One of the nicest things about Christmas is that it’s an ideal time to tell your friends to seek out holiday specials which you find rewarding that they may have never heard of before. Now, there’d be no point in me telling you to check out How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Chuck Jones masterpiece that might be the very definition of a perfect cartoon. You’ve all seen it. Several times. But you may not have seen A Very Merry Cricket, another Jones-directed TV short which is wonderful and charming in its own right.
First airing in 1973, A Very Merry Cricket–which often gets confused with Cricket on the Hearth, the strange Rankin/Bass toon I discussed in an earlier article–served as a sequel to The Cricket on Times Square (also helmed by Jones). I’ve somehow never seen Times Square even after all these years, but it gets a handy recap in its follow-up, telling the story of a cricket with an astute ear that allows him to play any music her hears with his wings like a violin. He then uses his gift to give an increasingly hostile New York City a moment of peace, his music being so beautiful that everyone stops to not only listen, but appreciate their fellow man. A Very Merry Cricket has the exact same plot (which might give it some naysayers out there, but it’s hard to find many professional reviews for this special online), with Chester Cricket being summoned by his friends Tucker the mouse and Harry the cat (who basically function like a married couple, even if saying the cartoon has homosexual undertones might be a little far-fetched) to return to New York and perform his miracle once again.
Now, this might not sound like anything you would need to take the effort to watch on paper, yet Jones–whose status as one of the most legendary animators who ever lived could never be debated–makes it all not only warm and funny, but also sincere and even poignant. The sequel is unashamed of repeating the original (there’s a song in which our heroes merrily sing that “we did before, and we can do it again”), and there are plenty of great gags sprinkled throughout. On two occasions, Tucker finds himself in the jaws of a scrawny alley cat. While other cartoons might turn this cat into a villain into a villain, Jones makes him friendly and even borderline lovable. He’s helpful to Harry when he inquires as to Chester’s whereabouts, and he’s apparently also married, casually staying that he’s expected home because they’re having “roast mouse with Yorkshire pudding.” Him searching for his lost meal through his cheeks is the stuff of classic Chuck Jones, and his later appearance towards the end of the special is even more amusing.
In addition to the great animation, there’s also a terrific soundtrack on display here. During the climatic sequence in which Chester is set to once again play for New York in order to sooth its soul, the city is far too noisy for him to be able to play. A disco version of “Silent Night” dominates everything here, and in addition to being quite catchy (I love disco remixes of pretty much any song), it also plays into what Christmas has become for the people at this point: it has taken that which is meant to be peaceful and turned it into chaos, and the night, ironically, is anything but silent.
Of course, Chester–spoiler alert–does still get to play for the city, resulting in a sequence which is absolutely gorgeous. The artwork, to the best of my knowledge all done by Jones himself, is simply breathtaking, highlighting the shreds of humanity that we all collectively share as a human spirit. Candles and other forms of light are sometimes the only form of movement on screen, as Chester’s music has literally and figuratively caused the people of New York to stand still for a moment. It’s evident that Jones apparently felt this was a terrific ending, as he found a way to incorporate into A Chipmunk Christmas a few years down the road (that cartoon, by the way, is also pretty great, finding a magical way to incorporate Mrs. Claus into its story towards its conclusion).
Ultimately, A Very Merry Cricket hasn’t been given the Christmas classic status it deserves. While it would be tempting to lament over that, there are so many holiday specials trying to make their way onto television every year that doing so would be overly bitter. But if you’ve never seen this Chuck Jones cartoon, do yourself a favor and try to give it a watch this season. After all, more so than ever right now, we could all stand to take a moment to like one another, couldn’t we?
Next: The Santa Clause movies made Tim Allen into a holiday icon.