You know that old classic Christmas song “O Christmas Tree” which contains the very appreciative line – “How lovely are your branches”?
It’s a lovely sentiment, and as a piece of lauding nature, pretty damn exultant, but what it misses, and yet even with all the gushing positivity it misses something, is an excited affirming of how good it is to put things on said branches and to stand back and admire them in all their dangling glory.
I am an ornament on branches guy, which is why despite owning more ornaments than anyone actually needs – a ridiculous amount since of course you need all of them … and then some – I acquire more and more every year.
My partner, Steve, god bless him and his optimistic, Santa-adorned socks, tells me every year to just stick to 1 to 2 news ones which my extrovert, Christmas loving ears hear as “Buy every one you want and find space on the tree later!”
That’s where my untrammeled optimism comes in because the tree is only so big and only so many ornaments will fit on it at any given time; but the lure of new pop culture ornaments is strong with me and so every year more arrive than there is space to hang them.
And I love it.
So behold this year’s 1 to two ornaments which you will note actually numbers a great deal more than that … shhhh don’t tell Steve Ho Ho Ho …
He is, for me at least, the breakout star of Toy Story 4, the exultantly good new entry in Pixar’s first and most beloved series. Created from an actual plastic spork and other odds-and-sods from the rubbish bin at Bonnie’s school, Forky spends much of the early part of the film wrapped in an unceasing, and thanks to Tony Hale (who voices him) and whipsmart, funny script, hilarious existential crisis that Woody, in search of his own new sense of purpose, valiantly tries to save him from. He resolves his great life dilemma eventually and is adorable, gutsy and sweet and thoroughly garrulously wonderful getting there.
The opening montage of Pixar’s UP is like an arrow to the heart. You cannot watch the dialogue free, deeply moving evocation of Carl and Ellie’s life without feeling like someone has, in the best possible way, stomped all over your heart and unleashed all the tears you have left to cry. While there is a great deal more life left in Carl and the film, it is this central relationship that powers the film and gives it its big, affecting, feature-length heart.
First appearing in 1958 in Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie, Huckleberry Hound is described by Wikipedia as “a blue anthropomorphic coonhound that speaks with a North Carolina Southern drawl and has a relaxed, sweet, and well-intentioned personality”. That fits nicely; watching him is pure pleasure – he’s friendly, helpful, caring and you can well understand why in many of the later Hanna-Barbera group cartoons, where they assembled a lot of the characters in various incarnations, he is both the leader and the emotional centre that holds them all together.
(4) MARY POPPINS
She’s delightfully quirky, magically brilliant and no-nonsense dark and strict but she is very much our favourite nanny. “Mary Poppins!” as Bert always excitedly and affectionately greets her in 1964’s Mary Poppins. A creation of Australian author P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins appears in eight books, two films by Disney including the 2018 sequel Mary Poppins Returns and even a stage musical. She’s practically perfect in every way, Mary is known for her umbrella and ability to fly magically through the sky.
(5) BIG BIRD (50th anniversary Sesame Street)
Can you believe Sesame Street is 50 years old?! It is which means of course that Big Bird (performed by Caroll Spinney from 1969 to 2018), the eternally-young, big yellow anthropomorphic canary, is also 50 (he first appeared in the show on 10 November); well, in actual years though not on the show where he is, I believe six-years-old. He still lives next to Oscar the Grouch, is endearingly eager to learn and able to ice skate, write poetry and ride a unicycle among other talents. It makes sense that in this ornament he is standing next a sign commemorating the 50th anniversary, right next to, I like to think, the 123 brownstone.
(6) MOOCH and EARL (Mutts comic strip)
I have a great many comic strips I love but only a few have ascended to beloved status including Peanuts, Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy and of course, Mutts, the story of Mooch (the cat) and Earl (the dog) and the people who own them. Drawn in a gorgeously simply, almost retro-40s style and brimming with heart and a commitment to animal welfare, Mutts is equal parts intelligently-considered and emotionally evocative, a love letter to the joy that animals bring us, and in comics at least, themselves.
(7) LUCILLE RICARDO (I Love Lucy)
Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) is one of the most comediennes of all time. As adept with physical slapstick as verbal repartee, and a consummate businesswoman in her own right, she is perhaps best known for I Love Lucy, which ran for six seasons from 1951 to 1957, in which she played middle-class housewife Lucy Ricardo who, in the words of Wikipedia, “either concocted plans with her best friends (Vance & Frawley) to appear alongside her bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz) in his nightclub, or tried numerous schemes to mingle with, or be a part of show business.”
(8) SULLEY (Monsters Inc.)
Described by a Pixar wiki as “a huge monster with shaggy blue fur with purple spots, two small horns on his head, and a long tail”, James P. Sullivan aka Sulley, voiced by John Goodman, is the protagonist of Monsters Inc., one of the few Pixar films I didn’t immediately love (opinion has now well and truly tipped in its favour). He is kindhearted and thoughtful, becoming the BFF of Boo, a small girl he encounters when one of his routine scaring missions goes hilariously south.
It is true that I do not fall within the character’s key, very young, demographic. However, in the middle of nursing my Mum through cancer this year to which she sadly succumbed, my sister and I took my nieces and nephews to see Dora and the Lost City of Gold and I was surprised to discover it was a vibrant, fun, warmhearted, and very clever film. All of Dora’s touchstones were present – her love of science and nature, her geeky love of knowledge, her naivety about certain social cues – but what really mattered was how warm and wonderful it made us all feel in the midst of a horrible time. I shall always treasure that.
(10) PINOCCHIO and GEPPETTO
The protagonist of the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) by Italian writer Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio is best known as the titular protagonist of the 1940 film that bears his name. Determined to be real boy but a babe in the words when it comes to vagaries of life and the duplicity of other people, he is much loved by Geppetto, his creator and then father whose unconditional care for Pinocchio touches the heart deeply and reaffirms how powerful this kind of love can be.