Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nestor, the Forgotten Christmas Special

Every Christmas season, TV viewers see the usual characters that generations have grown up with. We see Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in four specials, the Grinch stealing Christmas until he finds out it's a little bit more than gifts, Linus telling Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about, how Santa Claus first came to town, and Frosty the Snowman trying to keep his hat while parents are asking "who's Jimmy Durante?"

ABC Family airs many of these kids specials, mostly from Rankin-Bass, an animation company that was best known for Christmas stories starting with Rudolph in 1964. It's even airing The Little Drummer Boy, a very underrated special, and Pinocchio's Christmas.

However, there is one that no one is showing this year. In fact, it's been years since anyone has shown the story of Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey on TV

Nestor who?

In 1977, ABC made a special that might be quite familiar to those who are aware of Rudolph and the problems he had with his shiny red nose before a foggy Christmas Eve helped him go down in history.
That's because Nestor, like Rudolph, is based on a song written by Gene Autry. Thanks to YouTube, here's the song performed by Marty Robbins, with scenes from the special.

Both songs are about animals with an unusual body part. While Rudolph had his nose, Nestor had really long ears. The donkey, however, did have his mom by his side.

One winter day, Roman soliders come to buy donkeys from Olaf. However, they reject Nestor, and take the donkeys without paying Olaf. Nestor gets tossed out of the stable and into the snow by Olaf, but mom escapes. Both are caught in a blizzard, but she tells Nestor that no matter what, he must be brave.

She's forced to protect Nestor from the snow, but sacrifices her life. This is kind of dark for a Christmas special, except this also happened in The Little Drummer Boy nine years before. If you remember, Aaron hated all people because bandits killed his parents, but playing for the Baby Jesus changed his life.

Anyway, Nestor meets up with Tilly, a goofy angel voiced by Brenda Vaccaro. She guides Nestor to Bethlehem, where his ears will actually help someone. It turns out he's the one to helps Mary and Joseph to get to Bethlehem. There's even an epilogue where Nestor actually goes back to Olaf, and he's glad to see him back. No reason why, actually. Apparently this is the equivalent to Rudolph's red nose being celebrated at the end.

While Rudolph had Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) as the storyteller, Nestor had Spieltote (Roger Miller), who apparently is a direct descendant of Nestor. The special also has connections to other Rankin-Bass productions. One of the camels looks like Joshua from The Little Drummer Boy, while in the final shot we see Rudolph from Rudolph's Shiny New Year along with Mrs. Claus and Jungle and Jangle from The Year Without A Santa Claus. 

While ABC Family may not air Nestor this year, people can see it at YouTube. It's also available as a VOD at Rifftrax's website. Mike Nelson riffs this one solo, and comments on how corny the song is and how Nestor gets treated. However, he sounds a bit upset when he sees how Nestor's mom is killed.

Anyway, with the fact that we have zillions of channels, someone should air Nestor regularly, along with some of the lesser-known Rankin-Bass holiday specials. For example, there's no sign of The Stingiest Man in Town with Walter Matthau or First Christmas: Story of the First Christmas Snow with Angela Lansbury on TV this year. I had said 'Twas the Night Before Christmas wasn't being aired, but ABC Family will have that Christmas Eve morning after all. Good thing, too, because it has an interesting story, along with Joel Grey and George Gobel.
Also, they shouldn't be aired at the crack of dawn (The Little Drummer Boy at 7 AM?) just to say they did. It should be done in the afternoon, when even Mom can be nostalgic over these specials.

Then again, there's also YouTube and DVDs as two handy sources.

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