Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema featured a look at Christmas related movies. Here’s a review of the films discussed on the show.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
There have been three official adaptations of Dr. Seuss’ book How the Grinch Stole Christmas: the original 1966 television special, the 2000 live action version, and the 2018 computer animated film. The original 1966 version is the most beloved but opinions vary on the 2000 version. It has impressive but gaudy production design and an all-in performance by Jim Carrey as the Grinch. The supporting cast includes a very young Taylor Momsen long before her rock and roll days with the band The Pretty Reckless and the soundtrack introduced the song “Where Are You Christmas?” The filmmakers of the 2000 Grinch film had to expand the story to fill a feature length motion picture and many of their innovations were duplicated in the 2018 animated movie. In 2022 an unofficial adaptation titled The Mean One put a horrific spin on the Dr. Seuss story.
The Holiday was a 2006 Nancy Meyers film in which two women, one in Los Angeles and the other in London, swap homes for the holidays and find love on foreign soil. For a romantic comedy, The Holiday did quite well at the box office, earning $205 million worldwide but it didn’t make much money because the production budget was about $85 million. But The Holiday has collected an enthusiastic audience. The cottage home owned by Jude Law’s character was recently made available to rent on AirBnb and has attracted tourists and fans.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the best regarded adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novel. Variety reports that the song “When Love Is Gone” has finally been reinstated into the film for the version available on Disney+. The song did not appear in the film’s theatrical release. According to director Brian Henson, Disney’s then studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg had the song cut from the film to quicken the pacing. The song was included in The Muppet Christmas Carol’s VHS release but was missing from subsequent home video releases on DVD and Blu-Ray. The film negative was missing until 2020 when the footage was discovered and restoration efforts began. The extended version is accessible on Disney+ under the extras menu.
In this riff on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the spirits of Christmas annually visit sordid people and inspire them to change their ways. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) takes on an especially difficult assignment who might be irredeemable (Ryan Reynolds). Spirited is an interesting take on the original idea but the film suffers from an excess of mediocre musical performances and its big emotional moments come across calculated and flat.
It’s a Wonderful Life
One of the films most associated with the holiday season is Frank Capra’s 1946 feature It’s a Wonderful Life. However, at the time of its release, It’s a Wonderful Life was a box office failure that received a mixed critical reaction. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the film became popular due to its repeated showings on television during the Christmas season which came about due to a lapse in the copyright. It’s a Wonderful Life has since been named one of the 100 greatest American movies by the American Film Institute and the organization named George Bailey and Mr. Potter on its list of the greatest movie heroes and villains.
A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story has displaced It’s a Wonderful Life as the movie that is always on television during the holiday season. A Christmas Story was a modest success at the time of its release but its stature grew over the years, largely because of its marathon runs on cable television. Filmmaker Bob Clark had previously directed another holiday picture, the 1974 slasher film Black Christmas which has been remade in 2006 and 2019.
There have been multiple sequels to A Christmas Story: A Christmas Story 2 in 2012 and A Christmas Story Christmas in 2022. The latter film picked up the story decades later with actor Peter Billingsley returning in the role of the now adult Ralphie and spending Christmas in his childhood home with his recently widowed mother. A Christmas Story Christmas is not going to become perennial viewing but the filmmakers have succeeded in creating a likable holiday movie that will tickle viewer’s memory of the original film.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is another film that’s become perennial holiday viewing. It was written by John Hughes and continues the story of the Griswold family and in particular the father played by Chevy Chase. The best Vacation films are funny but also dramatize the pressure felt by suburban middle-class parents to give their families a classic American holiday. Christmas Vacation is so beloved because it is so funny and so quotable but also because it is so true of so many people’s holiday experience.
The Santa Clause
1994’s The Santa Clause is a family comedy about a father who is drafted into becoming the new Kris Kringle. The film reiterates a common holiday theme of the cynical father who rediscovers the Christmas spirit and reconnects with his family. The film inspired two sequels and a series that premiered on Disney+ in 2022.
Music is an integral part of the Christmas season and several of the most popular holiday songs were originally created for Hollywood movies. One of the most popular of these is “White Christmas” which is usually associated with the 1954 movie of the same name but was in fact originally written for the 1943 motion picture Holiday Inn, for which Irving Berlin won an Oscar for Best Original Song. According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, “White Christmas” has been recorded over 500 times in a dozen different languages.
Anna and the Apocalypse
2017’s Anna and the Apocalypse might be the only Christmas-themed musical zombie film. The undead lay siege to a high school during a holiday music pageant and the film mixes zombie movie thrills with sugary holiday musical numbers. It’s a novel idea but not a great movie. However, Anna and the Apocalypse does have a great musical number in “It’s That Time of Year” performed by Marli Siu.
Christmas Bloody Christmas
The 1980s produced a crop of killer Santa Claus movies. 2022’s Christmas Bloody Christmas is an homage to those films by way of The Terminator and it has a sleazy but fun neo-grindhouse vibe. Christmas Bloody Christmas reconstructs the low budget aesthetic of horror films that were distributed on VHS in the 1980s with the neon color palate and the synth score. The film also has a likable pair of performances by Riley Dandy and Sam Delich as a pair of record store coworkers.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
Silent Night, Deadly Night was a notorious horror film released in 1984 about an ax murderer in a Santa Claus outfit. The movie caused a furor with parents groups who demand that the film be pulled from theaters which it was; Silent Night, Deadly Night’s west coast theatrical run was cancelled. This censorship sealed the film’s notoriety and it’s still remembered despite not being very good nor is it even the best killer Santa movie of the 1980s. (See: Christmas Evil.)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Television Christmas specials are a major part of holiday entertainment and traditions and between the 1960s and 1980s Rankin Bass Productions created a run of seminal animated Christmas specials, many of them still in rotation. These included The Little Drummer Boy, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Jack Frost, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman. The most popular of these was 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer which has been broadcast on television annually since 1964.