The Canine Christmas Movie: Two Paws Down

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 23 2009 5:57 PM

The Canine Christmas Movie: Two Paws Down

In Sweden, Christmas is a time for the whole family to gather around the television and watch a duck . Here in America, the Christmas fare is covered with fur. On a recent Sunday evening, pooch-loving tube watchers had to choose between simultaneously airing made-for-TV canine holiday films. In CBS' A Dog Named Christmas , based on the novel of the same name , a developmentally disabled 20-year-old man urges everyone in his small town to adopt a pound puppy. In The Family Channel's The Dog Who Saved Christmas , a pooch voiced by Mario Lopez saves his family from a yuletide home invasion.

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A dog in a Santa hat or with a wreath around its neck, or pawing an ornament, or donning a Rudlophian nose is a longstanding symbol of Christmas dreck. Before A Dog Named Christmas came 2005's The 12 Dogs of Christmas , a tale of hounds saved from an evil dogcatcher by a spunky Depression-era girl. The Dog Who Saved Christmas has its pup predecessors as well. That talking-dog picture employs the most-widespread technique in the Frank Caprahuahua genre: adapt, borrow, or steal a bipedal story (in this case Home Alone ) for a quadrupedal cast. Take a seat, Macaulay Culkin! You're in, adorable yellow lab!

While the dog-Christmas celluloid combo platter dates back to at least the 1930s and 1940s see the cartoons The Pups' Christmas and Hector's Hectic Life the genre truly exploded with the advent of direct-to-video animated kiddie fare. In An All Dogs Christmas Carol , a 1998 sequel to All Dogs Go to Heaven , Charles Dickens' tale of holiday salvation gets new bite thanks to hounds voiced by Ernest Borgnine and Dom DeLuise. In 2001's Nine Dog Christmas , man's best friend gets called on to save the day when Santa's reindeer get the flu. (An elf played by Scott Hamilton teaches the dogs to fly.) And this year brought Disney's Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws , in which a talking dog named Puppy Paws must save Christmas "when the magical Christmas Icicle starts to melt and the world begins to forget the true meaning of the season."

Even Hollywood's celebridogs aren't immune from the Christmas cash-in. In Benji's Very Own Christmas Story the Bad News Bears Go to Japan of the canine Yuletide genre the mutt superstar encounters Kris Kringle whilst on a publicity tour in Switzerland and must convince him to do his toy-delivering duty. Rather than bark, scamper, and wag his tail, Benji saves the world by sitting perfectly still and getting carried around by his various human co-stars. Perhaps this is the only way to carry out your Christmas-dog duties with dignity: Close your eyes, scratch yourself, and think of Easter.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

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