“Christmastime is here… happiness and cheer… Fun for all that children call their favorite time of year…”
Debuting in 1950 as “Lil Folks”, and subsequently dubbed Peanuts by the syndicate (a name its creator was never happy with), Charles Schulz’s comic featuring “Good ol’” Charlie Brown was an unparalleled success on the newspaper page. The strip lasted 50 years, until Schulz’s retirement and death (the night before the final strip ran), and until its original run ended was one of the most popular. Even several years after it went into reruns, it was considered noteworthy for a newspaper to drop the strip. There’s something eminently relatable about the group of kids — and Charlie Brown in particular. He constantly fails, and it’s often his own fault, but he keeps trying anyway.
The animated specials have been as popular in their own right as the comic strip, and it’s likely as many people recognize the characters from television as from the newspaper. So perhaps it’s appropriate that the first of those specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas had a very “Charlie Brown” genesis. Continue reading →
Let it not be said that I don’t give things a chance every now and then. I’ve made a few smart remarks before about the idea of an Ice Age Christmas special, and the series’s increasingly bizarre timeline. And I’m not the biggest fan of the series, having only watched the first two movies. But Christmas is a season for giving and forgiving, after all, so it’s only appropriate to give the special a chance on its own terms.
I wouldn’t say my skepticism about the special was completely unfounded. Certainly I couldn’t declare this a new classic for all ages. But it does have some good points. Continue reading →
I’ve been watching Ernest films every few months all year, so of course I couldn’t let December go by without taking a look at John Cherry’s contribution to the season: Ernest Saves Christmas. Released in 1988, it’s the second film starring Jim Varney as Ernest, the know-nothing know-it-all. The title should leave no surprise as to the heart of the story; what may be a little surprising, however, is that Ernest isn’t the one who endangers Christmas in the first place. No, that’s actually Santa Claus himself, played admirably here by Douglas Seale.
In this movie, Santa Claus is a title and position passed on every hundred years or so. Santa’s powers start to fade as time goes on, and can only be renewed by passing them on to a successor. The current Santa has left the decision for too long, and has to pass them on before it’s time for Christmas Eve’s annual run, or the magic of Christmas will be gone forever. Continue reading →
When looking up the creator credits after watching Santa Claus: The Movie, it was not surprising at all to find that screenwriters David and Leslie Newman had the first three Superman films in their resumes, nor that director Jeannot Szwarc’s immediately previous film had been Supergirl. Santa Claus: The Movie strongly resembles those films in its narrative structure, as strange as it may sound to think of superhero story conventions in connection with the jolly fat man. Like Superman: The Motion Picture, Santa Claus: the Movie starts with the main character’s origin story, then has a flash forward to the hero having to deal with the machinations of an evil businessman. Also both stories feature some heartwarming elements (obligatory in this case), and a healthy dose of humor — provided in this film by Dudley Moore, who gets top billing despite not playing the title role.
Even the film’s marketing seems to play up to this resemblance, with the tagline “Seeing is Believing” being a little reminiscent of “You Will Believe a Man Can Fly”, and the other tagline “The Legend Comes to Life” evoking a sense of larger-than-life grandeur. Continue reading →
Note: Due to time constraints and a spotty internet connection, I wasn’t able to get a new review written today. So I dug up a review I wrote in 2009 on another site. I apologize for the recycled content, but as less than 1% of my regular readers have seen it before, I figure it’s better than missing an update. It doesn’t feel as “polished” as my current reviews, which considering I’m aware I still have room for improvement makes it a little strange for me to read. Nevertheless, aside from a few minor corrections, I have left the text unaltered.
Strangely, this film is not quite as gloriously bad as it sounds. Oh, it’s bad all right. But you won’t see Santa Claus strapping on an AK-47 and laying waste to Martian phalanxes. The conquering is, sadly, more metaphorical than that.
Made in 1964, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is obviously meant more for kids than for adults. It opens and closes with a song, “Hooray for Santa Claus”, which spells out Santa Claus’s name, emphasizes that this is the proper spelling, and then consistently fails to call him anything but “Santy Claus” throughout the whole song. And it’s not just my ears hearing it a particular way, as the closing credits show the words so you can warble along, and it’s definitely “Santy Claus” everywhere except where the song tells you how it’s spelled. Continue reading →
The overlap between Christmas Cinema and the Morbid Curiosity Files is fairly small. Sure, Hallmark and Lifetime produce hundreds of “Christmas” movies every year that are nothing but saccharine romantic comedies and pedestrian musicals featuring people who never should have been allowed to sing, but there aren’t very many Christmas films that look as though they’ll have that special cheesy kind of badness to them that makes me curious enough to check them out. But when I saw there was a spin-off of Christmas Vacation, one of my favorite Christmas films, but not starring Chevy Chase and instead focusing on Cousin Eddie, I knew it was one I had to check out.
The movie was released in 2003; I initially thought it was direct-to-video, but some research reveals it actually debuted on television first, carried by NBC. It’s directed by Nick Marck, whose previous and subsequent credits consist almost entirely of episodes of television shows. The writer on the film is Matty Simmons; he actually does have a prior association with the Vacation franchise, in that he’s been a producer or executive producer on all of the films. He was not, however, a writer on any of them. His previous writing credits include the Baby Huey Easter special, Two Reelers and Delta House. You might recognize those last two as projects you’ve never heard of; both are failed TV series. Delta House is notable in that it was an attempt to spin Animal House into an ongoing television series (with John Belushi as Bluto replaced by his cousin “Blotto”). So Simmons does have prior experience making spin-offs of hit National Lampoon movies that lack the qualities that made the originals hits. Continue reading →
I have Michael at It Rains, You Get Wet to thank for this one; he brought it up in discussion of my Top 10 Christmas Specials, and mentioned it was the first animated Christmas special made for television. I had never seen this before, so I decided to track it down and watch it.
I did wonder a bit how this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol would work. After all, if it’s Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, then obviously Mister Magoo must be playing Mister Scrooge, as he’s the only character in the right age bracket. But aside from a few early theatrical shorts while his character was still a little in flux, Quincy Magoo is ultimately a benign and friendly character, virtually the polar opposite of Ebenezer Scrooge (though a pretty good fit for how Scrooge ends up in the story.) The special solves this in a simple manner by having it be one of Magoo’s Broadway plays. Continue reading →
Rankin/Bass made a lot of stop-motion Christmas specials during the 1960s and 1970s, and one of the most fondly remembered today is The Year Without a Santa Claus. The reason for the special’s enduring popularity can be found in a couple of scenes in which Mrs. Claus encounters the Miser Brothers — Snow Miser and Heat Miser — a pair of elemental spirits who are constantly feuding with each other despite Mother Nature’s wishes. The special was something of a modest hit until the Miser Brothers and their theme song started getting a degree of retroactive popularity in the mid-2000s. Capitalizing on this, Warner Brothers — the current owners of most of the Rankin/Bass library — put out a new TV special in 2008, using stop-motion again, and focusing on the Miser Brothers themselves. The special is the directorial debut of Dave Barton Thomas.
The basis for the story echoes The Year Without a Santa Claus in that it deals with Santa being put out of commission and Christmas being jeopardized by his absence. In this special, things are started off by the machinations of the Miser Brothers’ elder sibling, the North Wind. Though he acts as one of Mother Nature’s more responsible children, he is deeply envious of Santa Claus and wants to take over his job. Continue reading →
One of my goals this season was to finally watch Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes, I somehow made it to 33 years old without ever having seen it — though of course it’s impossible not to have a pretty good idea of what it’s about, since its plot is mimicked by no fewer than ten TV show per year. There are, of course, many classic films I haven’t seen, and some of them are Christmas films, but this was the one that tended to spawn the most “How have you not seen this?” responses. Before I get into my review, I thought I’d say a little bit about how it came to be that I haven’t seen it, and for that matter, why so many people expect everyone to have done so.
It’s a Wonderful Life has a colorful rights history. Released in 1946, it was not a commercial success, though it did have a fair amount of critical acclaim (which included five Oscar nominations, Best Picture among them). It was released by Liberty Pictures, who were later bought out by Paramount. The rights to the film would bounce between different owners over the decades, but a critical juncture happened in 1974, when National Telefilm Associates neglected to renew the copyright due to a clerical error. This put the images from the film in the public domain, and television stations took advantage of the reduced cost to air it multiple times during the Christmas season — turning it into a beloved holiday classic. In 1993, Republic Pictures (then the owners of the film) successfully argued in court that the film — while no longer directly under copyright itself — should still be protected as a derivative work of the short story “The Greatest Gift”, which was still under copyright and to which they also had the rights. This marks one of the few times something has effectively been taken out of the public domain. Continue reading →
According to my wall calendar, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t celebrate Hanukkah, but as Crackle made Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights available, I thought I might check out the animated film for today’s review. I did wonder if, as a Gentile, I might miss out on some of the references. I needn’t have been concerned; though the film pays a degree of lip service to both Hanukkah and Christmas (to the point of setting it in a year where the 8th day of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve) it does so in a very light manner. One doesn’t need to know or understand the traditions of either holiday to watch this film.
It is, however, important that one knows that despite being an animated holiday film, this is not “family friendly”; it’s rated PG-13 for a good reason, and shows Adam Sandler’s usual crass humor. Continue reading →