Some Christmas-themed movies are great such as A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Others are forgivable in their productions such as Jingle All the Way you feel they tried to hit the bullseye but just missed the target.
And then there are those that people rave about even though when you look closer, you realize they belong with such forgettable Christmas movies as Fred Claus and All I Want for Christmas.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – This is the Jason Takes Manhattan of the Christmas-themed movies. You go into it thinking it’s a movie about Christmas and realize it’s about a doormat named George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) who spends 35-40 years in a town where people can’t even wipe their own nose. The movie begins on Christmas Eve with people praying for the safety of George but as the movie goes along, we realizes that they have been using this guy his whole life.
Also, this movie ludicrously expects us to believe Stewart, in his mid-30s at the time, is 22. Apparently, George did a few things when he was a kid, i.e. saving his brother from drowning and keeping the drunk pharmacist from killing someone with the wrong medication, but spends the rest of his life being treated badly by everyone in town who use and abuse him. Part of the problem is you can’t get past the bad acting. Yes, I know, acting wasn’t the same in the 1940s as it is now and we’re not expecting everyone to be Daniel Day-Lewis, but pornos have better acting. Young George is so obnoxious, you actually glad Mr. Gower slaps him upside the head.
Speaking of Mr. Gower, he doesn’t age over the 20-30 year period this movie is set in. Neither does Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore in a role that obviously inspired Burgess Meredith when he played The Penguin.) All bad acting aside and there’s so much of it, the plot focuses on George’s life as he deals with the townspeople of Bedford Falls, New York who apparently don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, because they let Mr. Potter constantly keep them down. There’s no mayor in this town, nor a city council, county commission, law enforcement (except one police officer), nothing to help the people of Bedford Falls except a building and loans that operates as a pseudo-Ponzi scheme.
After the first hour or so of George constantly getting his hopes up on getting the fuck out of Bedford Falls even for a day trip and being told that he can’t because someone else needs him, you just want to throw your arms up and say, “Enough!” Nothing in this movie is believable. I really don’t believe everyone would’ve sat on their thumbs for years allowing Potter, who has the same permanent sneer on his face you wonder if he had a stroke but no one realized it, be such a jerk. There seems to be some decency in these people but yet they’re regulated to one-dimensional characters.
Finally, when it does get to the Christmas Eve setting, they send an absent-minded loser like Uncle Billy with $8,000 to deposit the bank. That’s about $122,000 in today’s dollars. No one would’ve done that. And stupid Uncle Billy, who should’ve been in a nursing home, lets Potter have it through a mistake. So, Potter uses this against George and George wimps out. And Potter issues a warrant for George’s arrest for embezzlement.
Only it’s not that easy. You can’t just call up someone and ask for an arrest warrant. There’s audits and investigations. Interviews take place. George is not even asked about the money by authorities. The movie just doesn’t make sense. And rather than call anyone for help, George goes nuts, gets drunk and contemplates suicide all within the matter of an hour. But he’s saved by his guardian angel Clarence who jumps into raging waters, so George will jump into the raging waters. (Wasn’t George contemplating jumping into the raging waters to commit suicide just five seconds earlier?)
The movie goes downhill from there as Clarence shows George a brief 10-15 minutes of what his life would’ve been like had he not been born. And here’s where more bad acting, or should I say, overacting comes in. It turns out Bedford Falls is now Potterville and it’s a thriving business town. Holy-fucking-shit, the nerve of Potter! Yes, the movie shows its true racist and misogynistic colors as there’s jazz bars and George’s friend, Violet Bick (Gloria Graeme) has become the town slut. George’s wife, Mary (Donna Reed) couldn’t find someone better than a schmuck like George to marry and has become an old-maid at 30.
No wonder this movie has been parodied over the years. Finally, George says he wants to live and Clarence turns everything back to the way it was half an hour earlier. So, he’s now running around Bedford Falls after experiencing what 15 minutes of a bad dream. And Mary does what anyone would’ve done and called people to help. Even though that war profiteer, Sam Wainwright should’ve ponied up all the dough. And Potter, well he keeps the $8,000 and the guy with the warrant just tears it up, because it’s that easy to destroy a legal document. Considering there was no base in the charge it’s a wonder why any judge would issue it without a proper investigation.
This movie was a box-office disaster and ruined the Liberty Films production company. It was also the last time Stewart and director Frank Capra ever worked together again. Over the year, the copyright expired because it was such a bad movie, it was pointless. With the expansion of cable TV stations in the 1970s and 1980s, many stations could broadcast it, sometimes multiple times without having to pay for it as it was in public domain. It may be a favorite of some, but you can see why audiences in the mid-1940s rejected it.
White Christmas (1954) – This one isn’t so much overrated as much as it is a letdown especially after hearing about it for many years. I’m reminded of when I saw In the Heat of the Night and thought, “That’s it?!” when you follow the murder plot. Or if you look at Dirty Harry and realize that it was actually revenge fanfiction on the Zodiac killings.
Bing Crosby had done this movie more than a decade earlier when it was called Holiday Inn and he co-starred with Fred Astaire. There is no chemistry between Crosby and Danny Kaye. Even though there was less than a 10-year difference between their ages, they mismatched as friends. If Holiday Inn was Breakin’, this feels like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo with some hokey subplot as Crosby and Kaye play WWII vets who try to save their general’s Vermont hotel resort.
They bring all the general’s troops in to sing and dance the fact that they spent their formative years in war zones. While many vets of WWII had little or nothing to do with their other soldiers when they returneds, this movie makes war look like its fun. In the end, they do this USO-style show for their general and it snows.
While it shies away from the more harsher realities of what many WWII vets went through and probably were still going through as some fought in Korea, it’s not the movie’s fault. It was the 1950s and to portray any thing more than a sunny disposition in any movies at the time was seem as Communist propaganda.
But even I was surprised to find that Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” wasn’t written for this song, but Holiday Inn. At most, this movie remains a joke during a Clark Griswold rant as having “the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tapdanced with Danny-fuckin-Kaye.”
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – While this is more associated with Halloween, it does have Christmas themes to it. Henry Selick, directs a stop motion animated movie based on a script by Caroline Thompson from a story idea by Burton, who also produces. It’s about Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon with a singing voice by Danny Elfman) who is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town. Even though he has been praised for doing a good job at Halloween, Jack is depressed and goes for a long walk where he arrives in Christmas Town.
Realizing he can change up the Christmas holiday, he decides to dress up as “Sandy Claws” and deliver toys to the kids. If you’re thinking, “Wait a cotton-picking minute!” that it sound a lot like a bizarro How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The only thing here is there is actually a Santa Claus while the Grinch proves Santa Claus isn’t real. (Think about it.)
Unfortunately there’s not much of a plot here. There’s a lot of nice visuals and Selick (NOT BURTON!!!) builds a nice universe where the macabre characters and human being exists. However, after you hear the third or fourth musical number, you realize they saturated the movie with them to pad the timing to 76 minutes so they could release it as a feature movie. It may have worked better as a TV special.
And lately, people have attacked the movie for its racist overtones as the movie’s villain, Oogie Boogie, is voiced by Ken Page, but looks like a glow-in-the-dark Klansman. The phrase “oogie boogie” is an old derogatory name for African-Americans. It’s even been revealed Thompson tried to convince Burton on why the character’s name should be changed but he wasn’t having it.
What sucks is the movie wants us to root for Jack, even though he kidnaps Santa, ruins Christmas for many scarred kids, and then says, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” He then goes on to be the Slender Man.
The movie was a modest success at the box office but didn’t even break the $100 million mark. It was a very saturated holiday season in 1993. I think a lot of moviegoers realized then how bad it was. I was even talking with people at my high school who liked any mainstream movie that hit the theaters and they were disappointed in it.
It didn’t become popular until the whole goth and emo look became mainstream in the early 2000s and plus-sized women with black hair started getting Jack Skellington tattoos. And since it was made by Disney, they’ve merchandised the hell out of it every fall/winter season. I’m all for fandom but they go overboard with this one.
The Santa Clause (1994) – I was very disappointed with this one. For one thing, the advertising and commercials made it out to be more mature than it actually was. Instead, it’s really a kid’s movie and by that, I mean a movie for people who are just learning long division in the third or fourth grade. Tim Allen, who went from being a convicted drug trafficker to stand-up comic who drops the F-bomb repeatedly to Disney sitcom dad, was cast in this movie. And it seemed like a good idea, but there’s always room for error.
Allen plays Scott Calvin, a divorced dad, who scares Santa Claus while he’s on the roof, causing Santa to fall and die or something. Anyway, Scott, who has his whiney little shit son, Charlie, with him on Christmas Eve decides the best course of action other than calling 911 is to put the Santa suit on so Scott can deliver the rest of the gifts on Christmas Eve. Apparently, Santa disappears or dies. It’s never explained further. And the elves at the North Pole seem to act so nonchalant when they see Scott for the first time that I’m sure they’ve gotten use to this turnover rate.
Thinking it was a dream at first, Scott begins to gain a lot of weight and his hair changes to silver white. He grows a beard and even when he tries to shave, it grows back in god-awful 1990s CGI fashion. Still not believing he’s Kris Kringle despite the constant nagging and crying of his son, the movie devolves in a mopey family drama. Since it’s Disney, they have to portray the other divorced parent as an awful person. And Wendy Crewson gets that role and the same hair style Uma Thurman had in Pulp Fiction as well as Rose McGowan in The Doom Generation. (The 1990s were just a weird time for fashion.) Her new husband is played by Judge-freakin-Reinhold, who tries to convince Charlie that Santa is not real and his father isn’t Santa because he’s a psychologist or something. It was the 1990s and there had to be psychology references in everything.
But when Scott looks at a snowglobe Charlie hands him, he now believes and then kidnaps Charlie so he can go to the North Pole to prepare for Christmas. This movie really grinds my gears so much with how lazy it is. Allen may have evolved into a conservative asshole but at one time, he wasn’t bad as a comic. This movie totally reduces him to nothing. The jokes aren’t funny and tired. “Oh, he burns the turkey because he’s a guy and they can’t cook!” Hardy-fuckin-har!
In fact, one of Allen’s more mature jokes made it into the final cut and is one of the few laughs. When he looks at Reinhold’s business card and says, “I-800-Spank Me” but this led to changes in video and TV versions as kids were calling it. And it wasn’t Santa Claus on the end, but they wanted to know if you were naughty regardless.
There were two sequels, the first one proved that Charlie was still a whiney dork even as a teenager in a post-9/11 world. Allen appears less in the fat suit because he got pressure sores on the first movie. Yikes! That could’ve been dangerous. And the third one has a G rating and looks like it was written by pre-schoolers.
Elf (2003) – This one actually has some good merits to it that get bogged down by a typical fish out of water plot that never does seem as good as it should. Will Ferrell in his first solo-starring role plays Buddy, a normal-size human who was raised at the North Pole by elves. Immediately, this movie has a lot of problems as Santa Claus (Ed Asner) is turned into a kidnapper. Buddy as an infant at an orphanage sneaks into Santa’s bag, but he doesn’t bother returning him. For the next 30 years or so, Buddy lives in a hostile toxic environment where he is shunned for his size.
Did anyone not think to build Buddy a bigger bed, shower, or shitter? I mean, the poor guy lives shunned through his formative years into his adulthood only to be told he has no job qualities to be an elf. Here’s where the movie could’ve been a nice family movie about diversity and inclusion? But no. And that sucks because Jon Favreau in his second directorial job is still learning his footing. He sets up so many visuals at the North Pole but the script can’t even focus on that.
Maybe it was a funding issue, but the story switches gears and has Buddy travel to New York City on an iceberg to track down his biological father played by James Caan in a role he either did for money or a favor. Instead of having Buddy wonder at the sights of the Big Apple the same way Crocodile Dundee did, they instead have Buddy do stupid things like pick gum off hand rails and chew it. And Buddy screams, a lot! I know NYC is known for its colorful characters and they could’ve done something more than having him work in a department store with the Zooey Deschanel doing her Manic Pixie Dream Girl schtick.
There’s a snowball fight that is a change of character for Buddy. For the most part, Buddy has been portrayed as an oversized manchild, but that’s not the case here. Mary Steenburgen appears in a role that you could easily take out and not miss. Then, the laziest joke comes up with Peter Dinklage appearing at the publishing house where Caan’s character works. And Buddy frantically like a child molester in a Toys R Us pisses The Dinkles off. And naturally, The Dinkles gets pissed off because there’s some crazy motherfucker dressed up as an elf insulting his dwarfism, so we have a scene The Dinkles gets into a fight with Buddy, because they ran out of ideas.
I know it’s a kids/family movie but it doesn’t mean it has to be a lazy movie. Favreau was able to use a copyright flub on the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to use it as inspiration. Peter Billingsley of A Christmas Story fame pops up as an elf. There was a lot more they could’ve done. It reminds me of the lazy sci-fi/fantasy movies, such as Masters of the Universe, they used to make in the 1980s where they would set it in mostly in a regular city so they wouldn’t have to spend much on sets, special effects and costumes.
There was a great TV special here that they stretched to an-hour-and-a-half movie and they stretch it so thin you can see through it.
The Polar Express (2004) – Of all the movies that are overrated, this is the most desperate. This pokes you constantly with a stick telling you that you should fucking love every minute of this movie because it was directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Tom-fuckin-Hanks and they spent $165 million to do a computer animation of a children’s picture book that is only 32 pages. This is like Free Willy meets Hamilton. Existence doesn’t warrant praise.
Some boy in the mid-1950s is skeptical of Santa so one night near Christmas, a steam locomotive appears outside near his house. Hanks plays the Conductor looking like Ned Flanders if he was a serial pedophile. And they round up children to take to the North Pole. (Seems like fun! Nothing to see here!) And the Conductor has this hole punch that is one of the many problems with this movie. It tries too damn hard to be charming but has no charm to it. I didn’t care for the servers dancing while they poured hot chocolate. What is this, Cocktail?!
There’s also an annoying brat voiced by Eddie Deezen whose whiny nasal voice gets tiresome after two minutes and then you realize he’s going to be a main character throughout the rest of the movie. Zemeckis presents a lot of visuals and it looks good. But it looks too damn good. It wants to be too perfect that it fails. It presents all its great images in the trailers and commercials but you realize it’s actually a boring story about some kids on a train ride.
Clocking in at 100 minutes, it’s a good half hour too long. By the time, they make it to the North Pole, you no longer care. It’s like Zemeckis realized if he gave enough eye candy, people wouldn’t care how uneventful the movie is. Worse, Hanks is a major disappointment here. He’s just not a voice actor. He’s a good actor and nice guy. But there’s no variations in his voices. In the Toy Story movies, you can clearly tell it’s Hanks as Woody.
Others, such as Frank Welker, Billy West, Peter Cullen and even Trey Parker and Seth MacFarlane, can all work with their different voices to make their characters sound totally different. You know every character Hanks is voicing is just him using a different tone. And it was no surprise he’d be doing the Big Guy in the Red Suit, either.
Even the song “Believe” written for this movie and sung by Josh Groban reeks of desperation to be a holiday classic. Everything about The Polar Express irritates me. It doesn’t realize that holiday classic movies and songs are chosen by audiences. This is the equivalent to gerrymandering. It’s The Passion of the Christ of Christmas movies. If you don’t like it or anything to do with it, then you must be saying that Christmas sucks, you Scrooge!
It made a lot of money but critics were mixed in their reviews as they should be. It reminds me of something I heard about these classic car collectors who will spend a fortune on making everything on the outside look amazing, but they don’t bother with what’s under the hood. This movie is still stuck in first gear but thinks its surpasses the rest.
Do you agree with this list? What holiday movies do you find overrated? Please comment.