Christmas is just around the corner and I have to remind myself that the big day is coming. One way to create a holiday mood is watch a favorite Christmas movie.
In the past 20 years or so there have been a number of Christmas-themed movies that have appeared on the big screen. Some of them have been amusing, while others have been just plain obnoxious. “Home Alone” was a big hit in the early 1990s. My kids liked it, too. But I was not a big fan. I just thought the Macauley Culkin character was a sanctimonious brat. I guess you have to buy into the fact that is not a big deal that an affluent family from the North Shore could forget their son as they go on vacation in Paris for the holidays.
Hey, there was even a “Home Alone 2” and more sequels. The family again goes on vacation, this time in Florida while Culkin somehow ends up in New York. Someone call DCFS on these negligent parents.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” had its moments. “Bad Santa”: became a moderate hit when it was released in 2003 and later became a cult classic. It was amusing due to its outrageous plot. Billy Bob Thornton’s foul-mouthed Santa may not be for everyone but I found it be funny. And the late John Ritter and the late Bernie Mac were never better.
In terms of humor, I though the concept of “Elf” was brilliant. Will Ferrell can be a little grating sometimes but he was perfect as the large elf. He played the character with boyish innocence. Bob Newhart as Papa Elf was also hilarious. Like “The Polar Express” from 2004, these films work because of faith and believing, two themes that are associated with Christmas.
I really enjoyed The Polar Express although it was the source of controversy at the time it was released. Some parents brought their young children who were afraid of some of the scenes in the movie. Director Robert Zemeckis and co-producer Tom Hanks responded that sometimes life is a little scary for little kids. The anticipation and the doubts raised by growing children is part of the wonder of Christmas
What I liked about the film is the animation that resembled paintings right out of the 1950s. Santa, portrayed by Hanks, is initially intimidating and not openly jolly. But he proves to be wise and teaches a youngster the power of Christmas with a little bell.
I knew Zemeckis grew up in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, just like I did. Some subtle imagery of Chicago can be seen in the movie but the one part I picked up on right away is the conductor indicating that they have to stop for one more passenger on their magical train ride. He continually mentions the destination as “11344 Edbrooke,” which I knew was a street in Roseland, near Palmer Park. I figured that Zemeckis grew up at 11344 S. Edbrooke and he inserted it in the film. I read later that was the case.
The best Christmas movies are the ones where the main character either believes despite the odds or has a change of heart towards life. That is why I enjoy “A Christmas Carol” written by Charles Dickens and brought to the screen many times. I suppose everyone has their favorite version. My favorite is the 1951 British film starring Alaistair Sims, who I think was the greatest Scrooge. He is initially evil and distant until his redemption through the three spirits. He is energetic and funny at the conclusion. This is a great film.
If I had to pick a favorite I would have to go with “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The movie was not successful when it was released in 1946. Director Frank Capra did not want to promote it as a Christmas movie. Maybe that was a mistake. The copyright of the movie elapsed in the 1970s and stations all over the country began to show it during the late hours. I think the first time I saw the movie was in the early 1970s. The movie was shown in August and began at about midnight.
I asked my dad about it the next day and he said he never heard of it. Now most of us know the story of hard-luck George Bailey, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, who finds out through a misfit angel that his life means so much to his friends and relatives. Clarence the angel was right. A man is not a failure who has friends.
Those are the films that have the most impact with me. Some other great holiday films from the late 1940s were “The Miracle on 34th Street,” starring a young Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara, and “The Bishop’s Wife” starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. Bob Hope’s “The Lemon Drop Kid” in 1951 included the first time “Silver Bells” was sung in a movie.
Many of you have your own personal favorites that are not covered here. Hopefully, you will watch them this weekend. Enjoy your favorite holiday movies and songs and have a Merry Christmas.