Sunday, December 15, 2013

10 Christmas Movies

Last blog was about the programs.  The TV specials that I remember as a kid.  This one is about Christmas Movies.  Now I realize that the things I mentioned before were likely movies before they became Christmas program specials.  But I don't remember them that way.  For me, they were always on TV.  NOW I am going to look at the things that I remember in both distant and recent past that add to my holiday spirit.   Before I digress, and in no particular order, lets get our sled in gear.

10.  Home Alone - The story of a kid left behind for the holidays while his ridiculously rich parents forget him just a moment too late.  The Scrooge in this show was the Ungrateful brother's family that appears to be freeloading off to Paris.  Cheap people always make for a good bad character in the movies.  We recognize them right off and we enjoy seeing them made fun of.  Still while this movie is mostly about madcap fun at bumbling thieves expense.  Message: The importance of family even when they appear to be a little too close.

9.  Elf - Fun fun Show with Will Farrel as Buddy the misplaced elf looking for his dad.  Also a jumping off point for Zoey Deschanel who has a lovely singing voice.  The Scrooge here is Buddy's Dad that doesn't have time for all of this holiday nonsense.  Of course it might be the children's book writing guru little person with a bad temper.  Nah, it's the Dad.  Christmas message: Once again, the importance of family even if they are long lost or only temporarily lost.

8.  It's a wonderful life - A Christmas classic among classics.  It's a wonderful life chronicles one mans trip through a life without his existence after feeling like his friends and family would be better off without him.  The Scrooge in this show is the banker (who else?).  The message is that everyone has an effect on everyone else's life in ways you might not expect.  Black and white with hot chocolate is the best way to watch this one.

7.  The Snowman - A personal favorite.  No dialog, all visual/musical.  This is not frosty the sell out.  This is a captivating story of a young boy and his snow friend.  There isn't any mention of magic or anything else in this movie.  It's just assumed that things like this happened.  The Scrooge here is heat.  It just keeps melting that nice snow man!  Message: is that you can make friends everywhere and the best ones don't care where you are from particularly the ones in your own head.  Never lose yourself as your best friend.

6.  Polar Express - A magical train that takes select kids to the North Pole.  These kids come from different places but they are all bound by their common association (and doubts) to Santa Claus.  The Scrooge in this movie is that Mandark kid (If you haven't seen Dexters Laboratory, you should).  The Message is, it's important to continue to believe in things.

5.  A Christmas Story - One of my personal favorites, this might be the best portrayal of Christmas through a child's eyes.  Not kids the way we'd like to imagine they are, but a lot closer to the way kids really are.  Often as disappointed as they are hopeful and they see things closer to the way they are.  The Scrooge here is more vague:  Everyone that is embarrassed about their past and how goofy or geeky or wonderful their mother thought they were.  That or it's all of those gun hating liberals, I'm not sure.  Message:  The memories of your past, no matter how much you'd like to avoid them, are unmistakable bits of who you are now so embrace them.

4.  White Christmas - Another classic of classics.  Maybe not as much because of the story, but because of the songs for it.  A terrific series of songs.  A so so story.  Performers get together and end up helping a friend that has sunk all of his savings into a Vermont lodge.  But there is no snow! The holiday tunes go on and on here.  White Christmas, Let it snow, I'll be home for Christmas.  Scrooge?  Weather.  Message:  When you have friends, what else do you need?  Don't answer that, it's rhetorical.

3.  Christmas Vacation - Chevy Chase heads this movie about most of the funny bits of Christmas with family.  The Holiday season and all of its angst and celebrations.  The more family, the more you need a vacation from Christmas by the end of it.  In the movie, business regains it's heart and thinks better of it's employees, but only after some real prodding.  It's not that way in real life.  It's just business.  Any heart is purely coincidental and will probably be cut with the next board meeting. Scrooge?  Business that doesn't think about it's employees much (Jelly of the month club indeed).  Message:  You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family, and Merry Christmas.

2.  Muppet Christmas Carol - A personal favorite again that I alluded to in my prior Christmas post.  It hits 95% of the notes of Dickens' famous story and keeps things going nicely all with that muppet holiday spice.  The Scrooge in this show is the drawn out regretted love scenes.  And Mr. Scrooge of course.  The Message is the same one that the Christmas Carol always brings with it.  Take care of your fellow man.

1.  Nightmare Before Christmas - Wait, this is a Halloween show right?  Or.  But. It's all halloweeny so it's got to be a Halloween show.  Well if Jack Skellington is driving a sleigh with 8 bony reindeer, I don't know how much more Christmasy it needs to be.  The Scrooge here is probably Jack himself, although I think Mr. Oogey Boogey is the more likely candidate. At least Jacks heart is in the right place, its his execution that's lacking.  Message:  It's ok to be who you are and there is nothing wrong with not being good at everything.

Yes there are many others, but the truth is, I either do not remember them, or did not see them or they didn't make this list because there are only 10 slots.  Next stop New Years!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

10 Christmas Holiday Programs

It's that holiday season again.  It comes once a year, but it almost seems like it never really ends.  Maybe some time in mid July, but for the most part, you are either preparing for, or recovering from, the Holidays.  Of course if you are a child, then the Holidays only mean that you are about to partake of one of the 4 paydays afforded you as a child. 1. Christmas, 2. Easter (candy only), 3. Halloween (candy only) 4. Birthday.  The great part about being a kid is that these things just happen to you.  And it seems that everything around you changes to accommodate the holiday you don't understand why, but it's pure magic. When I was a boy during Christmas, a big part of the magic was the TV programming.  There was no on demand, there was only TV Guide.  If you missed it, you were a year away from the next broadcast.  In no particular order.

10 - Frosty the Snowman - The non-secular show. By non-secular I mean that it had no specific affiliation to Christmas whatsoever.  A story about a dumb snowman and his magic hat.  It always seemed to air at Christmas time, even though it might have been better suited around February when there are no holidays of note and just winter.  It seems that it had a sprig of holly around the title, I guess that was enough to tie it into Christmas.  More than it has in the song certainly.  Yet that song would also make it's way into the grade school program.  Still I would watch it and any other special show that came up and it occupies my memories with the sounds of Happy Birthday!

9 - Rudolph - One of the greats.  Rudolph has always been around and it took me quite a while to realize that Rudolph was not one of the initial reindeer.  The outsider, the underdog, the hometown boy makes good.  The ultimate story of triumph over adversity.  That's what this story wanted to be and to a great part was.  Misfit toys, Dental Elves.  This show had it all.  This was the first show that I remember seeing in stop motion.  It had such a weird look to it, I loved it.

8 - Santa Claus is coming to town - Another stop motion great, the story of Santa Claus.  It featured a red haired guy named Kris Kringle that looked quite a bit like Glenn Campbel.  He had to figure out a way to get toys into kids away from the watchful eye of the dreaded burger meister meister burger.  Well you know the story, because you've seen it as much as I did. More fun stop motion. In fact, after this show, any other show that used similar stop motion techniques would immediately bring Christmas to mind. Defrocked winter wizards were the most compelling part of this show for me.  It taught me that once you no longer have evil in your heart, you have no power for your magic.  I'm not sure if that's a good or bad lesson, they didn't really elaborate.  It also contained a great song that was non-Christmas.  Put one foot in front of the other.  yay!

7 - Year without a Santa Claus - This had less to do with Santa and more to do with two warring factions of the weather world Heat miser and Cold miser.  They had the same song but switched the lyrics to suit their specific climate.  'They call me heat miser...whatever I touch...melts in my clutch...I'm too much'  Loved that song.  Apparently they called a truce long enough to allow snow in southtown U.S.A.  I think it's somewhere in Alabama. It's been remade a few times (the song) so I think more than just me liked it. Had they remade the show for current times.  I think they would be called the climate change brothers. Stop motion again, but worth watching every year.

6 - The Grinch who stole Christmas - The great Boris Karlof narrated this show about whos in whoville.  These are the same whos that Horton had heard.  Boris also voiced the menacing Grinch.  Classic show animated by Chuck Jones of Looney tunes fame.  This show was just about the spirit of sharing and community.  Not heavy handed, just fun.  I loved the dog.  The who carol made up in who language was also nice. Little Cindy Lou who.  The cutest little slug you ever saw!

5 - A Cricket in Times Square / Very merry Cricket - This one didn't show up as often but I saw it enough times and had memories attached to it, that it made sense for me to add it since this is my blog.  I was supposed to be doing forgotten homework when this show came on (also animated by Chuck Jones).  Rather than do that I sneaked to the edge of the door frame to watch the show.  Followed by a zip back to my desk to pay small attention to the assignments that I still don't remember.  Well my dad caught me and closed the door.  I received a well deserved scolding.  For that reason I still remember this show.  Otherwise, I'm not sure it comes on that much anymore.

4 - Star Wars Christmas Special - Speaking of never comes on.  This show was a bomb from the get go.  I remember seeing it when it aired and MAN was it a stinker.  Just horrible.  You can find it online for viewing if you have a strong enough constitution.  This must have been a part of a contract or something because nobody looks too happy to be in it.  Give the Wookies their due.  Apparently they had Wookee Christmas.

3 - The Little Drummer Boy - This is really the only story that speaks directly to the story of Christmas by inserting the drummer boy heard in fictitious song into the Nativity.  Another stop motion animation in the same style as Rudolph and Santa.  This song made famous by the Von Trapp Singers.  Yes, THOSE Von Trapps.  Had quite a bit of play in the 50's.  The show itself kind of creeped me out for reasons unknown.  I think it was because they painted a smile on the kid and made him drum.  That painted smile reminded me too much of clowns.  I think it's safe to say that everyone hates clowns.

2 - A Christmas Carol (1971) - Charles Dickens wrote the definitive story about Christmas spirit in the Christmas Carol.  It has been made many times.  The only reason I choose this model over the myriad others is because it was perfect in my memory.  The Muppet Christmas Carol holds a very close second and still a dear place in my heart.  Were it not for that strange love song and reprisal in the middle of it, it might have gained first.  The animation from 1971 was something I stumbled upon and didn't see it in the standard weekend nightly holiday schedule.  It would come mid day on a Saturday but I still remember the feeling of it.  Even when it was happy, it couldn't quite get away from the Dickensian England that engulfed it.  It had all of the elements of the story that you needed in a format digestible by a kid.

1 - Charlie Brown Christmas - Charles Shultz didn't even like this show!  He thought it was really poorly animated.  Yes, it probably was.  The cartooning itself wasn't what I would call polished.  My kids to this day will take all of the flaws in the cartooning of all of the Peanuts specials and make fun of them.  But the voice acting by those kids and the music by Vince Guraldi propel this into my favorite Christmas program bar none.  The story itself seems so somber.  It's as much a story about fearing that you will outgrow Christmas as it is a celebration of the Holiday.  I love it as much as an adult as I loved it as a kid.

In 15 days I'll stumble across the deadline with another list of 10 things.  You'll probably be too busy to read them, but stop by for a cup of hot chocolate!  Holidaze are upon us.  Don't allow the trappings that surround the season become more burdensome than the Holiday warrants.  Often it's more than enough to just be together for the holidays.