My Essential Christmas Specials
By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Yes We Can
With Christmas just next week, I am already well into my holiday special viewing mode. I enjoy Christmas movies. They always hit a sense of nostalgia with just that right amount of sentiment (some would say “sap”), and many of the enduring favorites I’ve been watching since childhood. Who doesn’t have the Rankin/Bass collection of holiday favorites in their library?
The phrase “Christmas movies” has gone well past the perennial favorites such as It’s A Wonderful Life. Some people enjoy Die Hard, Gremlins, or even Batman Returns as their Yuletide flicks of choice. Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas movie (The answer is “Yes”)?
While my list isn’t quite as eclectic, I do have my recommended “must watch” shows I wanted to share in case you’re looking for an old favorite, or maybe something new.
1.) Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – To be fair, the 1994 remake wasn’t bad, but I like the snappy wit and genuine sincerity of this classic black and white film. A well-paced story that presents the idea of what if Santa Claus chose to spend time with us? Would that be enough to change the minds of the most cynical of believers?
2.) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) – The more I watch this special, the weirder it gets. Why is Santa so cranky? Why does a squirt gun shoot jelly? Is that magnificent prospector Yukon Cornelius certifiably insane? Why is Santa’s dining room all purple? Was Prince his interior decorator? What’s with the swimming bird they throw out of the sleigh? I have more and more questions as I get older, but I also can’t miss watching the special each year.
3.) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – One of my all-time favorites. While struggling with the commercialization of Christmas, Charlie Brown is asked to direct the school play. His attempts to find the true meaning of the holidays is met with ridicule, but sincerity and a deeper positive message win out. There’s something so simple about this special, but it works on so many levels. That’s also coupled with a jazzy soundtrack with “O Christmas Tree” and “Christmastime is Here” being standouts.
4.) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) – I deliberated between this favorite and Frosty the Snowman, but the songs win out, hands down. The special also has a bright and colorful visual style, and I like the message about finding the meaning of Christmas from within. It’s a solid adaptation of the classic children’s book.
5.) Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977) – A Jim Henson production, two otters and their friends go on a Gift of the Magi style journey to provide gifts for the other. The puppetry is amazing in this one with a variety of background elements that make the world feel “real.” The music is great as well, and who knew simple river folk were all about 1970s-era glam rock?
6.) Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) – I’ve seen a lot of A Christmas Carol variations, but I admit this may very well be my favorite one. The behind the scenes of voice work and animators for this special was a “who’s who” of Disney talent (as well as the last film role for Clarence Nash, the voice of the original Donald Duck).
7.) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – I feel for Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase): The guy’s just trying to provide the best Christmas ever. It’s not his fault that his extended family is dysfunctional, his boss is stingy, there are squirrels in his tree, and certain systems are full. It’s a funny film with some relatable moments, and Chase plays a great straight man going through one crazy situation after another.
8.) Elf (2003) – A more modern comedy about a human raised by elves who goes to find his father in New York. There’s a lot of silly in this film, but the film also knows when to hit the right amount of sentiment and wonder. A great cast, and more than a few nods to those classic Rankin/Bass specials. I admit watching the candy spaghetti scenes make me feel a little ill. I can only hope Will Ferrell didn’t have to do that numerous takes for that scene.
9.) Krampus (2015) – This is my “naughty list” film pick, but it’s been part of my exploring different holiday traditions that don’t involve giant buckets of chicken. A dark comedy in the style of Gremlins, the film explores what happens when children lose the Christmas spirit? This film is PG-13, so I can’t recommend it for the small folk due to a few scary scenes, but for people looking for a different type of holiday film, this one’s unique.
10.) Klaus (2019) – My most recent of holiday discoveries, this animated Netflix film just looks beautiful. As a fan of traditional 2D animation, coupled with a message that “one selfless act always inspires another,” this new classic immediately won me over enough to add it to my “nice” list.
I know, I know…. “You’re missing films. What about A Christmas Story? What about Home Alone?” But that’s what opinion columns are for. My list is a recommendation of the films I make a point to see each year, and hopefully give you a few new suggestions.
Fortunately, recommendations go both ways. If you have a “must see” for me or a favorite you feel deserves to be in the spotlight, share it in the comments section. What is your “ultimate” Christmas show?