Now that I am out of the closet as a Christmas Junkie, I thought I would go ahead and share my 5 most favorite Christmas movies, in an exercise in Narcissism and self indulgence, and perhaps start a little lively debate.
5. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer-
So much of this stop animation film lies in the realm of the bizarre. First of all, this is the least sympathetic portrayal of Santa I have ever seen. He bawls out Rudolph’s parents for Rudolph’s nose for crying out loud.
Furthermore, what is with the head elf? He is grumpy, grimacing, basically he is the face of Christmas anxiety and what happens when everything has to be done perfectly. I like the implicit rejection of our commercialized Christmas hidden in that message. This elf says all elves should be jolly and happy and yet is himself, the opposite. Oh, the irony.
The island of misfit toys, with jelly squirt guns, square wheeled trains and other toys no one would play with is really unappealing. The abominable snow monster is tamed by a brutal exercise in animal cruelty, having all his teeth forcibly removed. In many ways this movie is has weird, eccentric goofball production written all over it.
However, what could be more brilliant than an elf who is rejected because wants to be a dentist, (why, only an elf who wants to be a child neurologist, of course) This is a movie about outsiders being maligned and misunderstood, and made all the more lovable by their quirks. They amplify the strangeness to positive effect.
It is about bullies who want only want to be loved once their offensive defenses (razor sharp teeth) are broken down. It is about taking what makes us unique and finding a way for it to benefit everyone. As a lifetime outsider, that is a message I will always appreciate.
4. It’s a Wonderful Life-
I know this movie is campy in many ways. It is somewhat surprising this ever became a classic. The movie flopped on release. Who came up with lines like I’ll lasso you the moon and you can swallow it and moonbeams will shoot out your fingers? Say What? That’s romantic?! The part where George Bailey’s wife becomes a hapless old maid is a dated and I suppose sexist notion. Furthermore, it shows the dark side of the “only one for me” romanticism in our culture.
I still find this incredibly powerful, warts and all. At its heart, this is a celebration of the common man. This is a celebration of those who sacrifice for community and family. This is a celebration of the real foundation of society.
This movie is for anyone who has ever been punished for a good deed, as George got his ears boxed for not delvering the poisonous perscription. This is a movie for anyone who feels they gave up their life to be trapped by the family business, or by their small town. This is a movie in which the joy of fatherhood and simple gifts is celebrated in the form of Zuzu’s petals.
This is a movie where a lovable, bumbling, earnest, and all too honest angel messes things up, and yet triumphs in the end and gets his wings. God bless you Clarence, and Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls.
3. The Polar Express-
I have seen this one panned hard of late. Some think the animation is creepy and the story insipid. I disagree. I thought the movie was visually breathtaking, personally. While belief in Santa Claus may not be universally seen as a moral good, I thought this was a rip roaring morality tale about the power of faith and reasons for fighting to maintain it.
Those without faith may think it foolish and call it delusional, those who listen to the criticisms of those without faith may think likewise. They may think I even do injustice to faith comparing it the childhood wonder and imagination.
This is such a Western concept. Since there is no literal Santa, and the movie is a fantasy, obviously if you take this to represent religious faith, you are simply proving that the whole thing is a scam, or so the thinking goes. Problem is, Christ taught in parables. Stories and allegories lead to much deeper truths when you stop dwelling on the literal details.
Personally, I see the Christmas bell in the story very similar to the fruit of the Tree of Life described in a powerful vision by the prophet Lehi in the Book of Mormon. My Mormon visitors may understand what I’m talking about. The movie gains impressive depth if you are willing to look a little deeper. Mock if you must, but as for me and my house, we will continue to believe.
3. It’s Christmas! Charlie Brown-
I want to state right at the outset, Charles Shultz is a genius.
Charlie Brown was a very unusual cartoon. How often is a little boy battling depression worsened on by the incredible belittling unkindness of other children the protagonist of a children’s cartoon. This is a picture of social anxiety in the making. It gives me bad flashbacks of my own childhood, and yet it is somehow hopeful and endearing in the end. One does wonder where the parents are, and why their speech is so incomprehensible.
America is a land of great freedom in the midst of great faith. In an effort to vigorously and rightfully avoid exclusion, we are often very uncomfortable with frank religious declarations, especially on a high holy day, like Christmas.
There has been quite a back and forth between the religious and the secular aspect of the holiday. This was true in the 60s and is more true today. In fact, when it flares and escalates it gets downright ugly and out of control on both sides. What Charles Shultz did with this Christmas special was manage with wit and wisdom to expose crass commercialism, overscheduling, and secular form as a hollow shell and then fill the void with a simple, straightforward recitation of Luke 2 straight from the Bible.
He did this in a manner that, at least in my rather biased judgement, is completely inoffensive because it focuses on beautiful and profound spiritual simplicity. He tapped into an aggravation with Christmas that I think is exceedingly common.
Were Linus to recite the Torah on Yom Kippur or Hannukah, the Declaration of Independance on the Fourth of July, or The Qu’ran on Ramadan, I think the message for me would remain just as powerful. The Holiday will always pale in comparison to founding truth in its root Holy day, and we, as a people, will suffer for it if we fail to remember.
2. Muppet Christmas Carol-
There are many, many versions of the Dicken’s classic, to the point this wonderful story is perhaps overdone and cliche by now. I picked this version for three reasons, one- I’m really just a big kid at heart, if you couldn’t already tell, two- The narration by Gonzo captures some of the original prose of Dickens and its beautiful, and three- The goofy muppet antics keep a well worn story alive and entertaining, plus its a musical, and I like my musicals.
This is the ultimate Christmas story of conversion and redemption, which has become synonymous with Christmas for over a century. This one deserves the label of classic as it has truly stood the test of time.
1. The Grinch who Stole Christmas (the original)-
Here we have another scathing review of the secular shell we often coat Christmas with, done with trademark quirky rhyming and imagery in a way that melts right through your defenses. Furthermore, without a single religious image or allusion, other than Christmas itself, this movie brings across the central message of Christianity itself, that of conversion and redemption. This is Charlie Brown combined with Dicken’s Christmas Carol. It’s brilliant.
The depravity of the Grinch is deep. He abuses his dog. He lies to toddlers. He steals the last can of who hash, for crying out loud. The song that describes him is unforgettable in its sickening imagery, termites in his smile, charming as an eel, seasick crocodiles, toadstool banana sandwich with a greasy black peel. It is amazing. Yet, even in the depths of his hate there is one thing that touches him.
I cannot think of any greater cartoon moment that the singing that Christmas morning, bereft of presents and decorations, leading the Grinch to have his heart swell. Who wouldn’t love a message like that. Again the holy day is powerful, from a basic human perspective, and not so easy to cynically destroy when properly understood.
What am I missing that you have on your list? Too syrupy, Too sentimental. Am I missing the mark?