Digital Hit's Guide to Christmas Movies: Part Two
Continued from Part One of our Xmas Movie Guide
Okay, for most people, the Christmas movie experience wouldn't be the same without a visit from ol' Bing Crosby.
If you want to be picky, The Bells of St. Mary's is not really a Christmas film, but this 1945 flick has become part of the tradition for most folks. Crosby plays Father O'Malley, a priest assigned to parochial school facing challenges to its very existence. Ingrid Bergman plays Sister Benedict, whose different approach to the school often has her at loggerheads with O'Malley.
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know."
White Christmas...now that's the Xmas Bing we're most used to. This musical comedy stars Bing and Danny Kaye as Wallace and Davis, two army buddies and nightclub performers who team up with the Haynes sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) in order to save their ex-general's struggling Vermont inn. Give me a toasted turkey sandwich late Christmas evening and I'll sit back and watch White Christmas every year. It's even better if you sit back and point out all the huge plot holes (like how Clooney's NYC nightclub act has the same dancers as the Vermont show), but with great songs by Irving Berlin, who cares? New in 2010, a Blu-Ray version of the flick has been released.
The song "White Christmas" first appeared in another Bing Crosby film, Holiday Inn, which first appeared in 1942. In this film, Crosby is also part of a song'n'dance team, this time paired with Fred Astaire.
You can't really talk about Xmas movies and shows without touching upon the vast quantity of animated works. Many of the old TV specials we watched as kids are now available on DVD. The benefit: no commercials! These animated specials are a big part of Christmas television viewing and send you so far down memory lane that you turn into a five-year-old again. I still remember when the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer used to scare me. The video is a Christmas ritual and almost everyone has grown up watching the adventures of Rudolph, Herbie the elf who wants to be a dentist, and Arctic prospector Yukon Cornelius. The narration and songs are by Burl Ives.
These old Rankin & Bass specials were always able to attract the big names of the day and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is a fine example. This show traces the history of Santa Claus and is performed by Mickey Rooney and narrated by Fred Astaire. This DVD also comes with the more serious and religious story of The Little Drummer Boy.
Rankin & Bass can probably lay claim to the Xmas Special crown as most of the stop-animated specials buried in our memories came from their production team. This three-show DVD features some of their later specials. The Year Without a Santa Claus features Mickey Rooney as an apathetic Santa who needs to rediscover Christmas. Fans of this special will remember the Heat and Snow Misers. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey has Rankin & Bass venturing again into more religious territory while Rudolph's Shiny New Year sees the company trying to expand their franchise to yet another holiday.
The Rankin & Bass folks have also released The Christmas Classics Gift Set which features seven of the classics: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Frosty the Snowman, Frosty Returns, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, The Little Drummer Boy and Cricket on the Hearth.
The animated DVDs we just mentioned are all examples of stop animation, but cel animation is also highly visible during the Christmas season.
Despite all my efforts, I've still been unable to duplicate the magical hat that brought Frosty the Snowman to life. I guess I'll just have to watch the video some more. Jimmy Durante narrates this Xmas cartoon classic, while 1960s deadpan comic Jackie Vernon, whose work inspired later comics like Steven Wright, plays Frosty.
1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas is another animated classic. Poor Charlie is depressed and begins searching for the true meaning of the holiday that's surrounded with so much commercialism.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas is animated by the Chuck Jones team that brought us Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Narrated by Boris Karloff it traces the heart-melting adventures of another Scrooge-like character as he tries to steal Christmas away from the village below. Though remade as a live-action film starring Jim Carrey, many believe this version is far more charming.
Even some of today's top children's shows are hopping on the Xmas bandwagon.
Okay, put up your hands if you knew trains celebrated Christmas. Apparently they do. In Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends - Thomas' Christmas Wonderland, Thomas and the other trains face some snowy problems that could delay their Xmas plans.
Aardvarks celebrate the Yuletide season as well and in Arthur's Perfect Christmas, the young aardvark faces obstacles as he hopes for the perfect holiday. Muffy's too busy planning a party, Francine's busy with Hanukkah, Buster Baxter's dealing with his guilt-ridden divorced mom and sister DW demands he draft the perfect letter to Santa.
I'm going to talk about Bob the Builder - Bob's White Christmas now, but first I have to say one thing loud and clear: We're not associated with Bob the Builder in anyway. Every few weeks we get emails from people asking us this and that about Bob or asking us to solve customer service issues. We'd love to help but Bob is distributed by a British company called Hit Entertainment. We're Digital Hit Entertainment. Anyway, in this special Bob's helping build a big stage for the town's Christmas party. Elton John voices one of the characters.
Elmo is to Sesame Street, what Diana Ross was to the Supremes: a breakout star all on his own. In Elmo Saves Christmas, the red-haired Muppet wants every day to be Xmas. In some inspired casting, Charles Durning plays Santa Claus while the raspy-voiced Harvey Fierstein is the Easter Bunny.
The next time you say "pass the vegetables" just remember that you may be handling stars of the stage and screen. In VeggieTales - The Star of Christmas, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber play a couple of producers presenting a Christmas spectacular in London during the 1880s.
Read about putting the "Ho Ho Ho" in Hollywood in Part Three of our Xmas Movie Guide