Reviewing some Christmas films

In which Grouchy Smurf learns the true meaning of Christmas. These modern smurf films are not as fun as those with the Father Abraham tunes but as a version of the Scrooge tale, this doesn’t outstay its welcome.

This is a film which grows on you with rewatches. My first viewing in 2003 left me a little disappointed and feeling the film was clogged with sugar.

However, I now view this film differently, and perhaps with more than a touch of the Christmas spirit. Judy Garland plays one of three sisters of a family who are set to leave St Louis and the life and neighbours they have known, including her beloved ‘boy next door’ (Tom Drake, who is a weak link in this film).

From her parents (Leon Ames and Mary Astor), sisters (Lucille Bremer and the scarily accomplished Margaret O’Brien), grandpa (Harry Davenport), and maid (Marjorie Main), the cast is largely stellar, and the musical numbers are memorable, from The Trolley Song to The Boy Next Door, to the touching Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Directed by her husband Vincente Minnelli, Garland glows with happiness and is possibly the most beautiful she ever appeared on screen. Her Esther is a more defined creation than her close cousin Margy Frake in State Fair, and therefore her despair at having to up sticks with her family is more believable than Margy’s pouting at her perceived loss of love after the fair.

I do think that the actual ‘fair’ in this film is a disappointment, though, as if it was an afterthought after the family drama that has gone before. This film may be a bit saccharine, and the family certainly appear very civilised, with the parents duetting at the piano, but as a whole it works.

Many adaptations of Dickens’ Christmas book have been and gone, but this is generally thought to be one of the definitive films of the story.

Brian Desmond Hurst directs a fine cast, headed by the incomparable Alastair Sim (a man who can play both malevolent and humorous) as the about-to-be-redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge. Sim’s reactions are priceless and he settles down well in the role. Michael Hordern is a less successful Marley, certainly when he visits as a ghost, but the three Ghosts of Christmas are just as you imagine – Christmas Past is a wise old sage, Christmas Present is a jovial party-giver …

Strengths of this production include the opening out of events of the past into a linear narrative (George Cole plays young Scrooge for the early segments), and the playing of Mervyn Johns and Hermoine Baddeley as the Cratchits.

It is a film which has holly, plum pudding, and carol singers written all over it, from the use of Christmas tunes in the music track, to the roaring fires and snow-strewn streets in which everyone makes merry for the festive day.

A charming Christmas film which also served as the pilot for the long-running ‘Waltons’ TV series. Here, Patricia Neal plays Olivia – her subsequent ill-health would necessitate re-casting – she’s a little sharper with the children than Michael Learned would be in the series. Here there’s also a different John Walton (Andrew Duggan) who was rightly replaced by the far-better Ralph Waite.

The children – John-Boy, Mary-Ellen, Jason, Ben, Erin, Jim-Bob and Elizabeth – all made it into the series, and here their relationship and the interplay between them, their parents and grandparents, and neighbours in the village, takes hold to the background of Christmas.

It’s all very sweet. A very enjoyable film.

This is the film which takes the faith children have in the existence of Santa Claus and weaves it into a lovely little fable which gives little Natalie Wood (aged 8) a great starting role, and a life-long association with the man in the red coat for veteran character actor Edmund Gwenn. In fact so linked in people’s minds was Gwenn to this role that he was regularly drafted in to movie parties to play their Santa in years to come.

‘Kris Kringle’ becomes Macy’s Santa Claus quite by accident and following a psychological assessment and an altercation he is committed to trial to determine whether or not he is insane (or really the one and only Santa Claus). Defence lawyer John Payne (always a colourless lead, but bearable here) and prosecutor Jerome Cowan (undone by the honesty of his small son) vie for the attention of judge Gene Lockhart. On the sidelines is Wood’s mother Maureen O’Hara, at first the epitome of cynicism, but even she partakes of the spirit of the season by the end.

Quite lovely.

This short animation was created to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of that Christmas classic, ‘The Snowman’, and mimics much of the same techniques which were used to create that much-loved film.

This time, a new little boy wants nothing more than a new canine friend for Christmas, and in finding an old box full of coal, a hat and scarf, and a picture of a snowman, puts into being a semi re-run of the original tale, whereby he is taken to the North Pole for the snowmens’ party and to meet Father Christmas, this time accompanied by the little snowdog he has created with a couple of twigs and socks.

This film slightly lacks the magic of the original, and doesn’t have an iconic song to match ‘Walking in the Air’. However it does still have the ‘sniffle factor’ and is done well enough to be both a tribute and companion piece to the original ‘Snowman’.

This musical special has Big Bird searching for quite how Santa delivers his presents, while Bert and Ernie find the perfect presents for each other to have a ‘Merry Little Christmas’.

All your favourite characters are here, from Oscar, Cookie Monster and Kermit to the children and adults who keep Sesame Street going. A perennial Christmas treat for the young at heart.

About Louise Penn

Writer, reviewer, fan. View all posts by Louise Penn

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