“Billy & Mandy Save Christmas” was Cartoon Network’s wildest holiday special ever released, including an vampire Santa played by Gilbert Gottfried.


Running from 2001 to 2007, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy was one of Cartoon Network’s darkest all-ages shows. A comedy as willing to utilize gross-out humor as it was to dole out surprisingly dark perspectives on classic cartoon tropes, the show remains one of the most memorable of its era of animation in the early 21st century.


One of the best episodes of Billy & Mandy is also a solid entry into any holiday animation rotation. With a pointed parody of the Santa Claus mythology that’s more in line with more modern dark fare than Ralph Bakshi, “Billy and Mandy Save Christmas” is a great Christmas special from the animation network. The holiday special even opens with Santa Claus being turned into a vampire, and only getting darker and weirder from there.

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How Do Billy and Mandy Save Christmas?

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“Billy and Mandy Save Christmas” was a two-part episode from the fourth season of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. The series created by Maxwell Atoms focuses on the absurdly thick headed Billy and his best friend, the malicious and deadly serious Mandy. After winning a bet with the personification of Death (in this series, he’s a Jamaican reaper who goes by Grim for short), Billy and Mandy gain the supernatural being as their best friend/personal servant. The series — largely episodic, with some reoccurring plot lines and characters — saw the trio embarking on various supernatural shenanigans.

In “Billy and Mandy Save Christmas,” the holiday special focused in large part on Grim being called to the North Pole to lend support to Santa (played by Gilbert Gottfried), who has been reinvented as a work-obsessed shut-in who Grim knew in college. Arriving at the North Pole, the trio learn from Mrs. Claus (Carol Kane) that her husband has been attacked and turned into a vampire. Santa even apparently killed and drank the blood of Hermie the elf from the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated special. While Grim and Mandy go to confront the lead suspect in the case — a nearby neat freak vampire known as Baron Von Ghoulish (Malcolm McDowell) — Billy offers his aid to Mrs. Claus. In turn, he unwittingly discovered evidence that Mrs. Claus was more involved in the attack than she was initially letting on.

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Why ‘Billy and Mandy Save Christmas’ Is So Much Fun

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“Billy and Mandy Save Christmas” is a darkly subversive approach to the holiday season, poking fun at the tropes of other similar specials, while not holding back in its commentaries on Christmas. The episode opens with a riot breaking out at a mall while Mandy coldly deconstructs the commercial purpose of the holiday — an assertion that isn’t really challenged outside of her lack of belief in Santa’s existence. Interestingly, the special’s version of Santa Claus is closer to Krampus than any traditional appearance, with his vampire form drawing elements from films like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchises. There’s even room for references to Star Warsa silly song and dance number cut off by the extreme winter, and a slapstick fight scene in a toy factory.

Throughout the special, however, there’s still a good holiday moral at the heart of the story. Similar to how a subversive take on the season’s imagery (as in films like Violent Night) still trying to explore that innate optimism of the holiday, “Billy and Mandy Save Christmas” finds an effective moral amidst all the vampires. The episode is quietly about the act of giving one’s self over to another, and receiving diminishing returns in exchange. It’s in these small moments that the cast — especially Gottfried and Kane — find unlikely beats that bring an emotional heart to the story. It’s a special Christmas that can end on a kid being attacked by vampires and still be a happy note, and it’s a blast of a holiday watch for those who are exhausted by the more traditional takes on the season.

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