A pleasant way to spend part of a Thanksgiving weekend? Watching classic holiday movies with my wife. The unpleasant leftovers? The realization that, somewhere along the lines, holiday movies really took a turn for the crappy. What happened?
If you think about all the classic Christmas movies – It’s A Wonderful Life, A Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas (or the superior earlier Irving Berlin holiday movie, Holiday Inn – Yeah, yeah, I know, but trust me, Holiday Inn is really, really good) – a couple of things should stick out to you. Firstly, they’re almost all in black and white. Secondly, they’re almost all devoid of any cynicism that can’t be won over by the end of the movie. Somewhere along the line – and I’m not sure where the change happened – holiday movies split in terms of tone, and became one of the following:
- Movies In Which A Ridiculously Objectionable Character Learns That Christmas Is Really About Being Nice To Your Fellow Man and/or Woman
- Movies About Characters Getting Too Into The Christmas Spirit That They Alienate Everyone Around Them Before They Realize That Christmas Is Really About Everyone Around Them
- Movies About How Terrible It Is To Spend Time With Family Before Everyone Realizes That Christmas Is Really About Family
- Any mixture of the above.
The only holiday movie I can think of from recent years that comes close to the innocence and joy of the movies that’ve held up for decades is Elf, which is a movie that fits into the first and second of the above categories, but somehow without seeming too obvious about it – or, perhaps more appropriately, too cynical about it. Because, while Elf may have cynical characters, it’s not a cynical movie by any stretch of the imagination; the transformation of its characters isn’t done ironically or knowingly, and seems so much more enjoyable to watch as a result.
To cynically do a holiday movie – to approach everything as if following a formula, or worse, parodying the formula before surrendering to it in the last minutes for a feel-good ending (You know what I mean, Bad Santa) – is to miss the point of a holiday movie altogether, I think. To try and do anything that isn’t aiming for the, for want of a better way of putting it, innocence and wonder that kids have about the season feels like a bad idea, because, when it comes to entertainment, I feel like that’s the ideal audience: Children, even if they’re just the kids inside ourselves. Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about, in some way? So, yes – Let’s have less cynicism on all fronts: In front of the camera, yes, but behind as well: Creators for holiday movies, stop phoning it in and come up with something that people will want to watch seventy years later. Give us something that’s heartfelt and honest and magical and doesn’t just offer up the same old cliches all over again. If Doctor Who can get it right year after year, surely you can do it once.