Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's a Christmas Special! Part 1

This entry comes in two parts: one that reviews Christmas specials that I own, and one that gives shorter reviews for ones that I do not own but have seen.

1: SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN - The first classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special I'll talk about, since it has the longest running time out of the ones we own. This one was...okay. An average special that's worth watching once every December but is not the most entertaining one you'll ever see. In fact, it's got a number of problems. From the moment that whimsical postman narrator comes onto the scene, promises to tell the story of Santa Claus, sings the start of the titular song, and we go into the opening credits as instrumental versions of the songs play, it's obvious that Rankin/Bass were trying to replicate "Rudolph." Not only does that feel forced, but the remainder of the special does not hold up as well as "Rudolph". It's almost too cheesy at points, the story is pretty meh, the main characters are flat, the Kringle elves have annoying voices, the Penguin sidekick is pointless, there's a needless amount of songs that could easy be cut (especially that creepy "Sit On My Lap" song and Jessica's song), the lyrics to the titular song are absolutely shoe-horned in very awkwardly (The story has little to do with the song, BTW. You could name it after any other Santa-related song and it wouldn't make a difference), and those goddamn dumbass kids listening to the story won't stop pointing out the obvious whenever a Santa/Christmas trademark is originated! We freaking get it: shut up, kids! However, there are stuff to like about this one as well. The ho-hum plot does do a good job incorporating almost every bit of the Santa Claus mythos in, Mickey Rooney makes a great young Kris Kringle, June Forray is great as ever in the role of Mama Kringle, and the most enjoyable characters are the antagonists and ex-antagonist. Paul Frees as Burgermeister Meisterburger and his henchman Grimsley steals the show whenever the characters are on-screen, and Keenan Wynn's Winter Warlock/Old Man Winter is very entertaining as well. That damn "Put One Foot In Front Of The Other" song is very much an Earworm, too. And the special ends with a surprisingly deep, adult message about how Santa Claus sets a great example of giving to others and spreading happiness that we as humans ought to follow, so that the Christmas spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to man can be kept alive. So yes, despite the flaws, it's still worth checking out.

2: RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER - Another Rankin/Bass special, this one is a total classic. It runs for just the right amount of time for it to be engaging, and it is very memorable as well. C'mon, who doesn't remember everything by heart? Sam the singing snowman, the bombastic Santa Claus, "Hermey doesn't want to make toys!"/"I want to be a dentist!", the elf song, Comet and the reindeer games, the island of misfit toys, the bumble, and all that? It's all corny but heartfelt and a lot of fun to watch. The characters are likable and enjoyable. Ruldoph himself, his parents, Sam, Santa, Clarice, Hermey, and especially Yukon Cornelius the prospector, whose hammy voice acting and tendency to get all the best moments and lines makes him the most entertaining part of the film. The antagonist, the bumble snow monster, is actually pretty damn frightening despite his cheapness and eventual turnaround in the end. And the story is just great. It actually follows the plot of the song's lyrics closely while still telling an original story that doesn't feel out of place. In fact, it actually does good with removing any unfortunate implications that all of the other reindeer only loved and accepted Rudolph when his object of ridicule became useful by having everyone realize they were wrong how they treated Rudolph and the other misfits before Santa asks Rudolph to guide his slay. That way, the message becomes more poignant and the payoff even better. All in all, this is a great Christmas special that is highly recommended to be watched every year during the holiday season.

3: FROSTY THE SNOWMAN - An actually 2D animated cartoon Rankin/Bass special. It's shorter than the others I listed before, running for a half-hour (30 minutes: the length of a cartoon show episode), and yet this one might slightly beat out Rudolph as my favorite. This is mainly due to the amount of heart, humor, and content they were able to fit in 30 minutes, and the strong performances of the lead characters. Jackie Vernon is just insanely likable and hilariously dopey as the titular snowman, the child actress who voices Karen is great and likable in the role, and Professor Hinkle the evil magician is a show stealing antagonist. His voice, delivery, and antics entertain me every time I re-watch this program. Jimmy Durante as the narrator is perfect as well, in both speaking and singing his lines. And it's all very funny. After the opening scene, there are two acts in the special, and only the first one follows the song completely. The second one changes the story to be about taking Frosty to the North Pole and shoehorning Christmas and Santa Claus into the plot. But that's okay, since "Frosty The Snowman" is in fact a winter-based song, NOT a Christmas song at all! The special needed something to make it a Christmas special, and thus justify the song being played at Christmas time! It's overall an enjoyable half-hour and a very solid special that holds up to this day.

4: FROSTY RETURNS - A non-Rankin/Bass Christmas special about Frosty...no wait, it's a winter special about Frosty, keeping in line with the original song. And this one, unfortunately, is not nearly as good. It runs for the same amount of time but is very mediocre. The plot is almost politically environmental, the "summer wheeze" is a designated evil if I ever saw one, the main girl Holly is no Karen, her friend Charles does next to nothing, the art style isn't too pleasing to look at (at one point the animators just didn't care and drew a kid's nose all wrong!), and the rules of Frosty are just so different in this one that it's jarring. We see Frosty's hat come off him at points and he does not become lifeless! The heck? But to it's credit, there are some entertaining aspects to it. John Winters as the bizarre narrator, John Goodman as a very different but still fun and likable version of Frosty, and Brian Doyle Murray as the ambitious old businessman Mr Twitchell. The standout is the "Let There Be Snow" song, which is very nice and catchy sounding. Overall...it's meh, but not really bad like the R/B "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" or that awful CG one with Bill Fagerbakke as Frosty.

5: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS - Who doesn't know this one? A classic rendition of Dr. Seuss' holiday-themed short story, animated by Chuck Jones and narrated by Borris Karloff, who also does the voice of the Grinch. The story tells of an evil, small-hearted creature who changes his ways upon realizing the true nature of Christmas, the holiday he hated and sought to ruin. It teaches the great message of how even if you were to take away all the gifts and food, "Christmas doesn't come from a store. It, in fact, means a little bit more". Really, how can you not like this half-hour special? It perfectly captures Seuss's story, it's characters, it's message, and all the whimsy and charm that the author was famous for. It has great music with two songs, "The Who's Song" and "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch", it's padded out in all the right places (the scenes with the songs, the Grinch's detailed description of the Who's "noise", the Grinch and Max's trip down the mountain, back up the mountain, and the Grinch's rush to save his present-filled slay), and is so memorable and endearing the whole way through. It's also responsible for the Grinch, who was uncolored in the book, being his iconic shade of green, which he is traditionally seen as now. It elevated the Grinch and his story in pop culture, and now I dare one to read the book without hearing Boris Karloff's voice in their heads! It's a truly delightful Christmas classic that should be watched every year.

6: SCROOGE/A CHRISTMAS CAROL - The film version of the classic Charles Dicken's Christmas story starring Alistair Sim in the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The alternate title for the film is simply "Scrooge." I could go on and on about what an excellent, timeless tale "A Christmas Carol"
is, but I'll stick with just discussing the versions. This one is probably the best adaptation of them all.
It has a great layout, a great script, and a great cast. Of particular notice is Scrooge, Jacob Marley, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Alaister Sim is in every way the definitive Scrooge. He's got the look, he's got the acting talent, and most of all, he's got the voice. When the book describes Scrooge speaking in his "grating voice", this is the voice I imagine. Marley is also perfect, speaking in a creepy, sad and dead-sounding drone but giving a ghastly, emotional wail when he has to. And it might have the creepiest version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come ever. Rather than just a guy in a hood and cloak, it's a guy shrouded in a black sheet with nothing but his pale hand coming out, creating the chilling image of a hand of fate pointing out from the darkness. Now it has at least three major flaws. The movie exclusive past that involves young Scrooge's dealings with Mr. Jorkins drags on a bit, the fate of Scrooge's ex-lover is pointlessly changed from what it was originally in the book, and Scrooge's character development is mishandled by having him declare "I'm too old to change!" TWICE before the last ghost finally converts him, which kind of cheapens the whole point of his redemption. But other than those missteps, this is a masterpiece of an adaptation. Go watch it!

7: A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A TV movie version of the same story, this one starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. This is also one of the greatest adaptations, owing much of that to the lead actor's performance. George C. Scott is remarkably good in the role of Scrooge, having a perfect look, voice, and delivery, and hits all the right notes when he has to, whether they be subtle or in-your-face. His personal touches of sneers and mocking laughter to some Scrooge's classic lines (like "Humbug!") really adds something to the characterization. Other performances are great as well. David Warner makes a particularly memorable Bob Cratchitt, Frank Finlay plays a more emotive but still decent Marley, Angela Pleasence is...well, pleasent as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Edward Woodward is probably the best Ghost of Christmas Present ever. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come looks pretty generic here, but the effects and sounds used for him makes the ghost and his part genuinely frightening to watch, more so than in any other version. Downsides to this version would be that again Scrooge's development is undermined by having this version be a total asshole for all of the past and present visits who even justifies himself every time he's faced with one of his faults. And the child playing Tiny Tim in this one is absolutely wretched. He looks like a robotic zombie and acts like one too! But what this version gets right, it gets really right. Go watch it!

8: MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL - A 30 minute cartoon version of the story done by Disney in the mid-eighties. It's short and yet manages to distill the core elements of the story and tell the basic tale well enough to make it's point within that time frame! That's pretty damn incredible! The casting of the characters is great. Scrooge Mcduck is naturally playing Ebeneezer Scrooge, and it's Alan Young's debut as the character. Wayne Allwine also made his debut as Mickey here, playing the role of Bob Cratchitt. Other standouts are Donald Duck as Scrooge's nephew, Rat and Mole as the two charity workers, Goofy as the hilariously un-scary Marley's ghost, Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Willy the Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and a surprisingly scary Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future. It's very fun to watch and a great telling of a classic holiday tale.

9: THE MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL - Another film version, one that mixes real actors with...well, Muppets. And it works. It works very, very well. We have Michael Caine in the role of Scrooge, Kermit T Frog as Bob Cratchitt, Miss Piggy as Mrs Cratchitt, Gonzo and Rizzo as our comedic narrators, Stalter and Waldorf as the Marley Brother ghosts, Fozzy Bear as Feziwig, an angelic little girl as the Ghost of Christmas Past, a giant Balthazar-voiced muppet as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Cristmas Yet To Come is so obviously the Chamberlain from "The Dark Crystal". This, in my opinion, is both the perfect introduction to this story for kids, and one of the best versions of the story out there. So much about it just works. All the memorable songs (standouts being "Scrooge", "One More Sleep Til Christmas", "Marley and Marley", "It Feels Like Christmas" "Thankful Heart", and the weakly acted yet absolutely haunting "When Love Is Gone"), the way Scrooge is introduced as a total villain only to end up as the protagonist, the points of the story the film adapts and the way it adapts them, and surprisingly enough, Gonzo and Rizzo really hold it together. Their fourth wall breaking and side commentary of the situations that unfold is just so ridiculously entertaining, and they even know their limits when they temporarily bow out of the movie when the last ghost shows up. The real star, though, is Michael Caine as Scrooge. The character is written 100% faithful to his book portrayal and Caine plays the part dead seriously, which is hard to do in a movie filled with Muppets. But Caine treated the Muppets as equal co-workers of an acting guild and there you go: a wonderful performance up there with Sim and Scott. Look past the Muppets musical style and you'll see it's a masterful version of this great story for all to enjoy.

10: DISNEY'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL - The last film version we own, and also the weakest. It's a CG animated version of the story made by Robert Zemmeckis for Disney, and while it's not bad, it has lots of glaring problems. While the CG animation is stunning to look at and produces some terrific visuals that are only possible with animation, it still relies on the 3D gimmick a bit too much, and the 3D in this movie isn't even as good as "The Polar Express!" Some of the designs are just weird, particularly Scrooge's super lanky look and Bob Cratchitt's hobbit design. Jim Carrey does the voice of Scrooge, and he does good but is so obviously an impersonation of Alistair Sim's voice. Some of the other performances don't do it for me, either. Gary Oldman underacts as Crachitt while Colin Firth overacts as Nephew Fred. There are moments that are needlessly dark and scary, particularly when the Ghost of Christmas Present turns into a rotting, still-laughing skeleton. (Though the grown-up Ignorance and Want in the same scene is pretty clever, as is the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come's shadow gimmick) And there is an unforgivable Big Lipped Alligator moment that's just there for the 3D, where the last ghost chases Scrooge down with a hearse and Scrooge even shrinks into a small, squeaky voiced version of himself momentarily. He literally gets chased down by death, and yet when he sees his stuff getting sold to Old Joe immediately afterwards, he still doesn't have a clue! The only good part of that segment is "You're fired! FIRED!" Cap it with a rip-off of "Mickey's Christmas Carol" in which Scrooge falls into a fiery, hellish grave while screaming "I'LL CHANGE!" and you really get the sense that Scrooge was "scared straight" by all this rather than actually finding his redemption and repenting of his own accord, which goes against the point of the story. But what's good in this one is still really good. The most important points of the story are faithfully adapted, Gary Oldman plays a very frightening version of Marley, and Jim Carey is great as both Scrooge and all four spirits, particularly the Ghost of Christmas Past, which is probably the best and most faithful to the book version of the character to date. It's no masterpiece, but it's worth seeing at least once.

11: A DISNEY CHRISTMAS GIFT - This was the Christmas special from the eighties that Disney threw together when "Mickey's Christmas Carol" got postponed until the following year. We own it
on VHS and the only reason we keep it is because it's such a rare, hard to find special. 'Cause honestly...it's bad. Really bad. Hilariously, unbelievably bad! When you watch it, it becomes so apparent that this was a rushed project with no effort put into it at all. It's started by a Christmas montage of Disneyland as a chorus sings about Christmas morning and ended with a montage of cheap looking Disney Christmas wind-up toys while the same song plays. And the content is even worse. It has the shorts "Once Upon A Wintertime", "Mickey's Christmas Tree", "Donald's Gift Wrapping", and "The Night Before Christmas", and also features clips from "Bambi", "Peter Pan", "The Sword In The Stone", and "Cinderella." Notice something off about this? Only TWO of those have to do with Christmas at all! The other stuff is tacked on with terrible justifications as to why they're in a Christmas program. The winter short being about winter (but not Christmas), the Donald short being about gift wrapping (but not specifically for Christmas), the "Bambi" and "The Sword In The Stone" clips taking place at Winter (the narration chorus claims it's Christmas!) while the "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella" clips have nothing to do with Christmas aside from a mention of it in the former. (Hilariously, "Cinderella" is justified as relating to Christmas wishes and they even give the Fairy Godmother a "Merry Christmas, Cinderella!" line. And the "Peter Pan" clip is opened up with the line "What would Christmas be without Peter Pan?" Ummm...a lot of things?) Yeah, this may very well be the worst excuse for a Christmas special ever. But that's what makes viewing it funny.

12: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS - Ah, yet another half hour Christmas classic. Being the first animated program to be based on "Peanuts" by Charles Schultz, this one is...well, nobody was quite sure what to think of it back when it premiered, but it's become a staple of Christmas time all these years later, so it has to have something good about it, right? Well...yeah. As Doug Walker put it, it's almost like watching a Christmas pageant by kids...about kids trying to put on a Christmas pageant. It's cheap, corny, tacky, and not very professional, but you can feel the hard work and amount of heart that was put into it. The animation is cheap, the plot is paper-thin and almost non-existent at first, there are amusing moments with barely any laugh-out-loud funny jokes, and the voice acting is, for the most part, awful. Only the kid voicing Charlie Brown himself does a perfectly passable job 'cause his natural speaking voice is very wishy-washy sounding and he can emote well when he has to. Lucy's voice is good too, but has lots of moments where she just phones in her lines without emoting. The other voices are bad, especially the lisping Linus and completely unemotive Sally.    And yet, it still comes off as a good, worthwhile watch. It just has a lot of charm to it. It's like the Christmas tree featured in it: shabby but not bad, and deserving of love. It's music is excellent too!

13: THE NUTCRACKER ANIMATED - And you thought "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was a "WTF did I just watch?" Christmas program? This one is worse. 'Cause it's NOT a well known Christmas special. In fact, it's very obscure. Obscure as in...I don't know what the hell it is or where I even got the VHS with it on it! It seems to be a very old, cheaply animated half-hour anime OVA that's been dubbed over with a gag dub script. However, I don't know who made this anime and it doesn't show up on the resume of any of the VA's confirmed by the end credits! HELP! But for all it's strangeness, it's pretty entertaining. The script is filled with jokes, weird lines, and even weirder characterizations. Our cute little protagonist Clara is portrayed as a smartass with a strange psychotic streak to her. Her brother Fritz is a total idiot, and the Nutcracker (nicknamed Nutty, but has the "more dignified" real name of Prince Bongo) is a cheesy voiced un-hero who can't seem to do anything right, which Clara lampshades. Uncle Drusselmier and the Mouse King are the only characters played semi-straight, but even they receive some ridiculous lines. Oh, and Richard Newman is the hilariously deadpan snarky narrator who would much rather be telling the story of "Treasure Island" than this one. The lines and delivery of the Narrator and Clara are the things that crack me up every time I watch this. It's really average, but not meant to be taken seriously at all. So I enjoy it...whatever it is.

14: CARE BEARS NUTCRACKER SUITE - A movie made from the three-part series finale of "The Care Bears Family", my favorite "Care Bears" series. This one is...well, it's goofy but good for what it is for it's target audience of children. And surprisingly enough, it's still enjoyable for me to watch too. That is the power of "The Care Bears Family", people! Yeah, there are problems. Aside from the story not being too well written (it's Care Bears, what did you expect?), there's the ever annoying Hugs and Tugs in their quest for the perfect Christmas ornament, the dumb notion that Christmas would be ruined without toys, animation/plot errors (like why the heck can Braveheart and Lotsaheart use the Care Bear stare? They're not Care Bears!), the obvious unreveal that the Nutcracker is the prince of Toyland, and the really pointless framing device that ends up ineffectively ripping off the twist at the end of "The Care Bears Movie". But the rest is good, or at least so bad it's good. On the latter side we have the Sugarplum fairy, who's an obvious knock-off of Tinkerbell, the Rat King, who's another knock-off of Mr. Beastly from the show, and the Evil Vizier, a No-Heart knock-off with none of the intimidating creepy factor and a design that resembles Jafar. He is so incompetent in his evildoing and he hams it up with all the lines he shouts out and follows with over-the-top maniacal laughs that he ends up very entertaining to watch in his scenes. Good stuff includes the likes of Tenderheart, Funshine, Grumpy, and Braveheart are as enjoyable as ever, the Nutcracker is very likable, the story with him and Anna is pretty touching, the Harlequin is a nice side character, Toyland is interesting to look at, the humor is good at points, and there are actually some surprisingly dark moments here:the flashback to how the Vizier and his rat army conquered Toyland, torched its' villages, and took prisoners is particularly shocking, as is the line in the voiceover during it saying "some say he (the prince) was killed in a fight with the Vizier!" There's also the moment where Anna's adventurous younger brother breaks down into tears when he realizes he could be locked in the Vizier's dungeon for the rest of his life, and when the Vizier systematically turns our heroes into creepy looking wooden statues that's bound to give kids nightmares. So for a kiddie flick, it's alright.

15: MICKEY'S ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS - A DTV Disney Christmas film starring Mickey Mouse, Donald, Goofy, and all their pals in three holiday themed stories. It's quickly become a holiday classic for us. The framing device is three gifts and Christmas cards being opened under a Christmas tree, and a certain theme is explored through a story. These segments are narrated excellently by Kelsey Grammer. The stories themselves are really good. Donald's story adapts the "wishing it was Christmas every day" story, and Donald's three nephews are the ones who make this wish. It's very amusing as it unfolds, gets pretty sad at the climax when the nephews' attempt to "liven up" one of the Christmases goes horribly, and gets touching at the end, where the family has a true Christmas celebration together which breaks the wishing star's spell. Scrooge McDuck and Chip n' Dale are in this one too. Goofy's story tells a "yes, there is a Santa Claus" story between Goofy and his son Max, and after it's wacky start, this is actually the most depressing one in the film! From the moment Pete tells Max there's no such thing as Santa up until Max has to impersonate "Santy" in order to cheer up his dad, it's a sad tale of dashed hopes, but a good story about faith that pays off in the end. Mickey's story adapts "the Gift of the Magi" using Mickey and Minnie, though the focus is mostly on Mickey. This one was pure heartwarming at many points, including the well known ending. And the whole movie ends with the cast of all three stories joining together for caroling, and the credits has really nice version of "Deck the Halls." This full-length animated feature is pure great Disney magic and Christmas magic in perfect unison, and one I enjoy watching every year.

16: WINNIE THE POOH: SEASONS OF GIVING - A DTV Disney holiday special starring Pooh and friends, released at the same time as the aforementioned Mickey one. It's an enjoyable watch too, but not as strong. And that's really for one reason: this special is made from two episodes of my favorite animated series "The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh" at the beginning and end, and the Pooh Thanksgiving special in the middle between them...but no actual Pooh Christmas special! We have the special starting with a song/montage of Pooh clips relating to the seasons, then the episode "GroundPiglet Day". The end of that episode has Tigger exclaiming how the date being November 13 means that it's "porcupine day!", but this special has Jim Cummings dub over Paul Winchell to have Tigger say "It's almost Thanksgivin'!", which leads us into another musical montage that opens up the Thanksgiving special. After that we get the last montage, and then we get original animation of the Poohs set at Christmas. But this is just used as a framing device to show "Find Her, Keep Her", one of the show's very best episodes but one that has nothing to do with Christmas. The payoff for this is that Kessie comes back to complete the Christmas Tree...a few minutes after Rabbit had just got done recounting the story of the last time he saw Kessie! This is beyond contrived, and another reason I think it would've been better to insert a showing of "Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too" between the showing of this episode and the final scene at the Christmas tree. That way we'd not only have the actual Christmas special in here (one that actually has Rabbit saying the line "It's the season of giving!") but we'd also have more time so that Kessie's return would come as a genuine surprise. But no, Disney blew it on this one. The DVD also includes bonus episodes "The Magic Earmuffs" and "The Wishing Bear", which are winter-themed episodes. But despite all this, I still have fun watching it every year. I find it amusing that Rabbit, one of my favorite characters, ends up being the unofficial star of the film due to his role in all three segments. And really, I'm glad that "Find Her, Keep Her" is somewhere on DVD, the episode is that good!

17: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: THE ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS: - A DTV Christmas Special based around "Beauty And The Beast", one of THE best Disney movies. So it's a cheapquel, or midquel, to that. It's bound to go wrong, right? Well, actually...it's one of the better ones. There are faults I can find and they are glaring. The biggest is the portrayal of the lead characters and their relationship. Belle and Beast start off as they were in the late middle of the first movie, which is where the story is meant to take place: a captor and captive who are trying to open up to each other and be friends now. But after Beast is sent into a wangsty Christmas-based depression, things go downhill fast. Belle makes a storybook for Beast as a gift with the intent of "reaching his heart" and "changing him" so they can be happy together. Uh, since when was that a motivation for Belle? Then the Beast acts like a raging emo asshole towards Belle and yet she still tries to bring Christmas to the castle in the name of "making him happy." And to top it off, Beast crosses the unforgivable line by locking Belle up in the dungeon with the intent of keeping her there forever. When he changes his mind and says "sorry", Belle immediately forgives him and takes him back. Thus all the implications of Stockholm Syndrome and abusive relationships that were avoided in the original film are here. Just...terrible. Other faults include the irritating decorator angel character, the forced revelation that the castle was first enchanted on Christmas, all those "false endings" towards the end, and the very idea that this adventure could happen during the events of the original film and on one Christmas Eve no less...is pretty far-fetched. I mean, shouldn't Maurice and Lefou have frozen to death by then? But despite these faults, the rest of the movie is solid and entertaining. The animation is actually really good, the songs are catchy, the supporting cast is as interesting and likable as ever, the plot is engaging enough, and the villain, an evil, depraved homosexual pipe organ named Maestro Forte, is fantastic. It's Tim Curry doing his voice so you know he's going to end up stealing every scene he's featured in. His Villain Song (which even has him screaming the word "HELL!") is fun, and the climactic part where he attempts to bring down the whole castle is absolutely thrilling. This movie also gives us "As Long As There's Christmas", a great Christmas song. So for all the flaws it's got, I still really enjoy this one and watch it just about every year as well. And I'm not even ashamed to admit it either.

18: KINGDOM HEARTS: CHAIN OF MEMORIES - A VHS we have recorded from cutscenes and some gameplay of "Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain Of Memories". I know it's cheating to call this one a Christmas special, but we played the original "Chain Of Memories" on our 2004 Christmas vacation, thus coming to associate the game with Christmas. Therefore, it's a Christmas special to us! I won't cover this one much, actually. I'll only say that the story is of better quality than the one presented in "Birth By Sleep" and the bad KH games, but not on the same level or scope as the first game and "II." It's a great game and a very enticing story...well, at least in Sora's mode, which is what this VHS covers. And as jarring as the performance by Hayley Joel Osment is to listen to when we're watching this, there are show-stealing performances like Derek Stephen Prince's Vexen and Eddie Carrol's last time as Jiminy Cricket to make up for that and keep us entertained. Overall, it's solid.

19: FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN - Wait, this one's not a Christmas special either? Just a "Final Fantasy VII" based action movie? Well if "Die Hard" can be considered a Christmas movie, so can this! And while not actually set at Christmas, I think the movie has a good deal of Christmas spirit in it and represents what Christmas is all about. It's got "advent" in the title, the scenery is often gray and wintery, Cloud is now in the business of delivering gifts, a big part of the plot revolves around helping sick children, and there are religious scenes: one is an evil baptism performed by the bad guy, and the other is a good baptism that even takes place at a church and is the final scene in the movie! Hell, Aerith is even portrayed as a Christ-like Messiah figure in this. And another major reason as to why it's a Christmas special for us is that we so strongly associate the "Final Fantasy VII" game itself with the three months of Autumn, so it's nice to have a follow-up for the month of December. And it really does work well as something to watch during holiday season.

20: THE SANTA CLAUSE - This one is a holiday classic for our entire family! The story of a grouchy, cynical, overworked man who becomes the new Santa Claus is great and told perfectly in the film, the performance of Tim Allen as he transforms from stingy Scott Calvin into jolly old St. Nick is pretty damn remarkable, it has a great Christmas atmosphere, the comedy is solid, the magical world at the North Pole is wonderful, and we have a great cast of characters, favorites of which include psychiatrist Neil Miller and Bernard the Head Elf. And it has alot of heart. It just captures the magic of Christmas perfectly and knows how to be great family entertainment for all.

21: THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 - The sequel that came out years later. And it is almost as good as the original...almost. The story of Santa having to find a woman to get married to isn't as interesting as the story of the first film, but it's still very engaging, especially on the part of the woman. Some of the adult jokes and more mature edge is lost in this one and the same sense of wonder just cannot be recaptured by the redesigned North Pole since we see it a lot in this movie due to the B-plot that centers around Santa's toy clone going crazy and almost ruining Christmas. But the same Christmas magic from the first is still here, as are the memorable and likable characters. We get some new ones here: Carol Newman the Mrs. Claus to be, ambitious second-in-command elf Curtis, Charlie's new little sister Lucy, the crazy and eventually despotic toy Santa Clone, and even the council of legendary figures at one point. There are lots of great lines and moments in this one too. The best scene in the whole movie involves Scott Calvin going with Carol Newman to a boring Christmas party and just turning the whole thing around through use of his magic. And Tim Allen gives another great performance...twice! It's all in all a worthy successor to the original, even if it's not quite as good.

22: THE SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE - The third and weakest installment in the Santa Clause trilogy. It's strengths are Martin Short's show-stealing Jack Frost, whose presence
also makes this the only "Santa Clause" movie with a main villain (the antagonists in the first movie weren't bad guys and the bad guy of the second was part of an incidental B-plot: Jack Frost actually drives the conflict here!), the amusing performances of Santa's in-laws, and the entire last act that puts Scott Calvin in a "It's A Wonderful Life" scenario where he interacts with a world in which he never became Santa Claus and Jack Frost is Santa instead, and the spirit of Christmas has been lost because of it. That really should've carried the whole movie, but it doesn't. Most of the movie focuses on hi-jinx at the as of now boring North Pole, the dopey in-laws being led to believe they're in Canada, Santa and Mrs Claus having a baby (which totally defeats the purpose of Charlie wanting to "go into the family business" at the end of the original), unfunny jokes and pointless moments of padding, and the hamfisted antics of Curtis. There's not enough Christmas magic or adult edge to this movie either: it's too kiddie! What's worst is that Tim Allen's heart doesn't seem to be in it this time, so his Santa comes off as very stale, especially when compared to Jack Frost. Ironically, it's when the two of them are sharing scenes together that Allen seemed to perform his best. The film is still watchable but not great. It's overall an average movie that finishes off a good holiday film trilogy.

23: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - Where...do I...begin? I think this might be not only one of the best Christmas films ever made, but one of the best films ever made period. It's not even a Christmas themed movie, really. But the final and most important act of the movie takes place on Christmas
Eve and the film's story embodies so much of the Christmas spirit that it's become so commonly regarded as a legendary holiday classic. The last act is so famous in pop culture that I think a lot of people might forget about why this movie works. It works because it builds to that well known point and does it so well. The film begins with prayers for a man named George Bailey, who's in some sort of serious trouble, and then spends most of it's running time having chief angel Joseph show the angel Clarence the key moments of George Bailey's life story. From his childhood to his young adulthood to his marriage and the Great Depression all the way up to World War II, until finally we reach Christmas Eve, where the big crisis that sends George into a emotional, psychotic, suicidal breakdown occurs. But that's not the payoff to everything we've seen 'til that point. The payoff is when Clarence comes down to save George and does show by showing him a world in which he was never born at all. That's when everything George did throughout the film comes into play, and he (and we) realizes just what an effect his life has had on others and on the fate of his town. The resolution that follows is one of the most emotional, heartwarming, feel-good moments in cinema history. It's just an incredible movie that goes from being light-hearted, dark, positive, cynical, frightening, depressing, and ultimately joyous, leaving anyone who has a heart with warm and fuzzy feelings. The characters and actors' performances of them are very strong. Jimmy Suart is perfect as good-hearted everyman George Bailey, Donna Reed is charming and attractive as his lover/wife Mary, Lionel Barrymore is unbelievably creepy and detestable as the evil Mr. Potter, Gloria Grahme leaves an impression as the slutty but sweet-hearted Violet Bick, and my favorite character is Henry Traver's Clarence. He's the embodiment of what I think an angel is - strange and ethereal, but very simple-minded, very likable, and very funny. He provides good comic relief during the dark, tense moments (even when it's unintentional!) and everything about him and his chemistry with George is just fun. So...need I say more? I'm pretty convinced this film was blessed by Heaven, it is that good. It defines humanity, goodwill, self worth, love, friendship, appreciation for what you have, and heart.

24: ELF - A Christmas comedy starring Will Ferell. And that's really all that needs to be said about it actually, since Will Ferell's performance as Buddy the Elf is what makes this movie such a holiday classic! It's a quirky, overenthusiastic, batshit insane performance that makes the character incredibly entertaining but also keeps a childish naivete and wide eyed idealistic innocence that makes him lovable. This same character was later gender-flipped and recycled as Amy Adam's Giselle in Disney's "Enchanted", another lovable and funny performance that owes itself to this one. But he's not the only great thing about this movie. In fact, there are several great touches that make the film memorable. The way the North Pole is styled after cheesy old Rankin Bass specials, Ed Asner playing an excellent Santa Claus, the hilarious antics that Buddy gets up to in New York City, Zooey Deschanel as hot mall employee Jovie, and just the story of the human raised as an elf getting re-adopted into his family, bonding with his new brother, and changing the heart of his bitter, selfish father, and ultimately saving Christmas, is just alot of fun to watch and very well handled in this film. Roger Ebert covered my feelings: this is a surprisingly funny, heartfelt, great holiday flick!

25: HOME ALONE - A family comedy without the family...and it takes place a Christmastime. An excellent movie by John Hughes and one that was never matched by any of it's four sequels, though
I enjoyed the odd numbered ones more than the horrible even numbered ones. Like "It's A Wonderful Life", this is another one where the last act became so famous that most people forget why it worked in the first place. The "wet bandits" Harry and Marv were built up as a real menace throughout the whole film, even when they started engaging in comedic idiocy. So it becomes a genuine thrill when Kevin turns the tables on them and sends them stumbling into his traps in order to defend his house and his safety. It works so well due to all the build-up. Also, it's not the only great thing in this movie. The Christmas atmosphere is great, the family message is great, the mother's insane determination to get back home to her kid is great, Kevin's growth and maturing, the old man Marley subplot and it's touching resolution, and that "ya filthy animal!" gag. The musical score really helps sell it all. This funny and heartwarming movie should give anyone an appreciation for family around the holidays.

26: JINGLE ALL THE WAY - Another holiday comedy, this one starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Compared to the others I listed, it's pretty average. It centers around a deadbeat family man who has let down his son so many times that he wants to make it up to him by getting him a Turbo Man action doll for Christmas. The problem is...Turbo Man is the hottest selling toy of the season, and the father procrastinated in buying it! So begins a holiday hi-jinx filled adventure in Christmas shopping!
Arnold in the lead role ensures that it's entertaining to watch, the late Phil Hartman is great as the slimy, antagonistic, womanizing neighbor Ted, and there are a lot of great jokes and gags to be found during Arnold's mad hunt for Turbo Man. But there are a lot of problems too. The whole set-up often feels needlessly cynical and unpleasant in it's satire of the Christmas shopping rush. People have been trampled to death by these sorts of mad, frenzied shoppers, so seeing it played for laughs isn't all that funny. There's even a rather mean spirited sequence in which the movie plays "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" as shoppers are hurting each other in order to grab a certain numbered ball. (Though it's followed by a hilarious moment in which Arnold seems to scream out "PIKACHU! PIKACHU!") Also, Sinbad's over-the-top performance as Myron the mailman regularly goes from being funny and hilariously insane to unfunny and genuinely frighteningly insane, Jake Lloyd is a terrible child actor as always in the role of Arnold's son, there's a weird as heck sequence at a workshop of Santa impersonating criminals, and the potentially funniest joke in the film gets ruined by forced humor. So the movie's just okay...until the final act, in which all logic and realism is just thrown out, the movie gives up and starts to really have fun, and we get a tremendous payoff to the whole movie's plot. Arnold gets thrown into the Christmas Eve parade, happening to get picked to be dressed as Turbo Man, who conveniently has to give out a Turbo Man doll to one lucky little boy. Naturally, Arnold picks his son. And then Myron shows up dressed as Turbo Man's archenemy, he chases Arnold's son to get the toy, and Arnold gets a jetpack, and...yeah, it keeps escalating in a hysterical, glorious, cartoonish manner. And the very end is surprisingly really touching. For all it's negativity, the movie does end up showing Christmas spirit at the very end, which redeems it for me.

28: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (Ron Howard's) - Full length live action adaptation of the Dr Seuss story, starring Jim Carrey in the titular role. It's NOT a remake of the classic cartoon version, but it borrows a lot from it since it created so many Grinchy trademarks. This one could qualify as a Guilty Pleasure since a live action movie is not really a good format to adapt a short story. A 30-minute cartoon short is perfect for that, whereas this...is not. But I do sincerely think that this movie was handled as well as a live action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' work could be. It's got faults here and there: the style is too weird and unpleasant at times, Anthony Hopkins is no Boris Karloff when it comes to narration, the Whos look even creepier than the Grinch, Jim Carrey pushes how loud and obnoxious he can make his character be very often, the entire first act is really slow and plotless, culminating in the Grinch's "origin", which totally contradicts the story's actual narrative. There's also no character to sympathize with other than Cindy Lou for most of the movie. The Whos in this version are too wrapped up in the materialistic, commercial side of Christmas, while the Grinch is completely evil and vile. And there are a few unforgivable moments of "adult humor" that really had no purpose being here (The baby Grinch flashback, Grinch landing on Martha's boobs, and Grinch making the mayor kiss Max's butt are the prime offenders). BUT I think what's good and enjoyable about this film trumps what's bad. I love the idea of Whoville inside a snowflake (a callback to "Horton Hears A Who"), I love the way the sets look like Seuss' screwloose, whimsical world fully realized, I love the kid who plays the ascended role of Cindy Lou Who, I love the Grinch's make-up, I love his home and lifestyle (here not just reclusive, but eccentric as well), I love the Who characters made for this movie, and I even love Jim Carrey as the Grinch. He's mean, he's rude, he's nefarious, and he's as over-the-top crazy and spastic as you'd expect of Jim Carrey, but he also manages to be quite pitiful and even sympathetic in the role. He really gives his own spin on the part which, along with the fantastic make-up, brings the Grinch to life. I'm okay with the alterations made to the story, like the Grinch and his role in Whoville's life being more defined, Cindy Lou being a main character, and the Grinch indirectly teaching the Whos the true meaning of Christmas before they indirectly teach it to the Grinch. And past the first act, I actually do like it that they give a conceivable reason as to why the Grinch decided that THIS Christmas had to be the one he'd steal, when he'd  "put up with it" before. I enjoy seeing the way the third act, which as a whole is the actual story from the book, plays out in live action. And I really love how they did the Grinch's redemption. Through powerful music, acting, and cinematography, it manages to be sincerely, genuinely touching and even subtle before Grinch starts hammily having a heart attack. And they actually make the Grinch accepting what's happened to him kind of gradual rather than instant. The moment Cindy Lou shows up to say "no one should be alone on Christmas" is the moment you can see in his face that the Grinch has changed. Oh, and "Where Are You, Christmas?" Good God, do I love that song! It's beautiful, written and sung well, and captures the message of the story perfectly. I'll admit that I'm also kind of biased to this one since we saw it so much during our early teen years. It really grew on me and it's become a holiday classic for us. Not even it's worst faults can spoil...The Grinch!

28: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA - Just saw this one recently this year. It's the anime movie from the anime series of Haruhi Suzumiya. And it more than makes up for that show's dismal second season, which I pretend never happened save for the Tanabata episode. It's an anime film adaptation of the fourth Haruhi Suzumiya novel. The story takes place at Christmas time and calls to mind holiday tales such as "It's A Wonderful Life", "A Christmas Carol", and even "The Grinch." Like all of those, it's about the self discovery and redemption of one person who learns the true meaning of something-or-other, that his life as it is has value, and how he'll define who he is from now on. That person being Kyon, the cynical, frequently disgruntled protagonist and snarky narrator of the series. And the twist to this tale is that it involves aliens, time travelers, and espers. Going from December 17 to December 21, it's a story in which Kyon finds himself in a world where Haruhi is gone from school, as is Itsuki Koizumi, nobody remembers her or anything she got up to, the SOS Brigade doesn't exist, Mikuru and Yuki are regular girls who don't know Kyon, Ryoko Asakura is back alive and seemingly normal, and everything seems mundane now, including the fact that cats can't talk! It's the kind of life Kyon had griped that he wished he could return to...and now Kyon can't stand it. Coming to terms with the fact that he misses Haruhi and found the excitement she brought to his life fun, Kyon sets out to undo whatever was done to change the world, and restore his life to what it was. The mood set by this movie is incredible, and easily matches or even surpasses the "Melancholy" story. The holiday setting really helps to give it it's edge and appeal. The story is a very dark and mysterious one with twists and turns around every corner. You cannot help but get invested in what's going on. Every character featured have their moments to shine and develop. One particular character even instigates a VERY shocking and terrifying scene towards the end (you'll know it when you see it!) While this has been regarded as a "Yuki Nagato story" because that character does have a very, very, very crucial part in this, it's still Kyon and Haruhi who steal the show here. This story solidly defines them both as characters, celebrating the strengths and the faults that make them so very endearing, engaging, and great. And it's also where the series peaked, since it sort of feels like the climax of all the stories that the novels and anime were telling 'til this point. It's such a unique and deep story that makes for an utterly awesome movie, albeit one that's geared primarily towards fans. But even to non-fans who are familiar with anime might want to see it. And once you have, you may not look at your world, or the name "John Smith", the same way.

29: THE POLAR EXPRESS - A CG animated movie by Roland Zemmeckis, starring Tom Hanks, and based on a short children's story. Hard to adapt to a full-length film, but "Where The Wild Things Are" did it well a few years later! And this is actually a really good family movie. While sometimes it feels forced, as if it's trying to be a holiday classic, it does have just the right amount of heart and magic in it that it succeeds. The atmosphere is incredible, the music is just lovely (I personally love that "When Christmas Comes To Town" song, and the "Believe" song on the end credits), the story is a simple story with a deep message, and I just enjoy watching the scenario play out. I love the Polar Express train itself and the frantic conductor who runs it is hilarious and awesome. I like the arcs that the kid characters go through: the main boy learns the value of having faith and believing in what he can't see, the girl learns how to be a leader who doesn't freeze under the pressure of uncertainty, the poor boy learns about love and giving, and even the snotty know-it-all kid voiced by Eddie Deezin learns to...not be such a know-it-all! Like in "A Christmas Carol", the lead actor plays four roles. Tom Hanks is the narrator/boy grown up, the conductor, the crazy ghost hobo, and Santa Claus, and he's excellent as them all. And this movie puts the 3D gimmick to perfect use, especially during the train ride when it goes down a roller coaster of tracks. What more can be said? I recommend climbing on board the Polar Express. It's definitely a magical experience and a fun ride.

30: THE FLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS - Originally titled "Niko And The Way To The Stars", this CG animated foreign film is a bizarre one that actually tells an epic story set around Christmas time and involving Santa's reindeer and surprisingly enough, it works. The plot sees a young reindeer named Niko and his best friend/father figure Julius (voice of Norm MacDonald) in search of Niko's deadbeat biological dad, who's one of Santa's Flying Forces. They end up getting helped by a white weasel named Wilma (voice of Emma Roberts), but pursued by a pack of carnivorous wolves led by the evil Black Wolf. And there is a lot of strangely heavy and intense subject matter that comes up here. Niko was born out of essentially a reindeer one-night stand, his dad is never around, Julius tragically lost his own wife and kids so he sees Niko as his family and is worried that he'll ultimately leave him for his bio dad, and Black Wolf has the incredibly dark plan of eating Santa's reindeer and Santa himself in hopes of absorbing their magic and using it to fly around the world on Christmas, eating all the children he pleases. JEEZ! Oh, and there's a whole thing about Nico wanting to fly too and, spoilers, he learns to fly. But yeah, this was actually impressively good. To quote Platypus Comix: you know what makes this so good? This perfectly captures what Santa feels like to a little child. To kids he's this far-off, awe-inspiring superbeing, and the epic feel of "The Flight Before Christmas" evokes that childlike sensation to viewers of any age. If you see it, buy it! You can always swap out the cover.

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