The following are double features – a short Christmas themed special for kids and a Christmas classic for the grownups. Grab a popcorn ball and gather together. It’s Christmas time; enjoy it!
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965). A perfect animated tale by Charles Schultz with the PEANUTS gang searching for the true meaning of Christmas. Great dialogue, charismatic voice performances and an award winning jazzy score by Vince Guaraldi. And how often do you hear cartoon heroes quoting from the gospel of Luke, proclaiming the Christ-child as the Messiah?
THREE GODFATHERS (1948). John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, Harry Carey, Jr. Three outlaws, running from a posse, come across a dying woman and her newborn baby. The symbolism between the Christ-child and this new foundling has a redemptive effect on the three bandits. Sincere performances, beautiful cinematography and the skillful direction of John Ford highlight this insightful western.
THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY (1968). The very moving seasonal song comes to animated life with the capable voices of Greer Garson, Jose Ferrer, and Teddy Eccles. Puts present-giving in perspective.
THE NATIVITY STORY (2006). Though missing some of the grandeur we would love to have seen when the angels proclaimed the birth of the baby Jesus, the film successfully fleshed out Mary and Joseph, making them real people and clarifying their love and devotion to God and to one another. It’s a love story in so many ways.
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS: AND BEST LOVED YULETIDE CAROLS. Rabbit Ears Productions. Meryl Streep reads classic Christmas Eve tales with moving renditions of Christmas carols by George Winston, The Edwin Hawkins Singers and Christ Church Cathedral Choir set to breathtaking illustrations. Highlight: The Edwin Hawkins delivery of “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” which is both stirring and reverential.
THE BISHOP’S WIFE (1947). Cary Grant and Loretta Young. An angel aids a struggling minister. I marveled at the ending sermon given by the bishop, played by David Niven. Standing behind his pulpit, the Reverend reminded his parishioners to focus attention on Christ. “All the stockings are filled, except one. We’ve even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the Child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that. Let us each ask what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share.” Wow!
THE OTHER WISEMAN. This Christmas cartoon has been adapted for children. It tells the story of a man seeking the birthplace of Jesus but, because of his duty to others, is delayed in the desert for 33 years only to see the Savior as He is being crucified. Hard to find; check your local Christian bookstore.
THE FOURTH WISE MAN. Gateway Films/Vision Video. Based on the Henry Van Dyke tale of a good magi seeking the birthplace of Jesus, but, because of his duty to others, is delayed in the desert for 33 years, only to see (from afar) the Savior as He is being crucified. Martin Sheen stars as a devout man searching for the Messiah in order to give valuable treasures. But one by one he sells his priceless gifts to help the needy. Full of compassion and illustrations of how our Lord would have us treat our fellow man.
THE STABLE BOY’S CHRISTMAS (1979). Danielle Brisebois, Darleen Carr, Sparky Marcus and several of Hollywood’s best character actors lend their talents to this Emmy-winning 27-minute TV special concerning a selfish young girl who learns a great lesson about the Christmas season from a figurine that comes to life. Soon we are transported to the night of Christ’s birth where we witness the Savior’s effect on the people of Bethlehem. Not in the same league as the others mentioned in this category, but, like THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, it helps keep presentgiving in perspective.
A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS. Hari Rhodes, Beah Richards. Warner Home Video. A Baptist minister moves his Arkansas family to L.A. in 1950. Unfortunately, the elders have neglected to inform him that the church he’s to pastor has been set for demolition. The family must pull together to save the church. Lessons: family togetherness, faith, perseverance.
THE GREATEST ADVENTURE–THE NATIVITY. Hanna-Barbera’s animated video series explores the lives of biblical heroes including this version of the birth of Christ. Entertaining and educational. Also in the collection: THE EASTER STORY, as seen through the eyes of three young visitors from the 20th century.
THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE OF JONATHAN TOOMEY (2007). Tom Berenger, Joely Richardson. A mysterious recluse also happens to be the best wood carver in the valley. Slowly the woodcutter finds his world transformed by a young boy and his mother, who have asked him to carve a yuletide scene. Positive messages, including a respect for God and Christ (prayers are spoken, church is attended and the main characters acknowledge the birth of Christ).
CHRISTMAS STORIES. From Children’s Circle Home Video come four delightfully told bedtime stories. Entertaining and well-illustrated. Stories include Morris’s Disappearing Bag – a last present under the Christmas tree contains a bag that causes you to disappear, The 12 Days of Christmas – a long song with illustrations, The Little Drummer Boy – a simple gift from the heart is the most precious, and The Clown of God – a once famous juggler, now old and penniless, gives one last performance on Christmas Eve. For ages 3-10.
A CHRISTMAS WITHOUT SNOW (1980). Made-forTV about a woman (Michael Learned) who becomes involved with the members of her church choir and its perfectionist director (John Houseman).
PRANCER (1989). Sam Elliott, Rebecca Harrell, Cloris Leachman. A precocious 8-year-old cares for a wounded reindeer she believes is one of Santa’s flying helpers. Not just another film promoting the existence of Santa Claus. Its theme is about believing in things unseen. Contains positive lessons about faith, family love (although the father is a bit of a grump – a no-nonsense farmer frustrated with financial problems and single parenting, but we see his love for the children by film’s end), spiritual healing, and doing what you believe is right. Respectful church scene, including the singing of “How Great Thou Art.” Sentimental, engrossing. Rated G (3 “Oh my Gods” from different characters in the film).
ELF (2003). Having sneaked into Santa’s sleigh, a human baby is raised at the North Pole as an elf. After wreaking havoc in the elf community due to his six-foot-two size, Buddy (Will Ferrell) heads to New York City to find his place in the world and track down his father. Absolutely hysterical. Rated PG (mild rude humor and language).
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE; THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD. Troubled Laura Ingalls learns a lesson in love from a kind-hearted hermit, who may be more than he seems. Taken from the long-running TV series, it may take a little hunting to find. But it’s worth the effort.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). I know, I know, we’ve all seen it a million times, but won’t you agree that it is one of the most important films Hollywood ever produced? James Stewart is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never been born. He reminds us that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact. Director Frank Capra has given the world a great gift with this Christmas classic.
MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1962). You put Jim Backus together with Dickens’ timeless classic, then add the Broadway talents of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, and you’re bound to have entertainment fit for the kid in all of us. Now, don’t tell anybody this, but I’ve watched this little gem each year since it first premiered, and once or twice in July!
When it comes to the famous Dickens tale, here are three of the best renditions: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) starring Alastair Sim; A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1984) with George C. Scott; and the musical version, SCROOGE (1970), with Albert Finney. Each is a well-acted parable with regard to redemption.
CHRISTMAS CAROL TRIVIA
Here is a bit of trivia, or at least a blooper you may get a kick out of. In the 1951 version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Alastair Sim, I caught a major mistake. If you have it in your video library or decide to rent it for this holiday season, keep an eye open during the final section, just after Scrooge transforms into a good man. There’s a scene where he’s excited at his awakening to find it’s Christmas Day and that he is a new man. Twice he looks into his mirror, holding a conversation, first with himself, then with his maid.
If you look closely, you’ll see a stagehand in the reflection. What’s more, he doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the scene. Surely, this had to stand out on the big screen. But then, people are so caught up with Sim’s brilliant interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge that most are just focused on him. Indeed, I saw this film maybe ten times before I caught the boo-boo.
I get a kick out of it because there’s this great acting going on, it’s the moment in the film we’ve been waiting for, an uplifting, fulfilling moment. And suddenly there’s this prop man looking around for his lunch. Don’t worry, it won’t ruin the mood. Nothing gets in the way of Alastair Sim’s wondrous transformation.