Never underestimate the power of simplicity, charm, and children. All three can go a long way, especially during the frenetic holiday season. Such an idea must have crossed the collective mind of HBO’s creative crew when it began planning its original special, ‘Twas the Night: A Holiday Celebration. In a mere 28 minutes, this warm-hearted trifle refreshes our holiday spirit and crystallizes the meaning of the season by focusing on such diverse topics as peace, goodwill, Santa, and snow. It’s all done with grace and style by pairing classic and contemporary holiday songs with different animated styles to form a series of festive vignettes, all of which are framed by delightful off-the-cuff comments from children of various races and social backgrounds. We see, through their wide eyes, a yuletide season of humor, wonder, hope, and even sorrow ideas that beautifully compliment the animated artistry.
Although Christmas grabs the lion’s share of attention, ‘Twas the Night salutes Chanukah and Kwanzaa, too. Bette Midler’s sprightly rendition of Chanukah, o Chanukah honors the former, while the latter receives a nod via clips of an authentic celebration. In addition, Los Lobos covers Hispanic culture with Feliz Navidad, and recordings by Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Macy Gray, and a few others take care of traditional Christmas favorites.
‘Twas the Night begins lightheartedly, with the children discussing their favorite aspects of the holidays. Their palpable and contagious enthusiasm inspires the kind of adorably hilarious moments only kids can produce. Yet after a while, a more serious mood takes over, as we hear about being separated from relatives by distance and even death. Somehow, though, the children put a positive spin on these stories. One little girl mentions how much she misses her grandmother at Christmas, but then joyfully announces, “But I still see her in my heart.” We also follow the recovery of a young cancer victim whose fondest wish is to be well enough to come home for Christmas. Forgive me for spoiling the suspense, but…she makes it. The segment segues into Louis Armstrong’s lovely What A Wonderful World, and the program concludes with Satchmo reading a slightly abbreviated version of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, set to the paintings of Grandma Moses.
Director Amy Schatz marvelously molds art, music, and juvenile perspective into a cohesive whole that embraces all holidays and faiths. And when kids talk about peace and love, the concepts lose the syrupy, preachy quality that often results when the same thoughts come from adult mouths. Innocence and youth help the ideas resonate and make ‘Twas the Night a breath of fresh seasonal air.