Just got back from seeing a film that needs to be inserted in my top ten best Christmas movies of all time list that was published last year (along with the top ten worst Christmas songs - I like to provide balance). This year I offered the opposite - the ten worst movies and the ten best songs - and I haven't seen anything to change my mind on that side of the equation. But the Ten Best Movie List has to make room for a newcomer. Here's what it used to be:
10. Elf (Will Ferrell at his best)
9. Holiday Inn, or White Christmas (either one will do)
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (classic TV special)
7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (classic TV special)
6. Miracle on 34th Street (original)
5. It's a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart; how can you go wrong?)
4. The Bishop's Wife (Cary Grant; how can you go wrong?)
3. A Christmas Carol (1984 version with George C. Scott)
2. A Christmas Story (movie perfection)
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (TV special perfection)
But there's a new kid in town. Rich with colorful detail, amazing animation, witty and clever storytelling, charming characterization, delightful humor throughout and an absolutely lovely story that will entertain children for many, many years - meet Arthur Christmas:
This is a classic Santa story re-imagined by writers, animators and actors who must actually love what they're doing. It shows. Arthur Christmas is Santa's son - the younger son who is not in line to take over the family business, so to speak. And what a business it is! Big brother Steve Christmas is running a state-of-the-art shop up at the North Pole, including using the latest in (hacked) military technology to "make the magic happen."
The scenes that depict the North Pole operation are breathtaking and imaginative. I am quite sure I could watch this several times (on a big screen, please!) and find new and amusing detail every viewing. There is simply too much to take in all at once. This is one of the most visually pleasing animated movies ever. Like wandering through a giant eye candy store.
The characters, from the entire Claus family to the zillion or so elves who inhabit the Pole, are utterly enchanting, and many of them could probably carry their own Christmas movie. But this one's about Arthur - a very, very good person who has to decide what to do when just one little thing goes wrong in an operation of global proportions. How important, after all, is just one child? Arthur knows the answer to that all along, although some of the other characters have to be reminded. What a splendid message for a holiday movie, by the way - that the feelings of just one little child are indeed of great importance.
I'm inserting Arthur Christmas at the #4 slot on the list. It earns that spot because Charlie Brown's unabashed embrace of what Christmas truly is all about must remain at the top, and A Christmas Story is a movie where each scene outdoes the one before it, culminating in the most perfect ending to a Christmas movie ever. I would have put Arthur at #3, but the filmmakers made the horrific choice of including a Justin Bieber version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" which will make you want to kill yourself. That misstep means I'm keeping George C. Scott's exquisite version of A Christmas Carol in 3rd, and Arthur slips in just behind. All this, of course, knocks Elf off the list - but that's somewhat deserved, as the last 15 minutes of the Will Ferrell movie offer none of the charm or humor of the rest of the film, and quite frankly are kind of painful to sit through. So off with you, Buddy the Elf. And welcome, welcome, to Arthur Christmas.