Why was it such a misfit?
The last thing I've seen Fred Savage in is this. Kinda depressing. The man was Kevin Arnold, and now he's been reduced to "Rusty, Rudolph's neglected and forgotten brother."

The setup is similar to the superior "Robbie the Reindeer" specials, only in that case, Robbie was Rudolph's son. The scenarios cut close enough to make one suspect, but I'm not losing sleep over it.

A nameless elf explains the situation: Rusty is hopelessly inferior to the other reindeer. He can't fly, and the best he can do with his nose is a slight electrical flicker. He's often ignored by everyone, including his own dad. There must be some place in Santa's corporate machine he can fit into!

Before you bring this up, no, nothing's wrong with my shots. Everybody really has one eye bigger than the other. Truth is, I actually like it. It's an offbeat design choice that adds a nice visual flavor.

Maybe he can help Mrs. Claus, who has her own cooking show. Nope--no he can't. Rusty can't handle a simple frosting machine without getting sugary paste everywhere. "Uhh, let's cut to a commercial!" squeaks Edie McClurg (the voice of Mrs. Claus).

Perhaps Rusty can help out with one of the elves' tasks. As of now, they're upgrading their database of children's behavior, the Naughty-Nice-O-Matic. Formerly, it was a giant computer with blinking lights and spools of tape, but nowadays a common laptop is capable of the same thing. Transferring all that data, though, is proving to be a headache.

Rusty doesn't make it any better. They're winching up the old dinosaur to haul it to the dump, but Rusty bumps the jack and causes it to teeter. The elves just shoo him away.

Rusty's so depressed he has to sing about it. Don't ask me what the lyrics are -- if nobody's holding a weapon to my face, I don't see why I should have to listen to it. He wanders alone around the Pole as he's singing, and towards the end, he runs into a pack of familiar-looking polar bears.

Hey, wait.....that's why they're familiar! Those polar bears have Coke bottles! You know, on a second viewing, the special isn't that bad. The zany modeling style and stop-motion animation are well-done, and some of the gags are sharp. Yet I remember loathing Holidaze the first time it aired....and I can't recall why.

The scene switches back to Mrs. Claus's cooking show, where she's about to reveal to us her secret ingredient. "I use this in all my recipes..." she reveals. It's....a can of Campbell's Soup! Then the Narrator Elf walks in, takes a sip of the Campbell's Soup and says, "Mmm Mmm Good!" ......Waaaaaait a minute......

THIS is why I hated it! It's actually nothing but a disguised series of advertisements for various products! Not only that, but during every commercial break, they hock the darn Holidaze DVD. "Hey, do you like this special? Well, wouldn't you like to own it? Go to your nearest Wal-Mart for fifteen minutes of bonus footage you can't see anywhere else! That's Holidaze! Only $9.95!"

Back to Rusty's misery. Just when he feels all hope of his own relevance is lost, an elf notices his sadness and tells Rusty he can help. Or rather, some friends he knows in the big city can help. After all, they once helped Herbie the Elf sort out his troubles (clever wording here, as the elf from the Rudolph special is actually named Hermey, and everybody thinks it's Herbie, allowing for a pretty easy copyright dodge).

As soon as Rusty gets to the city, he tackles a man dressed like Santa Claus on the sidewalk, believing him to actually BE Santa. "Oh, I can't believe you followed me all this way! You must have missed me after all!"
"IIII am not Santa Clauuus! I am A THESPIAN!"
"Ohhh. My great aunt Roberta was one of those." (wah-waaaaah)
"No, an AK-TOR! An impersona-tor!"

At this point the elf feels it's necessary to come on screen and reassure all the little kids watching that fake department store Santas are actually working for Santa, so bringing your list there isn't a total wash. I can't remember if I ever thought the mall Santa was actually him, but I do remember feeling underwhelmed that a celebrity being so legendarily magical smelled of coffee.

Rusty searches out the address the elf wrote on the back of Herbie's dental business card. He winds up in an AA-type meeting room with a bunch of other holiday symbols. There's Cupid, the Easter Bunny, a neurotic turkey voiced by Harland Williams channeling Don Knotts, and some made-up mascots for Halloween, two valley-girl ghosts named "Trick" and Treat." I don't think they're gonna catch on.

Immediately everyone mistakes Rusty for his brother and starts heaping praise upon him, but he has to admit, "I'm not....the guy you think I am. You know, Ru--"
"Ssssh!" the Easter Bunny (voiced by Gladys Knight, with no Pips in sight) shushes. "We don't use names around here. We're ANONYMOUS, remember?"

Actually, the real reason nobody mentions Rudolph in this cartoon is the same reason he's not referred to in most other specials -- if you use Rudolph, you have to pay. Mr. Red-Nose is definitely NOT public domain, despite most people assuming he is. Weaselly legal tricks have to be used instead if Rudolph is a crucial part of a back-story, like as with this. If he's mentioned, he can't be shown, and if he's shown, he can't be mentioned. This one opts for not mentioning him.

"Olive the Other Reindeer" came up with my favorite solution: Blitzen simply said "There is no Rudolph, that's just an urban legend."

Rusty laments to the other symbols that he doesn't know his place in the pantheon of Christmas. Easter Bunny gives him the same advice Lucy gave Charlie Brown: the church upstairs is rehearsing a Christmas pageant, and maybe if there's a part for him, he'll have something to do. He needs involvement. They already have a director, but need a camel.

Rusty is positioned next to a cynical child voiced by both Zack and Cody. He's just there to get school credit and doesn't care about anything Christmassy. This shocks Rusty. "You don't believe in Christmas?"
"Why should I? It's all fake," he snarks.
"Ssssh! Dude, you can't say that, or---"
"Or what? Santa will put me on the naughty list? Santa doesn't give you presents, PARENTS do."

Rusty decides then and there that his purpose, at least for the present time, is to convince the boy to believe in Santa again.

"Yeah, parents give you SOME presents! But there's always that one special present kids want more than anything in the whole world! And parents can't give it to them! Only Santa can!"
"So what, then, there's this elf with glasses writing down naughty children on this big long list with a feather pen?"
"No, it's a machine that does that! The Naughty-Nice-O-Matic! Only there's a newer version now, and it looks like your handheld thing, only with a bigger TV screen!"
"A laptop? Elves are using a LAPTOP now??"
Yes. In this special, anyway.

Back at home that evening:
"So, son, what are ya hopin' for fer Christmas?"
"I want a catcher's mask with flames and a dragon on it!"
"Yep, when I was your age that's exactly what I wanted! A protractor-slash-ruler kit!"
"No, I want a catcher's mask!"
"I hear ya, son! A protractor!"

The kid is worried now. Perhaps Rusty was right about the one present? How will he fact-check it? Where else...online. He looks up "Naughty-Nice-O-Matic" on THE NEW AND IMPROVED ASK.COM(TM), and finds a picture of one! It was real all along!

The boy rushes outside and finds Rusty on the street.
"HUFF....PUFF...YOU WERE RIGHT! THAT MACHINE...IT'S REAL! AND SANTA, AND THE ELVES....I believe now! It's the only way I can get that catcher's mask!" Kind of a selfish motive, but at least he's honest.

Unfortunately, explains the Narrator Elf, the Christmas Contract contains a special clause. The camera pans down to a pile of sand at the end of the contract and he says "It's a SANDY clause!" Guh-huh, geddit?
The elf reads the paper. "If a child who renounces his belief in Santa does not confirm that he once again believes to any of Santa's registered helpers by the stroke of midnight on Christmas eve, he or she will NOT get off the naughty list!"

Suddenly Rusty realizes this. "We've gotta find one of Santa's helpers, and fast! Where's that actor guy?"
They split up to look for him. "I'll meet you back at the WAL-MART(R)(TM)," the kid mentions.

On the search for "Santa's helper," Rusty runs into the turkey from Icons Anonymous. This bird's one and only joke is that he's terrified of being eaten, which wasn't exactly a guffaw the first time I heard it. (Now I'm starting to hate this special again.) It turns out the other Icons were worried about Rusty and coerced the turkey into volunteering to search for him.

Rusty and the turkey find the guy, whose name is Albert, in front of a diner. Rusty takes him inside to have a chat with him while the chef, licking his lips and waving a butcher knife, chases after the turkey. Hysteeeerical!

Albert thinks if Rusty learned how to be a good actor like himself, he might be able to exhibit twice the appeal his famous nameless brother has. Rusty is initially excited at the possibility, but Albert doesn't end up teaching him anything he can use. Except for one piece of incomprehensible advice: "Don't see yourself in the art. See the art in yourSELF!"

It doesn't make any sense to me, but it does to him. "You know, maybe that's me," ponders Rusty, as the background music gets all touchy-feely. "Maybe instead of looking for Christmas out here, I should be looking for Christmas...in here." He stands up. "And the first thing my insides are telling me to do is FIND THAT KID!"

Rusty finds the kid back at Wal---er, that store, staring wistfully at the catcher's mask he desires behind glass. Suddenly, a family approaches, pushing a cart with a plug on it you'd have to be blind to miss. Rusty gets out of the tight spot by freezing in a pose next to the toys of "R."

With no Santa's Helpers to confess his belief to, the kid's hopes of being the coolest umpire on his block seem doomed!

You might be wondering, at this point, what kind of sense the subtitle makes if the only threat here is a present that may or may not come. That alone doesn't affect the entirety of Christmas, does it? Just wait, the full explanation is coming up next.

Rusty says the only way to get the present now is to airlift the kid all the way to the North Pole and have him declare his belief in person. But since Rusty can't fly, that's impossible!

Then Rusty notices a laptop for sale. "Hey, this is the exact laptop they're using at home!" he says. The boy realizes that if the elves are using a regular computer, he can use THIS computer to talk to theirs. So he loads up ASK.COM(TM)(R)(c) again, and from there finds the North Pole website -- and a view from the elves' laptop webcam, where they're in crisis!

They've had a Figgy Pudding of a time trying to work the new contraption and transfer the files. The Naughty-Nice-O-Matic was easy and familiar, but these newfangled GUI-based interfaces are so confusing! The Naughty-Nice list is due to give to Santa in only six hours, and they have nothing! "We might have to.....cancel Christmas," one of them nervously gulps.

"WHAT??" Rusty freaks out. Forget about all the other sociological problems this special has dealt with -- this is THE SUBTITLE PROBLEM! They have to get to the North Pole right away, but they still have no ideas on how.

The Icons of I.A. don't know either. Then a package arrives sent by "super rush delivery." The Halloween ghosts suddenly get an idea: "IS THERE SUCH A THING AS SUPER HYPER ULTRA MEGA RUSH DELIVERY??" they enthusiastically ask the delivery man.

"I think so," he answers. One Super Hyper Ultra Mega Rush Delivery later, Rusty and the boy are parachuting into Santa's workshop just in time to stop him from taking off. Not that he could anyway -- he doesn't have the Naughty and Nice list yet.

"We used to be based at the South Pole," Narrator Elf explains. "Then some kid found us. So we had to move to the North Pole. We're sort of running out of poles."

"Look, I brought this kid here for a reason!" explains Rusty. "He thinks he can fix your new computer..."

"This is easy," the kid tells everyone. "You just have the wrong operating system running." I don't know how anyone could make THAT mistake, but he fixes it with a few keystrokes. Christmas is saved! Yes, THAT'S how this Christmas almost didn't happen: because a laptop wasn't working. I get what they were thinking -- to do something subversively different than the usual climactic Race to Save Christmas -- but that cliche exists for a reason. This is kind of a weak ending.

Anyway, yay wow, Christmas is saved! Let's all eat Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup(R)(TM)(C 2006 CAMPBELL'S ENTERPRISES LTD ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)!

The boy is going to get exactly what he wants for Christmas. But he doesn't want the catcher's mask anymore. "I just want Rusty to lead your sleigh team tonight!" he says innocently.

"Aw, thanks, kid, but the truth is, since I can't fly...I'm not much use."

Hey, you guys just blew both your presents! This whole escapade was for nothing!

Rusty actually has a better idea on how he can be put to use. One camera wipe later, and he's a Sleigh Traffic Controller! Who needs a phosphorescent nose to cut through the fog when you can bypass bad weather altogether?

Why didn't it fit in?
As Misfit Specials go, Holidaze isn't so bad. It's attempt at irreverence is hit and miss, but it's at least better than Snowden's Christmas at it. The dealbreaker is the obvious, odious commercial ploy of the whole thing. This may have been an executive decision the producers had no control over -- I can't see why a decent writer would want to fit ads for soup into something he'd worked hard on to be appealing.