Friday, December 13, 2013

December: Month of Christmas Movie Reviews

Arthur Christmas
I’m often unclear on who my target audience is with Sweetheart Redux– someone just like me, I guess:  a passionate warrior camouflaged in business-casual clothes from Target.  So I write this like a mommy-blog/literary-journal/old-fashioned-riot grrrl-zine.  That being said, I recently posted a film review of the only good Harmony Korine movie, “Spring Breakers”, in which I went on and on about titties.  But it’s Christmas-time now, and this is a review of the endearing, cute animated kid’s movie that is “Arthur Christmas” (2011) .

For some reason I thought Justin Beiber had something to do with “Arthur Christmas”, and the fact that it was the only animated Christmas film that didn’t have a “very long wait” on Netflix but was instead available immediately made me think it was going to be horrible.  But instead, it’s a charming little English movie put out by Aardman Studios, those wonderful people who brought us such amazing films as “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (2005) and “Chicken Run” (2000).  It’s about the Claus family – Mr. and Mrs. Claus are no longer genuinely moved by the miracle of Christmas and are really ready for a leisurely retirement.  The Claus clan all lives together.  Santa’s eldest son Steve is an alpha-male jock who wants to turn Christmas Eve into a precision operation, while the younger son, Arthur is a sweet, tender-hearted kid intent on keeping children believing in the wonder of Santa.   Grandpa Claus used to act as Santa but now he is a cranky old man who talks about his glory days.  I don’t really care for any Santa Claus back-story other than the one L. Frank Baum tells in his Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902), in which Santa is a foundling human baby raised by fairies.  But as far as Santa backstories go, the one in Arthur Christmas isn’t bad, because the dialogue is clever enough to make it all work; instead of being like, “Are you serious?  There’s a succession of Santa’s instead of just one eternal one, and they’re just some typical Extended Family household?!” I felt more like, “Aw, it’s funny that Grandpa Claus talks like Tom Brokaw bragging about being a member of the Greatest Generation, winning World War II and having a great work ethic.”  Grandpa Claus is a grump but he helps sweet Arthur Claus on his seeming fool’s errand to deliver the one present Santa forgot to deliver, and even the mean older brother Steve has his good points.  It is a sweet and funny movie that is un-ironic about its sweetness, and if you have a little kid who likes British accents and rooting for the underdog, I definitely recommend it.  And when your little angel goes to sleep, titties.  

Rankin-Bass Films

Christmas Movie December:  Rankin-Bass films

In a similar spirit to Horror Movie October, this month has been Christmas Movie December.

There are a couple big differences between Halloween movies and Christmas movies; for starters, Halloween-related and Horror movies are appropriate to watch year-round, but it is depressing to watch Christmas movies in any other month than December.  Secondly, most Christmas movies, even if they star Vince Vaughn or contain the occasional sly BJ joke to keep the parents in the theatre awake while their children smile at elves and Santa’s kindness, Christmas movies are for kids.  This is okay by me.  I nurture my wounded inner child on the regular by watching Harry Potter movies practically daily, so a month of children’s holiday movies is definitely not a stomach turning experience, as I imagine it is for some parents.

I bought a 4 dvd-pack of Rankin-Bass Christmas movies, and each dvd has at least 2 movies on it, so this has been the year of Rankin-Bass.  These tv-movies are probably very familiar to children of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s who were raised on TV.  The back stories provided to such classic characters as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, the New Year’s baby and Santa Claus are so bizarre it’s a little obnoxious.  For instance, in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976) … shit, where to begin?... let me just be lazy and copy and paste the Wikipedia synopsis of this weirdo movie:
Rudolph has just come back from delivering Christmas presents with Santa Claus when he is asked by Father Time to find the missing Baby New Year before midnight on New Year's Eve. Unless Happy is returned before December 31 to take his position as the new year, the current year will not end and the date will perpetually remain December 31 forever. If this happens, an evil vulture named Aeon will rule the world forever.
Father Time speculates that Happy, who ran away, due to his big ears, is hiding out in the "Archipelago of Last Years", where the Old Years retire and rule over an island styled to resemble the year over which they ruled. Sent to assist in this journey are some agents of Father Time including General Ticker (a military clock), The Great Quarter-Past-Five, later named Quart for short, (a camel with a clock in his hump), and Big Ben (a whale with a clock attached to his tail).
Upon arrival in the Archipelagos, Rudolph first travels to the island belonging to acaveman named One Million B.C. ("O.M." for short). O.M. inhabits an island anachronistically inhabited with friendly dinosaurs and other prehistoric and long-extinct creatures. As Rudolph and his friends search for the baby, they repeatedly encounter Aeon. Aeon is destined to live for exactly one aeon after which he will turn into ice and snow and disintegrate. As his particular aeon will end at the turn of January 1 of the New Year, he plans to kidnap Happy to prevent the year from ending and thus prevent his predestined death on January 1, thus stopping time. After other off-screen visits to the islands of 4000 B.C., 1492, 1893, and 1965 have been completed without success, Rudolph and O.M. head for the island of Sir 1023 (pronounced ten-two-three), a knight whose island is filled with medieval trappings along with several fairy tale and Mother Goose characters. The group then travels to the island of 1776, which reflects Colonial America and is ruled over by "Sev" (AKA 1776), who resembles Benjamin Franklin.
Following Happy's seeming rejection on the Island of 1776, Aeon kidnaps the baby and takes him to his lair on the Island of No-Name, which is said to be located "due north of the North Pole". The group (which now includes O.M., Sir 1023, and Sev) now leaves the Archipelego in pursuit. Catching up to the buzzard, they attempt to rescue the baby. However, Aeon thwarts them by sending an avalanche down on the group and trapping them inside giant snowballs. Managing to melt his way free using his nose, Rudolph climbs up to Aeon's nest where he finds Happy who refuses to leave. Rudolph shows Happy his nose and tells him his own story of being shunned because of his "non-conformity" before asking Happy to let him see his ears. Happy does so, and Rudolph, like everyone else before him, laughs at the sight. Although Happy is again upset, Rudolph explains that the sight of Happy's ears had made him feel so wonderful that he had to laugh out loud, just like it had done with everyone else.
As Happy shouts out with joy at this declaration, Aeon is awakened. Rudolph quickly instructs Happy to take off his hat and leave it off for good. At the sight of Happy's large ears, Aeon bursts into uncontrollable laughter which sends him tumbling down the side of the mountain and into the snowball, freeing Sev, O.M. and Sir 1023. Rudolph realizes that Aeon, since he is now so full of warmth and happiness, that it would be impossible for him to turn to ice and snow. With Santa's help, they return to Father Time's castle with Happy just in time for the beginning of the new year, which is designated "nineteen-wonderful". After the celebration, everyone wishes the viewers a happy new year and Rudolph adds, "And may it be shiny, too!"
Archipelago of Last years[edit]
Among the islands of the Archipelagos of Last Years are:
·         1,000,000 BC: Represented as a prehistoric island that consists of dinosaurs and cavemen. O.M. lives here.
·         4000 BC: Rudolph mentions that all its inhabitants wanted to do was build pyramids.
·         1023: Represented as a medieval island filled with fairytale characters. The year 1023 is said to be when all the well-known fairy tales and nursery rhymes actually happened. Sir 1023 lives here.
·         1492: Rudolph mentions that the people on that island were too busy discovering things to help them (a reference to the year ofChristopher Columbus's voyage to the New World).
·         1776: Represented as a Colonial American island that celebrates American Independence Day on a daily basis. 1776 (AKA "Sev") lives here.
·         1893: Rudolph mentions that the inhabitants have never heard of Happy due to the Panic of 1893.
·         1965: Rudolph stated that island was "too noisy" to search for Happy. This is theoretically in reference to Beatlemania (which revolved around the British Invasion of The Beatles) and growing political unrest in the United States brought on by inner city rioting and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

Um, what? 

The Rankin-Bass interpretation of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) is another gem of weirdness.  Again, from Wikipedia: 

Set in the fictional town of Junctionville, NY around the turn of the 20th century, Santa Claus is offended by an anonymous letter printed in the town's newspaper (and signed "all of us") claiming that he doesn't exist. In response, Santa returns the entire town's letters to them unopened. Upon reading the anonymous letter printed in thenewspaper, Father Mouse (voiced by George Gobel) — a mouse assistant to the human clockmaker Joshua Trundle (voiced by Joel Grey, the credited narrator) — immediately suspects that his brainy son Albert is its author. Albert (voiced by Tammy Grimes) confirms his suspicions, repeating the letter verbatim to him.
Father Mouse and the Trundle Family devise a plan to appease Santa by building a singing clock tower for him, built with a special recording to play a song to coax him not to bypass Junctionville on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, Albert enters the clock to explore it without permission, and inadvertently damages it seriously, thus rendering it inoperable and seriously damaging Trundle's professional reputation. Furthermore, the mayor (voiced by John McGiver), publicly embarrassed at the clock tower's failure, refuses to give the clockmaker access to it for repairs.
Confessing his mistake, Albert volunteers to repair it himself and Father Mouse tells Joshua of the situation before waiting at his bed with worry on Christmas Eve. Although Albert does not complete his task until about one minute after the Midnight deadline, the clock does play its song within earshot of Santa which convinces him to turn around and come to town after all.
Oh god, I can’t even get into the maudlin, grotesque Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980), except to say that the moralistic trials that poor little puppet has to go through are inappropriately masochistic.  Did the meanest Calvinist ever write the script. 

The moralistic Christian trend of all the Rankin-Bass films is creepier than Christian moralism usually is, so much so that I did some research on the Rankin-Bass production company to see if any questions were ever raised as the whether they were a cult and their kid’s holiday movies were brainwashing propaganda, but no research seems to have been done on this.

My last gripe with the Rankin-Bass movies, which are visually interesting enough to make all their flaws tolerable, is the fact that the bad guys often have traits stereotypically ascribed to Jews, mainly:
-having prominent noses
-possessing jobs like money lender or salesman
-not believing in Christmas

I’m slightly Jewish – my dad’s family are Jewish but only half of them are practicing – but shit like this really rankles.  Ooh, what a dick Ebenezer Scrooge is – a stingy money-lender who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.  Anyway, happy holidays.

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