Why was it such a misfit?

Two years before they made their big 80's comeback in Alvin and the Chipmunks, 16 years before Alvin was hitting on Jaci Velasquez, and 26 years before 20th Century Fox Poochie-fied them into CGI rapping fools, Alvin, Simon and Theodore appeared in their own Christmas special.

Appearance-wise, the Chipmunks are halfway between their original 1960's look and their revamped 80's models, and ditto for Dave Seville. They were redesigned by Chuck Jones this time, and his signature style is all over the special.

But this cartoon doesn't start with them....

It starts out focusing on the family of a sick little boy. "I've done all I can," says his doctor, "but I can't promise Tommy will be well by Christmas." Uh-oh, is this cheesy premise going to take up the entire half-hour? Fortunately, it doesn't. The title says "Chipmunks" and after a minute or two, that's what we get. Tommy stays mostly in the background.

The Chipmunks eagerly get out of bed planning to go Christmas shopping, but Dave says they have a recording session scheduled for that day. Which cheeses Alvin off royally. "IT'S CHRISTMAS VACATION!"
"It's just one session," Dave says.
"IT'S WORK," Alvin retorts.
Then he gets an idea. "Tell you what, why don't you get things set up in the studio while we go window shopping?" Dave agrees to the compromise, and the Munks skate off.

Alvin skateboards down to the music store so he can look at the harmonicas. He already has one, but he just wants to point out the exact same model and say to the harmonica, "Look, it's your twin brother." Kind of an odd pasttime, but the real reason why he's doing this is because the writers couldn't think of a better way to initiate the main plot. At that moment, the family of the sick boy comes in, and they remark on how they wish they could buy the harmonica for him, to lift his spirits and keep him fighting. Alvin hears it all, thanks to his strange activities.

Well, he can't just ignore the situation when he's got a perfectly good and paid-for harmonica in his hands. He races over to their house to deliver his instrument to the little boy in person. Despite having Alvin posters all over his wall, the boy's reaction to being in the same room as his idol rodent is rather subdued. "Oh. Hi, Alvin."
"Hi! Uh, I've come here to tell you that, uh, you won a contest! Yeah, a contest in the department store! In the music section of the department store! Someone put your name in, and you just won the grand prize! The Golden Echo Harmonica!!"
That got his attention. "REALLY? OH BOY!!" Tommy immediately looks at least 54% better. I guess that ends that.

Or maybe there are 17 more minutes left in the cartoon. What Alvin doesn't know is that the Chipmunks are playing Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve! He needs another harmonica fast, which means he needs to make some quick bread!

Time for a seasonally-themed scam. The Chipmunks gather up all the stray dogs in the neighborhood, tie them to a sleigh and put antlers on their heads. Then Alvin dresses in a saggy Santa outfit and offers any kid a picture with "Santa" for 25 cents.

"And what's YOUR name, little girl?" hos Santa Alvin.
"Cindy Lou," she says, making a sly reference to one of Chuck's more popular specials.
"And what's your cat's name? Uh-oh.....CAT!!"

Upon seeing a cat, every dog-deer goes stereotypically nuts and tears the whole setup apart. Not only is the plan ruined, but they now have the attention of Dave.

"We CAN'T tell Dave I gave away my harmonica! He's the one who gave it to me!"
But Dave wants to know what they're hoarding money for, and he wants to know now.
Simon explains, "Alvin....just wants to buy a present!"
Dave: "Oh, a present! That's good! And who is the present for?"
Theodore: "Himself! Oops."

Dave: "Buying a present for yourself? That's not what Christmas is about! I want you to go to your room and think about the true Christmas spirit!"

"But, Dave--"

I just noticed now, while making these screenshots, that the Chipmunks and Dave almost never appear in the same shot. We either see Alvin or Dave, but never both at once. That's weird....

While in bed, Alvin slips into a dream sequence where he meets Clyde Crashcup, the completely-forgotten "other character" on the original Alvin Show. Clyde was a goofy inventor who had a separate segment, and he would often end up inventing things that were already invented. (He tried inventing babies once; I don't think he gets out very often.)

"Ah, you're looking for the Christmas spirit!"
"But I already HAVE the Christmas spirit!"
"No you don't; I haven't invented it yet!"

Out of all the smart-guy characters I've seen, Clyde is the only one who is so over-the-top absent-minded that he shows nothing resembling the intelligence of his stereotype at all. His latest invention, "Santi Claus," is Abraham Lincoln sitting in a hollow pumpkin pulled by eight obese pink elephants.

"You don't understand! I need MONEY!"
"Ah, money! Then I shall invent....money!"
He comes up with a green rabbit, which is way off, but it was a little more accurate than his interpretation of the western, which was a drawing of two sumo wrestlers.

Clyde would not be seen again until "Alvin and the Chipmunks Go to the Movies" in 1990, where in a loose Back to the Future parody, he appeared in a time machine and caused the 80's Chipmunks to switch places with the 60's versions.

Dave's not going to get any answers from Alvin, so it takes a phone call from Timmy's mother for him to get the full story on what's going on. Meanwhile, two hours before the concert, Alvin still doesn't have enough cash for a new harmonica and is out of ideas.

This is usually the part of the story where Santa Claus shows up, right? Well, he must have been busy, because instead of Santa Alvin gets an old woman with June Foray's voice.

"So it must be MRS. Claus then, right?" Umm....you'll find out.

"Hello, little boy! I was just thinking, as an old woman so far away from home, I should buy that little boy the harmonica he's been staring at."
"Now now, I won't have it! I'm buying that harmonica for you right away!"
".....I must be dreaming."

.....okay, it's Mrs. Claus. The "reveal" is the surprise ending, but it's not that hard to figure out.

Alvin makes it on time to the concert, and performs "Silent Night" on his harmonica to huge applause. And guess what--thanks to Alvin, Tommy made a full recovery by Christmas and shows up to perform a duet with him. The next time Dave screams at Alvin, Alvin can shove this moment in his face.

Why didn't it fit in?
Well, the situation is kind of implausible. Alvin must really not trust Dave if he thinks he'd be furious over giving his harmonica to a sick boy. In addition, Alvin used to be a real troublemaker in the 60's--he's a total Boy Scout here, scrubbed clean. The special is kind of boring as a result.

Since being taken off the air, this special has remained rare and elusive--until I found it on DVD at Target this morning for $9.95. I guess it isn't.