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Family Guy's Road To The North Pole Opening Pays Homage To Many Holiday Classics

It took some time for "Family Guy" to receive another Christmas-themed episode following the Season 3 episode "A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas." The show had seen many changes by the time Season 9's "Road to the North Pole" was released, but its love of pop culture never waned.

The episode was the sixth of the "Family Guy Road Shows," a series of episodes centering on Brian and Stewie Griffin's (both voiced by Seth MacFarlane) adventures outside of Quahog, Rhode Island, that parodies the 1940s "Road To..." film series starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. In it, Stewie, disappointed by their local Mall Santa, ventures to the North Pole with Brian to kill the real Santa Claus. After arriving at the famous toy factory, the duo discovers that Santa and his cohorts live a miserable existence in an industrialized North Pole due to the excessive demand for toys. After Santa goes unconscious, the two are tasked with assuming his position on Christmas Eve night, which goes as chaotically as can be expected. 

It's hard not to enjoy the multi-Emmy and Grammy-nominated episode. Even through its pessimistic exterior, it exudes an undeniable love for the holidays in a way that only "Family Guy" could make work. This is evident from the very beginning, with the episode's opening title cards representing some classic holiday favorites. 

The Nutcracker

Kicking off the series of holly jolly title cards for "Road to the North Pole" is one that pays homage to the classic Christmas ballet, "The Nutcracker." Based on E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1816 short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," it would later be adapted into the famous two-act ballet by famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892. The story follows a young girl whose Nutcracker comes to life and takes her to a magical land where a war against a mouse army ensues. The "Family Guy" title card doesn't seem to parody any particular scene, but it sees Stewie and Brian dressed as Nutcracker soldiers opening the show on stage. 

The ballet has drawn big crowds during the Christmas season and the song itself is immediately recognizable. It has seen several adaptations in the world of film, most notably from Walt Disney Pictures, including the 1940 animated film "Fantasia," which features a segment with the music, and 2018's loose adaptation of the ballet, "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" starring Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, and Morgan Freeman. There are also some more off-kilter versions out there, including the nightmarish 1979 Sanrio-produced stop-motion film "Nutcracker Fantasy" and 2010's "The Nutcracker in 3D," which notoriously bombed both critically and financially. 

A Christmas Carol

"Road to the North Pole" follows the classic ballet with an equally iconic piece of literature, "A Christmas Carol." The 1843 Charles Dickens novel centers on the greedy and bitter-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge, a naysayer of the holiday season, who is visited by three spirits on the night of Christmas Eve. Over the course of the evening, they take him to various times in the past, present, and future in an effort to right his ways and show him the miracles of the holiday season. The episode takes the classic moment where Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his longtime business partner, Jacob Marley, who informs Scrooge of the spirits who will soon be visiting him. 

Much like "The Nutcracker," Charles Dickens' timeless story of redemption and selflessness has seen too many adaptations to count. Movie versions of the narrative have existed for over a century, with the first film adaptation, "Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost," coming out in 1901. Since then, there have been several takes on the tale, from the Oscar-nominated 1988 Bill Murray-starring "Scrooged" to the 1992 fan favorite "The Muppet Christmas Carol" to 2022's "Spirited" starring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell. 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Stewie Griffin can be a pretty rude fella, so it's no wonder he'd be cast as the meanest of them all in the next title card. This section parodies the beloved story "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," originally authored by "Cat in the Hat" and "The Lorax" writer Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel in 1957. The story follows the titular green miser who makes plans to disguise himself as Santa Claus and steal the presents of the people of Whoville. However, he comes to learn that it'll take much more than that to take away the Whos' Christmas spirit. This "Road to the North Pole" card features Stewie in place of the Grinch sitting atop the stolen bag of presents while Brian forcibly guides the sleigh in a similar role that the Grinch's dog, Max, plays in the classic children's story. 

Three major film adaptations exist of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The first was the 1966 Chuck Jones TV cartoon starring "Frankenstein" star Boris Karloff as the Grinch and featured the iconic song "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. The Grinch then jumped to the big screen and in live-action form with the 2000 box-office hit starring Jim Carrey. Its most recent take came in 2018, with a full-length animated adaptation from Illumination simply titled "The Grinch," where the character was voiced by "Sherlock" and "Doctor Strange" actor Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Frosty the Snowman

The next title card stays in the realm of classic animated Christmas TV specials, this time lampooning 1969's "Frosty the Snowman." The film was based on the 1950 Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson song and was produced by Rankin/Bass, the animation house best known for their stop-motion holiday specials such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The 2D animated venture centers on a lovably naive snowman (voiced by Jackie Vernon) who comes to life after a magician's hat is placed on his head. When the temperatures begin to rise, he and a young girl named Karen (voiced by June Foray) journey to the North Pole to keep him safe. The title card sees Brian assuming the role of Frosty giving Stewie a ride down a snowy hill, an activity known as "bell whopping" in the special. 

The film and its version of the iconic song performed by Jimmy Durante have become mainstays of the holiday season. Rankin/Bass' take on the character would be featured in two follow-up specials, starting with 1976's "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" and 1979's "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July," the latter presenting Frosty in the company's trademark stop-motion style instead of his usual traditional animation. Two other non-Rankin/Bass Frosty specials are also in existence, with "Frosty Returns" in 1992 starring John Goodman and "The Legend of Frosty the Snowman" in 2005, which saw Patrick Star voice actor Bill Fagerbakke voice the character. 

Home Alone

The final title card from "Road to the North Pole" takes inspiration from the 1990 holiday classic "Home Alone." Released in 1990, the film follows Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), a kid who is accidentally abandoned by his large family when they leave for a Christmas vacation. When two criminals attempt to break into the home, Kevin creates an array of elaborate traps to defend himself. The "Family Guy" take on this concept duplicates the film's famous poster, here seeing Stewie as Kevin while Brian and Chris Griffin (voiced by Seth Green) act as thieves Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern). 

"Home Alone" was a major success when it was first released, grossing over $476 million. It ranked as the highest-grossing comedy and Christmas film of all time for several years and was even the third-highest-grossing movie of all time behind "E.T. the Extraterrestrial" and "Star Wars." The film went on to be nominated for two Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Its popularity spawned a thriving franchise, consisting of five sequels.