For the third year running, Screenjabber's Mark Searby makes a list (and he's checked it twice) of alternative Christmas movies to watch during the festive season...
The Forgotten Toys
Discarded children’s toys have long been a (Toy) story told. This little British movie from the 90s has been overlooked in-favour of a similar story from Pixar. With a voice cast including Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley, this heartbreaking short film is based upon James Stevenson’s book The Night After Christmas. Annie the rag doll (charming and polite) and Teddy (irascible yet loveable) are the toys trying to find new children to play with them. Equal measures of melancholy and warmth, this quaint film has a darker side than Pixar would ever allow Buzz and Woody to have.
The Flight Before Christmas
This delightful Finish/German/Danish/Irish animated movie – also known as Niko & The Way to the Stars – revolves around a young reindeer who must overcome vertigo to save Santa from a pack of hungry wolves. Feeling like a Christmas spin-off from the Ice Age movies, it follows the same road trip pattern as Manny, Sid, Scrat etc have previously trodden. It is cute enough for children, but the wolves may scare very young children. With humour that, at times, homage’s Mel Brooks’ works it is an alternate Rudolph movie that has plenty of fun throughout.
Set on Christmas Eve, where three homeless people in Tokyo discover a newborn baby among the rubbish and set about trying to find its parents. Initially bleak, this movie turns into a beautiful and charming movie about family & friendship. Each of the three characters have their own issues to deal with and through the course of the film learn valuable lessons about redemption. There are some hilarious plot twists along the way as well. Animated somewhere between Studio Ghibli and Akira it is another example of the beauty of hand drawn animation (the snow covered rooftops look incredible). A heart-warming urban Christmas tale that is sure to bring about a smile or two.
Woefully treated by its studio upon release (dumped in cinemas with no promotion and then released on DVD in the spring!). Michael Dougherty’s Krampus does for Christmas what his previous film, Trick R’ Treat, did for Halloween – delights and scares. One third National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, another third The Dark Crystal and a final third Poltergeist, this dark comedy horror is the perfect anti-Christmas Christmas movie.
A Christmas Family Tragedy
A 2006 documentary exploring the story of tobacco farmer Charlie Lawson brutally murdering his entire family on Christmas Day 1929 in North Carolina. Using reconstructions and archive photos, this doc attempts to piece together why a family man went on a killing spree on Christmas Day. Several theories swirl around the slaying and the documentary attempts to look at them all. Local townsfolk are also interviewed as the near century old crime is still continues to have an effect within the community. At only 75 minutes this small indie documentary doesn’t outstay its well and does enough to keep the attention. Once viewed you will be searching the internet for more answers.
Ernest Saves Christmas
Undoubtedly the best of the Ernest films. Jim Varney continues the screwball antics playing and Ernest and several other characters. This time dimwit Ernest helps Santa find a replacement. It’s perfect slapstick humour that harks back to the days of Laurel and Hardy. There is plenty of silliness throughout and a good dollop of ridiculousness, but don’t let that put you off watching it. The opening sequence of Christmas carols in a college is rather wonderful and if you’re wondering who did the music – it was Mark Snow, he of The X-Files fame. Good clean wholesome family entertainment once again from Ernest.
Set during the run up to Christmas. Dennis Quaid has to hunt down a murderer while romantically being involved with one of his students. This 80s noir pays homage to the original version while stylistically updating to resemble those erotic thrillers that littered the 1980s. It’s not half as smart as you’ll remember it being though. However, some great direction and cinematography from Super Mario Bros directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton save it from being a less than average whodunnit.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
1970 brought about this weird stop-motion movie that had a ginger-haired Kris Kringle on the run from a devious bunch of Nazis. Made by Rankin Bass, who churned out holiday specials for decades, this slightly weird retelling of the origins of Santa Claus has him depicted as some sort of Robin Hood figure. There is a hallucinogenic vibe to the film including one scene where Jessica, with her wide bulging eyes, feeds the reindeer some corn and they leap into the air as if on... well, you be judge for what it resembles. It also appears to suggest that Santa gets his powers from witchcraft. The voice cast includes Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, Keenan Wynn and the Westminster Children’s Choir.
Barbie in The Nutcracker
Barbie’s first ever movie outing has her on an adventure to find the Sugarplum Princess. Horribly animated even by 2001 standards, it is like watching the original Resident Evil computer game just without the zombies and with added dead-behind-the-eyes Barbie. The lifeless expression on Barbie’s face is utterly chilling and when she tucks two kids into bed you expect them never to wake up. Who ever thought this would be the perfect storyline for Barbie’s big-screen debut needs a nut cracking... or two and anyone who makes it through the 76 minutes of this deserves their own limited edition Barbie doll that includes a blouse with the wording “I survived Barbie in The Nutcracker movie”.
Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas
Christmas without a Mickey Mouse cartoon playing is not really Christmas. However, this 2004 straight-to-DVD film was met with hostility from the purists at the time of release as it featured Mickey and his gang created by 3D computer animation rather than the classic 2D sketch look. Once past the initial change of styling, the film plays out in the same enjoyable Disney tropes as seen through the decades. Split into five different stories featuring a range of classic characters, the best of the lot is Christmas: Impossible which features Huey, Dewie and Louie Duck as they travel to the North Pole to try and get on Santa’s “good list.” Hijinks and chaos ensues. It finishes with a rather touching moment about family love.