For some reason, some animated Christmas specials just stay in your head. That’s fine and dandy if it’s some bygone classic like A Charlie Brown Christmas or Frosty the Snowman, but what if it’s some random thing that was on for one year, then never got shown again? That’s exactly what happened to me back in 1996, back when I saw this cartoon one Christmas Day.
The plot follows the much-beloved Christmas carol, which is played at the beginning and end – sung by good old Bing Crosby, even though he was probably dead when this cartoon was made, bless him. However, it’s not like the premise of “high-profile philanthropist and loyal employee deliver food parcel to local in need” can stretch to 25 minutes, so there does need to be a bit more meat to its bones.
This was achieved partly by making the pageboy, here named Stefan (sounds a bit like Stephen, as in “Feast of”… geddit?) into a pompously comic foil to Wenceslas’ stoic nice guy lead. Nothing that’ll make you belly laugh, but it’sa nice enough contrast. However, the bulk of the story focuses on why Wenceslas is such a kind man, by giving flashbacks to his childhood.
These flashbacks are, for the most part, not too historically inaccurate; granted, it skirts over the fact that Wenceslas was only made King of Bohemia posthumously, gives a young Wenceslas an adorable puppy called Trudy for… some reason, and turns his mother Drahomíra of Stodor (who was a genuinely horrible ruler) into something inbetween Cruella deVille and Margaret Thatcher from Spitting Image, but you can at least tell they were making an effort.
The flashbacks get a bit Game of Thrones when Drahomíra fires her most trusted advisor for informing her that an angry mob of peasant are storming the castle, then tries to poison the ringleader of the mob, forcing both Wenceslas and his mother to flee through a secret tunnel and the palace sewer, only to be betrayed by the aforementioned minister. I’m not making this up, honest.
Things get a bit more “Disney”when Wenceslas is imprisoned in the palace dungeons along with his mother, but still gives his meagre prison food to a bird by his cell window and a mouse who shares his cell. Both the royals are sentenced to death, but Wenceslas escapes thanks to his dog being adorable and saving his portly jailer Igor, who is almost executed for helping him escape.
However, Wenceslas saves him by being really nice before Igor is due to be executed. Igor in turn suggests that Wenceslas takes over as monarch, to which the crowd agrees. Drahomíra is duly exiled, which does at least tally up with history somewhat (Wenceslas was in fact made the ruler of Bohemia when he came of age, and his mother was unexiled after a few years, but I guess they wanted to tack a happy ending on).
Honestly, this isn’t all that bad. The animation is, at best, not too bad and the character designs range from “okay” to “not even trying”, but there’s a decent message in there, even if the delivery doesn’t quite stick the landing. Still, it’s a fun (if surprisingly dark) little thing to have on in the background as you wrap up presents. You can (probably) find the whole thing on YouTube – I found a link, but knowing what lawyers are like when it comes to obscure stuff, I’ll err on the side of caution.