Thursday, December 15, 2016

"The Muppet Christmas Carol," "Elf," and the eternal debate over Christmas movies

©  Disney
When it comes to Christmas movies, a certain amount of negotiation is usually required.

Thanksgiving generally marks the official beginning of Christmas movie season, the first point where people pull out blu-rays of their favorites and holiday specials are capable of popping up anywhere. It also once again renews the question of what the “true” Christmas movies are, a question that can differ dramatically from person to person and from household to household.

Even movies generally thought of as being on the “Greatest Hits of Christmas” list can be up for debate. “It's a Wonderful Life” and "Miracle on 34th Street" are both seen as Christmas classics, but a lot of people I've talked to who love one of the movies have almost zero interest in the other. Then there's the question of the black and white versus the colored versions of the movies, which can get more intense than people not interested in either movie could possibly imagine.

“A Christmas Carol” is an entire argument all on its own. There are enough versions of the movie to fill several different pages of Google, even when you don’t include modern variations, and fans of the story all have their favorites. The dozens of different factors that are involved – animated versus live action, classic retellings versus modern variations, fealty to the original story versus more streamlined retellings – and each argument has its champions on both sides. My personal votes are 1992’s “A Muppet Christmas Carol” for best original version – yes, I know, but the story is actually fairly faithful – and 1988’s “Scrooged” for best modern adaptation.

Then there's a comedy subsection, the most common representatives of which are “A Christmas Story” and “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” Technically, both are period movies – “A Christmas Story” intentionally evokes the 1950s, and “Lampoon’s” due to the fact that we’re moving increasing further away from the 1980s – and involve significant amounts of slapstick. Still, it’s nearly impossible to find both movies on a person’s “must see” Christmas list, and that’s not including those people who would happily ignore either for “Home Alone.”

Though it’s also a comedy, “Elf” seems to be in a category all its own. Discussions about holiday movies suggest that there are two very different opinions on the movie – either people love it and watch it every year, or they tried it once and immediately vowed never to watch it again. In case you’re curious, the people in the latter category always look faintly pained at the mere mention of it.

You'd think kids' movies would be considered universally acceptable, but even they have some mortal enemies. My best friend absolutely loathes all Rankin/Bass Christmas movies, particularly the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Her least favorite character in that movie is the elf who wants to be a dentist, so much so that even a mention of him is enough to inspire a rant. It’s bad enough that she’d rather watch any number of schmaltzy Christmas movies, which she also dislikes, rather than be forced to watch a Rankin/Bass special.

Then, of course, there are wild card favorites. Some people argue that “Die Hard” is the only acceptable movie (it counts – the setting is a Christmas party), and others who consider “Nightmare Before Christmas” to be required viewing for both Halloween and Christmas. There’s even a few people who love “Ernest Saves Christmas,” but most probably won’t admit it in public.

The real answer to the question of the best Christmas movie, however, is surprisingly simple. It’s the one that makes you think of favorite childhood Christmas memories, or the one that makes your child smile. It’s the movie that still makes you laugh, even though you’ve seen it no less than 20 times, or the one that still reliably chokes you up even though you know it well enough to have all the dialogue memorizes. It’s whatever movie makes you not mind the snow outside (if there is snow) and makes you feel like Christmas lights look in the darkness.

So champion your Christmas movie, loud and proud, but don’t knock anyone else’s, either. It means Christmas to them, and that’s what matters. 

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