parents would call their son that?), and Ray's voice, which has a creepier monotone than the kids' annoying ones. His pale skin doesn't help matters as it makes him look like a corpse.
- Santa's voice at the very end of the movie comes off as unintentionally creepy.
- The story is all over the place with plot points that are immediately forgotten as soon as they are brought up.
- Some plot details, like Ray being disconnected from his family due to his job, feel rather forced.
- It's unclear as to what year or decade the story takes place in, though it seems to be set sometime in the 1920s, due to a few anachronisms that keep turning up. For example, one of Mrs. Mavilda's henchman watches television with a medium-sized screen (the earliest TV sets had very small screens).
- Terrible editing and sound-mixing. When Mrs. Mavilda yells "You're fired!" at Judy, her voice breaks the volume levels of the microphone.
- Awful soundtrack that barely fits.
- The so-called "moral" of the movie at the end, "you always win when you are good" (basically saying that good people always get what they want), feels shoe-horned in at the last minute and has nothing to do with the movie's story or even the meaning of Christmas itself. It isn't a good moral either, since even young children will know that life isn't fair sometimes.
- Most of the kids are voiced by children, but one of them is voiced by an eighteen-year-old using an artificially sped-up and pitch-shifted voice in an attempt to sound like a kid, but instead sounds like a alien.
- Lily (one of the main characters) falls off a cliff and is presumed dead, but later reappears after being saved by Santa off-screen.
- In one scene, Mrs. Mavilda tries to take a dog away to a pound, but it breaks free and runs away while the children all cheer. However, it looks more like the children are having seizures due to their weird shaking, jumping movements, loud mumbling and screaming.
- Awful character designs, in particular, the children. They have strange, soulless, inverted eyes with a black iris and a grey pupil that makes it looks like they all have cataracts.
- Mrs. Mavilda is too scary and threatening for the target audience, especially her face in this brief shot.
- The film noticeably rips off designs from Disney films. The bear's design is Baloo from Disney's The Jungle Book, one of the children looks like John Darling from Peter Pan, and Mrs. Mavilda and Judy resemble that of Lady Tremaine and Cinderella from Cinderella.
- Mrs. Mavilda has very odd speech patterns, often flipping from amused to annoyed in the space of a single line, interrupting her own speech, or randomly bursting out laughing.
- The Mayor is very dumb. He's obviousness to Mrs. Mavilda's abusiveness of the orphans despite them wearing the same nice clothes and looking sad every time he visits the orphanage. Near the end of the film, his voice suddenly becomes more Adam Sandler-like for no good reason.
- At the end of the movie, right before Mrs. Mavilda prepares to cut down the tree that the orphans named "Ms. Hopewell", she gets zapped by Santa with a bolt of lightning. This would normally kill her, but she somehow survives, undergoes a complete personality change and is forgiven by the town, making her a Karma Houdini.
- Horrid and nonsensical dialogue.
- For example, in the scene where Mrs. Mavilda gets struck by Santa's zap of lightning, a man exclaims what happened, for a woman to respond, quote on quote: "I don't know! She got struck by lightning!" Why would you say you don't know if you knew exactly what happened?
- Judy's voice is the only voice in this film that is pleasant to listen to.
- Just like with Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, the movie is so bad it's funny.
- Mrs. Mavilda's voice actress is the only one who puts a hint of effort in their performance.
- Santa's design looks okay.
- Despite its flaws, the cel animation isn't entirely bad and can actually be quite decent in a few shots.