Friday, December 9, 2011

Film Friday: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

With Christmas just around the corner it’s time for a holiday film. There is no more quintessential Christmas story than Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” This story is so perfect that it’s been adapted at least 22 times in film and dozens of other times in other ways. So why is my favorite version the Muppet version? Read on. . .

The Plot

The story should be familiar to all. Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) is a money lender and a rotten man. He’s nasty and mean- spirited to his employees and unbelievably cheap. In fact, he’s so mean-spirited that his one loyal employee, Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog), must beg him to give the employees the day off for Christmas. Bah humbug!

On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of his former business partners, Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf). They have been condemned to an afterlife in chains for their evil deeds, deeds which are shared by Scrooge. They have come to warn Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts who will show Scrooge the error of his ways.

These ghosts include the Ghost of Christmas Past, who shows Scrooge that he was once a decent man, the Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows Scrooge how miserable he is compared to others who value families over money, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who reveals that Scrooge will die unlamented and his miserliness will lead to the death of Tiny Tim. Naturally, Scrooge changes his ways and the story ends happily.
Why The Muppet Version Is The Best
There are many fantastic version of this story. The 1951 version is excellent as is the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Scrooge. Bill Murray gives us an excellent modern version in Scrooged. Even the most recent Doctor Who had a nice adaptation of this. But of them all, the Muppets are the best. Why?

Different types of stories require different methods of storytelling to be effective. Alien would not have worked as a musical. Ghostbusters would not have worked as a drama. And A Christmas Carol works best as a fable, not as a drama as it is typically portrayed.

The goal of a fable is to impart certain lessons or warnings to the audience. This is done by a narrator who talks directly to the audience, explaining the motivations of the characters and their flaws, describing their mistakes, explaining the consequences of those mistakes, and then summarizing the lessons learned. It’s like a legal brief presented with puppets.

Dramas, by comparison, have none of this. Instead, they require the audience to draw its own conclusions from the actions and words of the characters and the consequences of the plot. Moreover, characters in dramas must come across as real before we can accept their plight and find their stories interesting. Characters in fables do not. In a fable, the only “real” person is the narrator who tells us the fable to impart some point. So long as the narrator entertains us sufficiently, the story is a good one without regard to how true the details of the story seem. Because of this, fables can be told in parts, i.e. vignettes, and we can simply be told of necessary changes in the characters or their circumstances between scenes. Dramas, on the other hand, must demonstrate such changes.

A Christmas Carol is, at its core, a fable. It is the moral of Scrooge’s failings and how he came to save himself. It is a series of vignette, each of which affect Scrooge differently and Scrooge has significant growth from scene to scene which is not shown in the plot. Thus, the best structure for telling this story is the fable structure, with a narrator to walk us through the story, point by point, and explain how each segment of the story, i.e. each vignette, affects Scrooge. Further, Scrooge is too one-dimensional to be a “real” character. This is intentional. Scrooge is an archetype of our worst, greediest, miserly natures, and he works best when we see him as such -- as part of ourselves rather than as a real person to whom these events transpire.

This is why the Muppet version is the best, because they treat this story as a fable. Gonzo acts as Dickens the narrator. Caine brilliantly provides the wide mood swings needed to be an archetype. And the Muppet players provide important levity and breaks to let us digest each scene before we move on and to distract us enough to let us think sufficient time has passed for Scrooge to undergo the personality changes needed. George C. Scott’s version may be excellent, but it is a drama and it lacks these critical elements which connect us to the heart of the story.

Finally, let me add two things. Michael Caine is an incredible actor. He never disappoints and he doesn’t disappoint here. Indeed, Caine does something brilliant. By soft-pedaling Scrooge’s cruelty and retaining his sense of humor, though he has misdirected it in cynical directions, Caine plays Scrooge not as a cruel man who must change his nature, but as a decent man who has lost his way. This connects us better to Scrooge than prior versions because (1) it is harder to connect with a truly cruel Scrooge because none of us wishes to see any part of ourselves as cruel, and (2) it is easier to believe a return to our better natures than a fundamental change of character.

And lastly, the Muppets deserve tremendous credit for playing this film “straight.” Specifically, the Muppets are adept at blending their antics into the film so you’re never distracted from the film. Too often when a comedian is brought into a film, they become a distraction (e.g. Robin Williams, Robin Williams, Robin Williams) as they turn their time on screen into an advertisement for themselves. Not here. The Muppets do the things you love about them, but they do them quickly and within the confines of the storytelling. Thus, there are no breaks in the story where you feel like you’re about to watch a couple minutes of a generic Muppet routine jammed into the film.

These are all brilliant choices which put this version ahead of all the others.

So what are your favorite Christmas films?


DUQ said...

Andrew, Interesting analysis. I think you're on to something here. This story does work better with an active narrator and the Muppets do that well.

My favorite Christmas movie is "It's a Wonderful Life."

Individualist said...


I do not beleive I have had a chance to see this but will definitely have to cheeck this out. I love the Muppets. I guess now I should say the pre-Disney, pre Agitprop muppets and a Christmas Carol is right up there Alley.

Oldly enough the code word for this post was ingesec (Ingsoc)


AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Excellent movie! It's at the top of most people's lists around this time of year. Jimmy Stewart is just such a likable actor.

I do think this is why this version works, because the Muppets treat the story the way it works best. I'm not saying the other versions are bad, far from it, they always feel a little "off" to me. And I think the reason is they are trying to present a fable as a full-scale drama.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, If you love the Muppets (pre-commie days) and you like Christmas Carol, then this will work well. It's not your standard Muppet movie in that it's more "the Muppets in A Christmas Carol" rather than "A Christmas Carol by the Muppets" -- if that distinction makes sense. In other words, the Muppets are actors in this film, it's not a film meant to highlight the Muppets.

Any favorite Christmas/Holiday movies?

Anonymous said...

Nice to see a Muppet story on a conservative site that isn't batshit crazy. ;-)

I rememebr seeing this film in the theater when I was little. The ghost of Christmas future sequence scared me. Not enough to keep me up at night - I guess "unsettled" is a better verb.

As for me, I love Christmas Vacation and Die Hard (you knew that was coming) and I enjoy A Christmas Story, too.

Interesting that you labeled Bill Murray's Scrooged as "excellent." I enjoy it (mostly the first act) but it's a bit uneven for me. One wonders what a comedy director like John Landis or Ivan Reitman would've done with it instead of Richard Donner who was better known for spectacles and action films. "Will you stop the goddamn hammering!!" :-)

One note about It's a Wonderful Life. I saw it for the first time a few years ago and, for some reason, I always thought the flashback "What if George was never born?" stuff took up most of the film - imagine my surprise when it was only the last 15 minutes!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I prefer to avoid "batshit crazy" personally. :)

But I feel your pain, trust me. There are battles to pick with liberals and then there is jumping at shadows. I have heard bad thing about the Muppet movie for a lot of reasons, but their politics isn't really one of them.

I think Scrooged is one of the better Bill Murray films (excluding his associations with guys like Reitman and Akyroyd). In fact, looking back on it, many of his film have disappointed me much more in hindsight than they did at the time, but this one seems to remain pretty good. It's probably a matter of having solid material to work with.

On the ghosts, it's actually pretty traditional to have scary things in fables and kids stories. The idea is to show kids the kinds of things that stick with them as nightmares so they take the lessons seriously. A lot early Disney is very, very dark, but it's also much better than the fluffy stuff they made later.

It's funny you should mention that about It's a Wonderful Life because I tend to think of it that way too -- with the whole film being a flashback.

What's this Die Hard of which you speak? ;)

LawHawkRFD said...

I find a certain irony in the fact that one of our most beloved Christmas tales was written by someone who was not particularly religious and the best version of the story is put on by a company that often veers off to the left and anti-religiosity. But I definitely agree with you all the way around. The Muppets added a little levity missing from the dour original.

Retro Hound said...

I can't believe Netflix doesn't have this!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Life is packed with ironies. My favorite has always been that the best anti-socialism books (1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Trial) were all written by ardent socialists. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

RetroHound, That's stunning. I would have assumed they would have had this for sure -- especially with the new Muppet movie being out and it being Christmas time!


ScyFyterry said...

I love this film! It's one of my favorite Christmas films and I watch it every year.

Other Christmas films:

1. Have to agree with Scott: "Die Hard." I also like "Die Hard 2."

2. "It's a Wonderful Life."

3. I like the television specials like "Charlie Brown Christmas."

4. "Christmas Vacation"

5. "Elf"

AndrewPrice said...

ScyFyTerry, I love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. That's a true staple of Christmas.

I want to like Elf, but I just can't stand Will Ferrell.

T-Rav said...

I love this movie! It's not a complete Christmas season if I don't see this just once. Excellent analysis, Andrew!

I was just watching part of the George C. Scott version a night or two ago, and while it is very good, I still feel the Muppets version is the best in terms of having a real optimism throughout. For example, I was surprised to see that in the Scott version, the Ghost of Christmas Present actually treats Scrooge pretty rough, while the Muppet one is more of a gently prodding fellow. And your point about making Scrooge just relatable enough, rather than a thoroughly cruel individual, is worth remembering as well.

Also, after the long and illustrious career which he already had by this point, it makes me think all the more of Michael Caine that he was willing to do something like this rather than dismiss it as silly and beneath him.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks T-Rav! I'm glad you liked it.

I really think it makes a difference that they treat this like a fable rather than a drama because it does give you the sense of optimism, even when Scrooge is still the bad guy and even when he's seeing bad things. In other words, it never loses "the Christmas spirit" because it tells you the whole time that this is a redemption story.

But too many of the dramas lose that. They really exaggerate the rottenness of Scrooge and the "horror" he runs into to try to make the ending seem all the more dramatic, and what they end up doing is depressing you early on. And when he changes, you don't feel joy so much as relief that the depression has passed -- or you feel like he was so bad that he obviously had to change.

But with Caine's version, you feel sadness that Caine's Scrooge is wasting his life and then you feel a lot of joy when he has his epiphany. And it's very easy to connect the way he is to ways we've all felt -- which is not the case with the more rotten portrayals.

These are very different emotional responses and I think the Muppet version is superior because it strikes more deeply and hits better chords within us.

I agree completely about Michael Caine. That's another thing I love about him -- he's never been too snooty to play some really fun roles. And he gets into them. It really makes him seem like a great guy.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Any thoughts on Christmas favorites?

TJ said...

I've always liked "A Christmas Carol" - the version I've seen was an older version, but I'm not exactly sure which one (it's not the one with George C. Scott). I've also seen "Scrooged" and remember liking that one as well. I've never seen the Muppet's version, so I may have to give it a try.

As for favorite Christmas movies, here are a few I like in no particular order:

1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (even though this is really a Thanksgiving movie, we usually watch this first to kickstart our Christmas movie watching).
2. Jingle All the Way
3. It's a Wonderful Life
4. Home Alone - I & II

On TV:

1. Charlie Brown Christmas
2. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (I just love his little dog)
3. The Little Drummer Boy
4. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

All of the above are usually required viewing at our house.

I also really like the first Die Hard movie, but with kids we don't watch that one very often. In case you guys are wondering, we have edited Planes, Trains & Autos so that it's watchable by everyone.

Tennessee Jed said...

It is hard for me to argue with your premise, although the "best" sobriquet is, just that. I saw a television version before I ever read the book on the old "Shower of Stars" which featured a personal favorite of mine, Sir Basil Rathbone, as Marley's Ghost. It had just the right tone for me at that time, and the black and white, old English feeling was extremely effective.With all due respect to the medium of film, I happened to have actually re-read the actual Dickens story this year and was amazed how easy it was to read compared with some of his other material.

That Scrooge was a good man who went astray due to a fear of poverty instilled in his youth that resulted in love lost is clear in the story. For some reason, I cannot recall it not being clear in the older versions I had remembered. Interestingly, I have never watched a Christmas Carol adaption post 1960 so I cannot really speak to how any of those picked up on your main point in the article.

For me, like many others of my age, when it comes to things like this, nostalgia plays a large role in our bias. As such, a 1950 production that was sponsored by Bell Telephone for the local Philadelphia PBS affiliate titled "The Spirit of Christmas" is my all time favorite.

This production was completely done with Mabel Beaton's marionettes and was made in two segments. The first was an adaption of the famous poem "The Night Before Christmas." The second was "The Nativity." It is finally available on DVD and is also on youtube.

Anonymous said...

^Good call on Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It's one of my favorite films and I think its John Hughes' best work. My parents taped it off broadcast TV when I was younger so I watched it all the time (I own it on Blu-Ray now). My brother and I even re-enacted the "You're going the wrong way!" scene in a home movie. You can even here my mom gasp when I say, "You broke the damn seat." I was only six or seven! :-)

Oh, and I forgot to mention Die Hard 2 as well. Underrated!

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, I think most versions of this story are quite good as it's an excellent story, but I do recommend the Muppet version -- assuming you like Muppets. I think it's got (to borrow from T-Rav) an "optimism" to it that really makes this a great version.

Nice list! I love the Grinch... and Max. We've always owned Dachshunds, so that fits nicely. :)

On the television stuff, I also like "Frosty the Snowman" a lot and I try to catch some of the clamation stuff too. I recently saw that someone is attacking "Rudolph" for promoting bullying. Give me a break!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a fun movie. I like that one a lot too!

Tennessee Jed said...

Since I did a t.v. show as my favorite, I would probably have to say "Holiday Inn" was my all time favorite film. How can one not like a film featuring "White Christmas."

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think nostalgia probably does play a big role in which version people like best because this tends to be one of those stories where there isn't a "definitive" version, there are just different versions. So presumably, the version that first attracted you to the story will be the one that sticks with most people.

That said, I saw the George C. Scott version first and then the Muppet version much later. Scott does a great job acting out the story, but I just think the Muppets do a better job of capturing the true spirit of the story.

On the story itself, I think you're right that the written story is much more clear that there is a reason for Scrooge's behavior other than just "he's a jerk." Unfortunately, I think that is all too often lost in Hollywood where this story seems to have been distilled down to: "rotten, greedy man turns good and charitable." I think that's a vast oversimplification, but that seems to be what most versions promote.

That's something I like about the Muppet version, is despite the simplicity of the story and presentation (it is meant for kids after all), it's still a fairly complex portrayal with definite nuance.

Plus, I think T-Rav's point above is worth repeating -- there's a strong sense of optimism in this story, which is missing in some of the other versions where much surrounding Scrooge seems hopeless.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, While I like Die Hard better as a film, I think Die Hard 2 is a much better Christmas film because of the snow. It just feels more X-masy.

So you recorded your own commentary about one film and re-enacted another? I see why you wanted to get to Hollywood! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's a fantastic song. It's one of those songs that just grabs you and you can't turn it off. :)

I enjoyed Holiday Inn as well.

And between film and television, I have to say my all-time favorite is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Without that, it's just not Christmas.

Individualist said...

Actually now that I think of it one of my favorite Christmas movies is also a muppet movie. It does not use the standard characters but all new ones.

It was "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas". Like you state they did with "A Christmas Carol" the muppets are just playing a part and are not zany.

**Spoiler Alert**

I watched the new Muppet movie that was out there and I was less than impressed. First they Disneyfied it trying to make it sweet and sappy with "Enchanted" style friendship songs. Not that there is anything wrong with that but the Muppet show was meant to be a little edgy. I think this was done to counteract the Sesame Street association. They killed this.

They also killed it by having Animal in anger management classes with Jack Black and they had Jack Balck playing himself but a ve4rsion of himself that flew in the face of every movie he is done. Why would Jack Black the Pick of Destiny movie have a problem with the muppets. Again the PC of Hollywood beign thrown in that just did not work.

They also had a villian that was supposed to be card board cutout evil oil exec that even Snidley Whiplash who enjoyed tying woman to train tracks would say to him "Dude, take an Exlax, its just the Mupppets". It was so strained and one could tell it was all about the political message that made it completely unenjoyable.

I don't know after seeing that movie I am wondering if the Muppets will have Jumped the Shark. At the very least Disney is missing what their purpose was.

OK that's my two cents, use them now before inflation make them completely worthless.

Rant off***

Anonymous said...

I only re-enacted one scene and I was 6! My brother was young enough to stand on the driver's seat and not hit his head on the roof. :-)

You know what my two film "holy grails" are? The now-lost original roadshow version of The Blues Brothers (with intermission) and the rough cut of PT&A. According to a statement Hughes made several years ago, there's a 3+ hour version rotting away in the studio vault but it'd take years to reassemble into something watchable.

And just an hour ago as I was looking for links for Nolte, I found a link to a cool fan-made poster for the film here.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, LOL! Yeah, 2 cents ain't what they used to be in this economy! :(

I am vague familiar with "Emmett Otter's Jugband," but I have never seen their Christmas special. I'll have to look for that. The world needs more Christmas movies!

On the new Muppet movie, I haven't seen it yet but I've heard a lot about what they did to it. And it strikes me they tried to suck the things that made the Muppets so great out of it.

In fact, I was reading a criticism by a former Muppet guy who said that they had completely lost the nature of the character (e.g. making Kermit a rich star who ignores his friends) and they apparently ignored the relationships which gave the characters their spark.

I'd also heard what you say about them "Disney-ing" it by taking out the fun stuff aimed at adults and replacing it with modern-Disney pabulum.

Interesting, I think the biggest clue they were doing this was the PR campaign where they kept saying "Segal loves the Muppets and wants to take them back to their roots." That's usually code for "we will warp this to our current needs and don't want you realizing that until we have your money."

On the villain, the articles I read were very non-specific about the guy except “he’s an oil exec” and “he’s evil.” Is there more to it (e.g. a diatribe against oil)?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I didn't know there was a roadshow version of The Blues Brothers?

Age 6... ok, just so this wasn't last week! ;)

Anonymous said...

Not to go completely off-topic (too late!), but there was apparently a longer version of The Blues Brothers at one point, which is a testament to how well-edited the theatrical cut is (i.e.: it doesn't appear to have anything missing).

According to John Landis, it was close to three hours, had an intermission, more mayhem, longer musical numbers, and at least one additional musical number: "Sink the Bismark", which was cut from the Bob's Country Bunker scene.

Universal threw it away sometime in the 80s; all that survives is the extended cut on the DVD which adds about 18 minutes.

Doc Whoa said...

Excellent film and excellent review! I hadn't thought about it before, but I think you're right this is not a complete drama, it really is a collection of vignettes and the narrated route is the surperior choice.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It's amazing how often studios throw away or lose parts of film. We were talking about Doctor Who the other day... the BBC had a fire which wiped out most of the first two Doctors's work. They have slowly rebuilt most of it by finding old prints they had sent to places like Australia and India for broadcast, but they are still missing chunks.

I've also heard of some films being cannibalized to make the final print and thereby eliminating the original print.

I love the whole Country Bunker scene and it gives me one of my favorite lines of all time -- about looking funny eating corn on the cob. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc! I think that's right, that this is the better way to tell a story. And this has me wondering what other stories would work in what other ways or might be improved if they are told in a different manner.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, in no particular order, I'd have to go with Miracle on 34th Street, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (the Burl Ives version), and White Christmas. And I guess maybe an honorable mention to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. (What can I say? It makes me laugh.)

For the record, while I like Jimmy Stewart and the message involved, I have never been a big fan of It's a Wonderful Life. I don't know why; I just haven't.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, There's nothing wrong with Christmas Vacation. Another one I like for the same reason -- makes me laugh -- is The Santa Clause with Tim Allen. It's not a great film, but I enjoy it.

It's a Wonderful Life is an interesting film. It has generated considerable controversy among conservatives, many of whom are upset at what they consider "anti-capitalism" themes. Others seem to love it.

I personally enjoy it and don't feel its message is really political either way, but I also don't feel like I need to see it every Christmas -- not like Charlie Brown. :)

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that's got nothing to do with it for me. I don't really think "It's a Wonderful Life" is anti-capitalist, anyway; I think if it has any message at all, it's that having a vibrant local economy is preferable to putting everything in the hands of Big Business, something I can't really disagree with. But I don't think it's trying to be political.

I'm not really sure what it is I don't like. Maybe it's just a bit too overwrought for me.

I like "The Santa Clause" as well.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I agree. I don't see the film as having a political message at all, it's just a reflection of the economic reality of small town life.

I see your point about the film being "over-wrought." It is a very "heavy-handed" film emotionally. There isn't much subtlety.

And as I always say, people have different tastes so it's no crime not to like it.

Individualist said...


The movie was not in your face "Communism 101" but they definitelly put the "oil" executive to make a point. Evidently for some reason the people that run Enron and BP also need the Muppet studios.

Spoiler alert

The plot was bad even for a kids movie and part of the problem was that they tried to add these incedibly adult situations like Piggy and Kermit moving apart from each other in the middle of Snow White. The Bad Guy was such a bad cliche that it completely runined it.

Honestly this was a movie that did not need a personified villian. The hurdle to get over was that the muppets had lost there celibrity and needed to have a successful show to raise money to avoid losing the old studios to the bank since it no longer made money as a museum.

IF you had to have a bad guy it would have made more sense to make him a banker or a movie studio mogul. Instead he is an oil exec who wants the studios to drill oil out of the ground. There was no speach but there did not need to be. Any intelligent person should be able to see through why it was done.

I am just really ticked off because I thought if there was one thing Hollywood could not ruin it would be the Muppets.

I was wrong.

T-Rav said...

I forgot to add, I also like "Elf" (aka, the best thing Will Ferrell ever did with his career) and "Home Alone." I have to see those every year as well.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Sadly, there is nothing Hollywood can't ruin. It's their new formula:

Profit = (take no risk) + (dumb down for foreign markets) + (use existing property with built in fans)

That's not really a great way to make films.

I'm actually a little surprised they didn't go with a banker because that's the traditional Hollywood villain and with OWS railing against bankers, now would seem like the time to do that.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think the best thing Will Ferrell will do in his career is retire.

Individualist said...


I will say this for Will Farrell. The only movies he has ever done that I liked work Stranger than Fiction and Everything Must Go. When he plays a sripous dramatic role of the everyman with a boring job he does well.

His attempts at comedy to me have always been horrible.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I just have a really hard time liking anything he's done. I see his movies and I think "that's weak." Not the situations, not the acting, not the writing, not the directing... none of it impresses me. It's like he intentionally sets out to make "generic comedy."

tryanmax said...

Somehow, I've never seen the Muppets' Carol. I'll be sure to get it in this year.

My favorite Christmas movies in no particular order (and this will be an incomplete list) are:

The Santa Clause
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Elf (I actually think Ferrel logs a decent performance for once.)
Holiday Inn (b/c it is my mom's fav.)
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Home Alone 1 (Hey, I was in the demo when it was released.)
It's a Wonderful Life
White Christmas (It's so kitschsy!)
Die Hard
Lethal Weapon
Edward Scissorhands
The Preacher's Wife
Miracle on 34th Street (either version)
Batman Returns
Pieces of April (I know it's actually Thanksgiving, but I watch it every year on T-day.)

I pretty much like all of the Christmas specials, too, but I can't consider them movies. My favorites of those (again, no order) are:

A Charlie Brown Christmas
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer
Frosty the Snowman
'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974, in case there's another)
Shrek the Halls
the Prep and Landing series
The Snowman (1982)
Mickey's Christmas Carol
The Simpsons pilot episode

And then there are the Christmas movies I do not like (again, incomplete, probably the least so):

A Christmas Story (I'm just very tired of it, thank you TBS)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jim Carey,
the Santa Clause sequels
the Home Alone sequels
The Polar Express (creepy animation)
Jingle All the Way (just doesn't do it for me)
Fred Clause (so much potential...)
Love Actually (too busy)
Jack Frost (creepy snowman)
Prancer (booooorrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg)
Reindeer Games
Ernest Saves Christmas

Andrew, again, I'm sorry for not having very much to share.

tryanmax said...

Oh, how could I forget A Muppet Family Christmas!?

tryanmax said...

Oh, add Anastasia to the likes list. You know, the one that isn't by Disney but everybody thinks it is.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Yeah, I was gonna say your comment seems a little short! ;)

You mention The Polar Express: I have to say I agree 100% -- it's very, very creepy! I remember when it first came out and everyone was raving about it and saying "this is the way it will always be from now on!" And I kept thinking, "no chance." Not only was it just a weak premise and poor execution, but the animation just gives you the creeps throughout. It was like Christmas zombies.

And as time has shown us, yet another "this is how it will always be" has faded into the ash heap of movie history.

I really didn't like the Jim Carey version of Grinch either.

I see Nightmare Before Christmas as a Halloween film. I love the Mr. Boogeyman song!

I'd forgotten some of these were Christmas-timey.

I haven't seen The Preacher's Wife, but really loved The Bishop's Wife with David Niven and Cary Grant.

AndrewPrice said...

Anastasia? I don't think I've seen it. Are you talking about the communists killing the Russian royal family? Christmas at your house must be interesting! :)

tryanmax said...

Actually, the "story" of Anastasia takes place in Paris about a decade after the Romanov family's execution. It's based off of a legend that the princess somehow survived, so the animated film isn't exactly true to history. But it's not even true to crypto-history, either.

It was Fox Animation Studios' first release, and they were eager to prove they could compete with Disney (which they ultimately proved they could not). Thus, they chose a storyline with fairytale elements and largely ripped off the signature Disney animation style complete with lovably goofy talking animals. Come to think of it, it's basically Aladdin set in 1920's Europe.

But it has some visually striking sequences and memorable songs and, unless I'm mistaken, the majority of the action takes place around Christmas.

tryanmax said...

I've never seen The Bishop's Wife but I intend to get it in this year.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think I'm getting vague recollections of seeing ads for that one, but I never saw it. There was a point when people were pimping the story because there was a woman who claimed to be Anastasia (but the blood tests shot that down later) and people loved the idea of a Russian czar returning one day.... of course, they have one now named Putin and that hasn't turned out all that well.

I'd forgotten Fox's attempts to prove they could beat Disney. Yeah, that didn't go over too well. If memory serves, one of the first attempts was "All Dogs Go To Heaven," which certainly has proven to have no staying power.

Interestingly, after Fox failed, Disney fell apart completely and the only thing saving them has been their love/hate partnership with Pixar. In fact, I can't think of the last "Disney" hit.

The Bishop's Wife is one of those genuinely enjoyable films. It's a bit of a Christmas story, a bit of a romance, and just a lot of very good writing all around. I ran across it one day by random and am really happy that I did.

tryanmax said...

No, All Dogs wasn't theirs. I don't even think they distributed it. But it just goes to show how much Disney dominates that niche. Nobody else is even memorable. Dreamworks is probably the only studio to ever get out of that shadow.

Besides a couple of direct-to-video projects, Fox Animation only did Anastasia and Titan A.E. (which I thought was better than the critics said).

As to the history behind the Anastasia legend, there was a woman who claimed to be the princess in the late-20s. Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner starred in a movie based on those events. (Guess the title.) I actually was in a production of the play that the film was adapted from when I was in high school. That was the same year the Fox film came out, so I think my HS director was trying to ride that wave.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, I just looked it up -- it was some British studio I'd never heard of and then distributed by UA.

I do recall Fox trying to challenge Disney and then Dreamworks coming along and trying the same thing. But Pixar ended up the big winner and the rest all just fall apart -- and with good reason, most of their films stank.

I recall a good deal of publicity about the woman who claimed to be Anastasia somewhere around that time. I think she lived in Paris and was 80 or something like that -- though this is all from memory. In truth, I didn't keep up with it because royalty has never really interested me.

tryanmax said...

Maybe it came up again in the 90s, I don't recall. Probably because the movie came out. Whatever the case, Anastasia has got to be dead by now.

tryanmax said...

Hey! Christmas! Let's talk about Christmas movies again!

AndrewPrice said...

I would assume so.

Yes, Christmas. I wonder if there are any good Christmas movies about, you know, the guy whose birthday it is?

I'm having a hard time thinking of any good ones.

tryanmax said...

All I can think of it The Nativity Story but it doesn't meet that criteria of "good."

Actually, I know I've seen it, but I barely remember it. I just remember being bored.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, same here. I remember seeing it, but being bored by it and I honestly can't think of any other Christ-based Christmas story. Odd.

tryanmax said...

I know it's not Christ-based, but don't they show The Ten Commandments on TV a lot around Christmas?

AndrewPrice said...

Hmmm. Good question. It must be late because I can't remember if it's Easter or Christmas when they show that?

tryanmax said...

According to Wikipedia, ABC airs it in the spring. But I swear it's been on in the background on Christmas Eve. If it is, it must be a cable channel.

AndrewPrice said...

I seem to recall it around Easter. Christmas seems to be reserved for Santa.

T-Rav said...

Hey, I don't particularly like Ferrell either, but I do think he does a great job in "Elf." Taking into account everything else in his career, I'll at least give him that. (Frankly, I don't think you like it because Zooey Deschannel was the love interest.)

Also, you're right, "The Ten Commandments" is strictly an Easter showing.

T-Rav said...

tryanmax, I HATE "A Christmas Story"! There is, as far as I'm concerned, no redeeming feature to that movie. And I HATE TBS for choosing to run it 24 hours straight on Christmas, year after year. I will find anything, even the crap holiday shows on ABC Family, rather than watch that.

AndrewPrice said...

That's the Christmas spirit! Actually, I don't care for that one either. And I think it's more than a little odd they would show it for 24 hours.

ZooD and WillF are perfect for each other. They should star in the remake of Titanic. They can row out there and wait for the rest of the production to catch up in a few weeks.

Actually, I just don't like Ferrell in anything. I truly don't like him as an actor, I don't think he's funny or interesting, and I hate his schtik. Whoever they've lined up opposite him doesn't really change that for me -- especially since most actresses are plug and play now and can be swapped out without anyone noticing.

Outlaw13 said...

The fact that there are Conservatives that go off on "It's A Wonderful Life" because it's anti-free enterprise makes it exhibit 42 in my continuing series that illustrates why some people need to get the stick out of their asses.

For holiday films, my favorites are:

Christmas Vacation
A Christmas Story
It's A Wonderful Life

As far as TV is concerned, as a child every year we COULD NOT MISS the Rankin Bass Rudolph, My mom HAD TO watch anything concerning X-MAS Andy Williams, Bing Crosby or Bob Hope. Recently a Christmas Episode of the Big Bang Theory featured Penny giving Sheldon (one of the nerds) a napkin autographed by Leonard Nemoy which made me laugh harder than anything I've seen in quite a while.

Individualist said...


Farrell is not a comedic actor. His approach and timing are off. He just does not know it.

In Stranger than Fiction he plays an IRS agent who finds himslef the subject of a Novel when he hears his life being narrated. He plays a straight role and does not mess it up.

In everything Must Go he plays an Ad exec who is an alcoholic who gets thrown out of his house. In both roles he plays nondescript everymen in a dramatic situation.

These are the only movies that he has been in that I can watch. It may be that the plot or story lines were good and he was not allowed to "mess" it up, I don't know.

I just find that top be ironic since he seems insistant to play in comedy movies with a vige that says "I am a 13 year nerd in the math club and we are putting on a school play because our parenets have to watch it.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, I could agree more. Too many people FAR too much into films. That's a wonderful film and I don't see any attempt inject a political message.

When we were young, we used to watch everything Christmas related, even the television specials. But the specials aren't that special these days because I just don't have the respect for the stars these days that I did for the Bob Hopes et al.

The one I never miss in any event is Charlie Brown's Christmas. I don't know what it is about it, but that's just hooked me.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I haven't seen either film because I thought they were just more Ferrell comedies. But you're right, he probably can do a decent straight man. It's just when he does comedy that he comes across, as you say, like he's a thirteen year old.

Clearly, I am not a fan.

And I agree that his timing is off and I think that's because he comes across to me as someone who thinks it's all about him. He seems to think each scene is basically an excuse to get the camera on him, where he does something at his own pace. Compare that with Steve Carrell who is extremely good at working for the movie. I don't like everything Carrell has done, but I never doubt he's doing it well. With Ferrell, I always get the sense he's phoning it in.

tryanmax said...


People do need to get the stick out of their hindquarters because It's a Wonderful Life is NOT anti-free-enterprise. The villain Mr. Potter may be a nasty slumlord, but the the hero, George Bailey runs the Savings and Loan.

What Capra brilliantly put together was a contrast between two forms of capitalism: Bailey's is straight forward, even-handed, competitive, and based on good-stewardship. Potter's is prejudiced, underhanded, monopolistic, and based on exploitation.

Some of the greatest moments in the film are of James Stewart delivering impassioned speeches in defense of free-enterprise against Potter's distortions. When Potter underhandedly attempts to exploit a run on the S&L, Bailey provides an econ-lesson in brief to the town, explaining how the patrons' money isn't in the S&L, but in the homes and ventures of all their neighbors. He explains to them that a run on the bank is a run on each other.

Capra's work may have idealistically tied Bailey's sense of business fair-play to an overall picture of morality, generosity, and faith in the fellow-man, but Capra came from a time when pictures were made to celebrate the virtues we aspire to and the America he believed in.

That modern "conservatives" are unable to discern between Potter's profiteering and Bailey's free-enterprise is disheartening and disturbing.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's an excellent observation. :)

It is actually promoting the "better" form of capitalism, i.e. the one where everyone acts fairly without trying to cheat each other. Competition is one thing, cheating and miserliness for its own sake are something entirely different. This film is not anti-competition.

And you're right about his speech, I think that's one of the best defenses of why/how banking and economies work that I've ever seen on film. Banks aren't evil creatures that impose loans on us, they are tools we have all created through our patronage that let us achieve more than we could without them.

And yeah, sadly, some people just don't get it. They think anything that can be interpreted as criticism of something conservatives like must be an attack, but that's not true.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I agree that there was no attempt to inject a political message into It's a Wonderful Life. But that isn't to say there isn't one solidly in there (see my previous comment). But conservative nay-sayers have missed Capra's point.

It seems it was impossible for Capra not to write love letters to the American Dream in each of his films. Life was his least overt message by far, but he couldn't avoid it. This was the man who gave us Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. One can even see him slipping into the disillusionment that would overtake him in the 50s in his 1948 picture State of the Union.

No, the critics are wrong. Capra was a Colossus of conservative, patriotic film-making.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I agree entirely. I think the messages in his films are deeply pro-American dream and pro-American ideal.

Kit said...

"The fact that there are Conservatives that go off on "It's A Wonderful Life" because it's anti-free enterprise makes it exhibit 42 in my continuing series that illustrates why some people need to get the stick out of their asses."

Outlaw, thank you for summing things up brilliantly!

Kit said...

Here is one of the "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is anti-Capitalist/pro-Socialist propoganda" pieces on Bighollywood.

Kit said...

However, I do have a problem with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

Here is how it should've ended. ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, One of the great things I love about our audience is both the ability to see through the BS and the ability to cut right to the chase! :)

Here's the link to BH: LINK

(P.S. I don't know if you have gone back to the Dr. Who thread or not, but I have reconsidered and I think you're right.)

tryanmax said...

Hmm, that's a rather nit-picky criticism of Life if you ask me. Or perhaps I should say Randian. I've lodged my objections to Randian conservatism before.

I don't think this guy gets Capra and is so used to finding a liberal bent to everything, he is sure to find it.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I normally like Gary Graham a lot -- one of my favorite BH writers. But I don't agree with this piece. I think the film is an ode to small business, the little guy and the American dream. I see it as advocating respect for the man who charts his own course rather than becoming part of the Big Business socialist view of the world. It's kind of like Brave New World in that way. And while the villain may be a business man, it's not his business that is the problem, it's his control over the town that is the problem, i.e. he's more government than business.

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