Other of my favourite Christmas movies come in the form of bizarre fantasies. A particularly oddball movie (and a film rarely acknowledged as a true Christmas movie) I find myself infatuated with is Tim Burton’s tender, sensitively prepared lovechild Edward Scissorhands. “But how can you consider this a Christmas movie?” asks you. “I’ll tell you,” says I. The story goes as such: Peg Boggs (Diane Wiest) works as an Avon saleslady who can’t seem to sell anything. So one day she travels to the edges of her beautiful little suburbia village and right up into the house on the hill overlooking their little hamlet. There she finds a funny little man called Edward (Johnny Depp) who was created by an inventor. But the inventor died before he could finish poor Edward, and that has left him with scissors for hands. Out of sympathy, Peg takes him down to suburbia to watch over him but things get way out of hand, and poor Edward is forced again to go back up into his quarantine on the hill. Still skeptical? Well, although Edward Scissorhands is just as enjoyable in July as in December, many of the film’s themes are specific to Christmas. At its heart, the film explores one human desire more than any other: the desire to be loved and accepted by a family and by friends. Now, I ask you, what time of the year do we find ourselves carving turkey’s at our grandmother’s house, at what time of the year do we find ourselves laughing and chuckling and telling dumb and oft told tales to our relations while sitting around a fire place with a cup of hot chocolate in our hands, when do we look at lonely people who on a regular basis we would just pass on by but now look upon with sympathy and regret? I don’t have to tell you the answer. Edward Scissorhands is about family, plain and simple: and the timeless concept of the family transcends the entire Christmas and Holiday season. Not to mention that the climax of the film takes place on such an appropriate night as Christmas Eve. Do yourself a favour and experience the bizarre, heartfelt, heart-breaking magic of Edward Scissorhands.
Of course Hollywood has made its fair share completely terrible Holiday motion pictures. These debacles range from simple comedic miscalculations like the well-meaning yet humorously vacant Will Ferrell belch fest Elf to Plan 9 level sci-fi experiments like the infamous Santa Clause, which was so bizarre and extraordinarily bad that the notoriously amusing and smart aleck television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 felt the need to do a special riff track on it. I have seen Santa Clause once and once is enough, although I’m sure that at some point my morbid curiosity will seduce me into watching this wild science fiction fairy tale again. Whoever thought that a movie about Santa Clause waging a battle against an incapable demon named Pitch (who of course wishes on orders from Satan himself to stop Santa from making his annual Christmas Eve rounds) with the aid of Merlin’s magical flowers would make a good motion picture must have had their head screwed on wrong. But what am I complaining about? Santa Clause is one of those harmless and charming bad movies that will entertain audiences for years to come. Then we have the helplessly bad and unfunny Christmas comedies. I’m not talking about such uproarious movies as the classic National Lampoon’s: Christmas Vacation. I’m talking about loud, raucous, unfunny Christmas comedies that usually feature someone flying around the kitchen with an oleaginous turkey slipping through their fingers and most often climax with the utter destruction of the main character’s house (most often by family members or the Christmas tree). I don’t know about you, but I don’t find watching unruly children and eccentric aunts and uncles raze a house to the ground to be very entertaining. I find such disastrous motion pictures as The Santa Clause (and its subsequent sequels) and the painfully un-cute Christmas staple A Christmas Story to be just about as funny as your grandfather’s funeral.
And then there exist abysmal misfires at pathos and semi-serious subject matter that neither entertain nor intrigue the audience. Such motion pictures in some way seem worse to me than comedies because they attempt to take themselves seriously and fail, whereas bad comedies know they’re stupid and contrived yet fail to make us laugh because of this. Probably the most outstanding example of such a miscalculation of tone and message is the dark and somber animated adaptation of the popular children’s book The Polar Express. What should have been a magical and meaningful movie turned out to be a headache-inducing, eye-crossing, over-serious myriad of half-thought thoughts and fragmented plot points. Where a quiet and thought provoking moment should have occurred, the filmmakers inserted another interminable action sequence. And where an action sequence could have fit in appropriately, be sure the filmmakers interposed a boring or confusing scene of phlegmatic sentimental utterances spewing out of the characters’ mouths. Not to mention that the action scenes are so long and drawn out and fragmented and frantic that after a while, we (the audience) can scarcely say that we are having even a remotely enjoyable experience. But perhaps this shamelessly rampant infection into the Christmas spirit exist for the soul purpose of reminding us how much we need appreciate good Christmas movies.
I also tend to have a certain predilection a good Christmas musical, either classic or not classic. Many people rave about the “immense charm” of the movie White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, however I felt that it was quite overrated. I much prefer the original film from 1942, Holiday Inn, which also starred Bing Crosby and featured Fred Astaire in the dancing role. This movie is pure movie magic, with enchanting and memorable songs by Irving Berlin, and watching Astaire and Crosby strut their stuff gives me joy plain and simple. Bing Crosby of course is the lead role, and it is he (while going through a crisis in his career) who decides to turn his Connecticut farm into a quaint little hotel only open on public holidays. Irving Berlin unveiled perhaps his most famous song ever, White Christmas, somewhere in the middle of this silver screen gem. Now the other Christmas musical I have selected may surprise some, disgust others, and yet still delight even more. The film happens to be a stop motion animation film by the great Tim Burton film with the illustrious title of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Tim Burton has made many a visual masterpiece, but I think Nightmare may be the most visionary of all. The film imitates the classic Christmas story ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween town finds himself bored with Halloween, and so of course he goes searching for something new and finds Christmas. He convinces his ghoulish friends to imitate Christmas instead of Halloween, but the plan soon degenerates into a woe begotten disaster. The visual style of the film immediately captures our attention with sets reminiscent of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and characters that could only be imagined in the wildest of dreams. And then there’s Danny Elfman’s enchanting musical score, which has become standard for all modern Christmas music.
This Christmas season, you would do well not to overlook these motion pictures. While sifting through the myriad of unfunny, incoherent, or bizarre Christmas movies out there, you will find some that absolutely enchant you and force you to fall in love with them. Then you will see what value there is in a truly great Christmas movie. Good luck to you.
The home video trailer for Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life can be found here:
The theatrical trailer for Edward Scissorhands can be found here:
A flip from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas can be seen here:
My Holiday Recommendations:
Holiday Inn (1942)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Plains, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Sleepless in Seattle (1990)
Edward Scissorhands (1991)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Catch Me if You Can (2002)