The SLING family is celebrating Christmas by arguing over our favorite seasonal movies. Isn’t that what all families do around the holiday? No? Must just be us, then. Following our Elf vs. Home Alone debate, we're turning our attention to a trio of (supposed) Christmas classics that our writers missed over the years. Will they live up to the hype? Read on for more.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Peyton Lombardo: Perhaps it's that National Lampoon was just before my time, but I’ve never seen ANY of the National Lampoon Vacation movies, so Christmas Vacation was my introduction to he franchise. Call me a Grinch, call me a Scrooge, but I wasn’t able to get into this. Maybe he was a man of his own time, but Clark Griswold’s dim-witted sense of humor is not to my taste; I find his crazy antics endless and exhausting. Admittedly, I have a huge bias in my dislike for older movies—which is exactly why I never paid it any attention—but having finally seen it, Christmas Vacation felt ridiculous in all the wrong ways.
Because I’m not actually a Grinch, I don’t only have only negative things to say. If you’re like most Americans and are not getting together with family for the holidays, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a nice substitute for IRL gatherings, in that it does offer some fun family traditions that symbolize the true meaning of the season. While I don’t think movie would have been as successful had it been released today, I respect that its silly spirit offers some serious nostalgia for National Lampoon fans of a certain age.
Best Moment: As Cousin Eddy dumps his RV waste, he spots Clark watching from the window and just says, “Merry Christmas! Shi**er was full.”
Worth the Wait? I think you know my answer.
The Polar Express
Mark Schiff: Released in Nov. 2004, this adaptation of the 1985 Children’s Book was the first all-digital capture film, as well as one of the earliest (and most successful) releases in IMAX 3D. Yet 16-years on, what was once groundbreaking technology looks like a poorly rendered cut-scene from the PS2-era (Wikipedia informs me that there was, in fact, a Polar Express video game for the PS2). Hero Girl is rough to look at, and the annoying Know-It-All (yes, these are the official character names) is deeply unpleasant both visually and vocally.
The Polar Express does have some visually-inventive action sequences that take advantage of camera movements that would be impossible in real life, such as the lengthy unbroken shot of the golden train ticket floating through the wilderness until it makes its way back to the locomotive. It’s also the rare Christmas movie that directly grapples with the question of a child’s belief in Santa, and the ringing bell is a lovely piece of symbolism. Plus, Alan Silvestri’s score feels appropriately magical.
So if you were a kid when this film was released, I could see this becoming a sentimental favorite as an adult, especially given its theme. But if you haven’t seen it, this is definitely the least-essential of the three collaborations between director Robert Zemekis and star Tom Hanks (they’re currently a work on a fourth, a live-action remake of Pinocchio for Disney).
Best Moment: The sequence when the kids fall into Santa’s absolutely massive bag of toys, which is then airlifted to the sleigh in the plaza, is delightful.
Worth the Wait? The story is solid, but because of its use of motion-capture, the animation is dated in ways that other CGI films of its era aren’t. This might be the rare movie where a live action remake could be an improvement on the original.
Watch The Polar Express on-demand via AMC
Janine Schaults: Yet another retelling of Charles Dickens’ perennial classic A Christmas Carol—this time with a topical twist exemplifying the height of ‘80s excess—Scrooged finds a slick Bill Murray taking on the role of Mister Bah-humbug himself as he berates his staff, relatives, and the general public in an attempt to reach and keep the very powerful position of television executive. He’s visited by three extraordinarily sardonic ghosts, who outline his steep decline, from an eager boy with a dream to a husk-of-a-man whose goal is to get families to ignore each other on Christmas Eve by enticing them with a live TV special depicting a more traditional version of A Christmas Carol. The plot pretty much hews to the well-known story, so the surprises are limited. A contentious filming experience marred the end product: Murray famously fought with director Richard Donner due to his penchant for improvisation and the final edit eliminated many scenes meant to provide character development in favor of brash sight gags.
Best Moment: When the entire cast gathers together at the end to sing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” we get a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Future’s innards and the goblin-like souls trapped within his ribcage are bopping and dancing. It’s weird and creepy, yet also signifies the power of a true Christmas transformation.
Worth the Wait? Not really. While Billy Murray elevates almost everything he touches, certain elements have not aged well: Specifically, having a disgruntled and abused employee (Bobcat Goldthwait) show up to the studio with a loaded shotgun to exact revenge. It also smells our that Murray’s character would make amends with the gun-toting former underling, then use him to take the control room hostage so Murray can deliver his screed of goodwill on live television. It’s not the fault of the filmmakers that real-life events in the last decade have mirrored this type of violence, but there's no comedy dark enough to escape the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S.
Use your Free Cloud DVR to record Scrooged on AMC, Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 9am ET.