Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, on ABC
BCDB; Christmas Specials Wiki; IMDb; Rankin/Bass Wiki; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
Caution: spoilers, I guess.
This first aired in 1977, when I was two years old. I'm not sure when I first heard of it, but it may have been in the late 90s or the 00s, when it reran on ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas. However, the first time I ever actually watched it was in 2014. And the only reason I bothered was because it was part of a double feature DVD that I had bought specifically for the other feature, The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus. I figured as long as I had it, I might as well watch this, too. I didn't really expect to like it, and I wasn't wrong.
It begins in the present, I guess. Santa Claus is taking off on his Christmas Eve trip to deliver presents. He leaves behind a donkey named Speiltoe, who is voiced by Roger Miller (a famous singer and songwriter, though I mainly remember him for providing a voice in Disney's animated "Robin Hood"). Speiltoe narrates and sings a story about an ancestor of his named Nestor, a donkey who had long ears. And of course all the animals, as well as their owner, Olaf, made fun of Nestor for his ears. The only one who didn't mock him was his mother. So... Nestor basically has the same problem as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, although I kept thinking his problem was much closer to that of Disney's "Dumbo." But I do want to mention something about this special that I thought was kind of neat, because it's so unusual. First of all, there's a Nativity scene under the Christmas tree in the stable where Speiltoe and Santa's reindeer live. (Speiltoe at first complains that the elves were supposed to carve a wooden donkey for the scene that more closely resembled the real Nestor, since the one there at the start had normal donkey ears. Apparently they were taking too long to make the new one, because Speiltoe said "You know them elves," which sounded kinda racist, to me. But soon after he says that, they bring in the new donkey figure, which has long ears and provides a segue to the flashback for Speiltoe's story.) The other thing I want to mention is that early in the story, Nestor and the other animals are celebrating the Winter Solstice. I thought it was neat that this Christmas special manages to tie together the secular aspect of Christmas (Santa Claus) with the religious aspect (which I'll get to presently), and also a Pagan holiday that predates Christmas.
Anyway. Soon after the celebration is over, a Roman solider comes to buy donkeys from Olaf. But because the soldier is a total (expletive), he decides to just steal the donkeys. But he leaves Nestor behind because of his long ears, and Olaf blames Nestor for what happened. And he had a reason for that, but even so, I feel like he really should have blamed the soldier. (Not that he could do anything about that, so I can see how this fits an all too familiar pattern of people taking their frustrations at a higher-up's actions out on someone- or something- beneath them in the pecking order.) Anyway, Olaf throws Nestor out into the cold wintry night (literally throws him, like he was a stuffed toy, which is kind of what he looks like). Nestor's mother follows, but soon Nestor will be on his own again, for reasons.
Before long, Nestor meets a cheerful little cherub named Tilly, who says Nestor has a great destiny. (Something God clearly wants him to do, though "God" is not a name that's ever uttered.) And this destiny has to do with an ability Nestor has specifically because of his ears. So, Tilly leads him to... someplace close to Bethlehem, then she leaves him. He's taken in by some other guy who sells animals. And again, nobody wants Nestor because of his ears... that is, until Mary and Joseph show up, looking for a donkey that could carry the very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. (Nestor really didn't look anywhere near big enough to carry anyone, let alone a pregnant woman, but whatevs.) And... um... his ears play a part in helping them find their way to Bethlehem. Also it's his idea to go to a stable, when the inns are all full.
In the end, Nestor goes home and Olaf and all the other animals respect him now. Which made no sense to me, because A, they'd have no way of knowing what he'd done, and B, it's hard to believe they'd appreciate the significance of the event Nestor had facilitated, even if they did know what he'd done. And the special itself doesn't really explain anything about the birth of Jesus or why it's so important. I suppose it's a pretty safe assumption that the audience already knows that, and of course this is Nestor's story, not Jesus's. But still... he really doesn't do that much. There's just not much story to the story. Also I didn't care at all for any of the songs. And I'm curious to know how Nestor's descendants would end up working for Santa Claus, but we don't hear anything about that. Anyway, I like the idea of making a Christmas special that involves the reason for the holiday's existence, but this barely touched on it. I also don't mind the idea of telling a story that's only peripheral to the main event, but it should at least be interesting and/or entertaining. This was just pointless and boring, not really good as a secular or religious story.
stop-motion specials: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer *
Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town *
The Year Without a Santa Claus *
Rudolph's Shiny New Year *
Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey * Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July * Pinocchio's Christmas * The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold * The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
animated specials: Frosty the Snowman * 'Twas the Night Before Christmas * Frosty's Winter Wonderland * The Hobbit * The Stingiest Man in Town
TV series: The New Adventures of Pinocchio * Tales of the Wizard of Oz * ThunderCats * SilverHawks
Movies: Mad Monster Party? * The Flight of Dragons * The Last Unicorn