If I were to ask the average joe to write an original Christmas novel, I wonder what would be the final product.
Every year, starting in November, the last two months of the year come alive with holiday music and movies. Several fairly well known cable TV channels that often play the romance-type dramas during the year, dive into heart-warming Christmas movies. The big screen movie companies put out one or two big productions for the season. I’m not a big book reader… ok, I am rarely seen with my nose in a book, so I don’t know what Christmas novels are printed each year. But I can imagine the publishing companies need to get something on the market for public consumption. Even advertisements, which are a predictably “in-your-face,” ring all the bells and whistles and use the traditional Christmas themes to get the public to buy their products. My point is that we are showered with the Christmas plots from many media angles. Our exposure to the Christmas ideal isn’t a flash in the pan… it is out there; everywhere!
So, I began to think about the common denominators of the typical Christmas movie. Is it me, or is there really only a couple of plot summaries out there that are run through the wash and dry cycle, but still always about the same outfit. For my first example, there’s the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. How many adaptations of this story can we possibly create? The numbers are staggering. Yet, in 2009, Walt Disney Co. (DIS) released an animated, 3D version of this story with big name voice overs; Jim Carrey, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, and Cary Elwes. Even though the movie grossed over $325 million covering its $200 million budget, the American public only pitched in 42% of that gross amount.
Let’s scratch our heads in unison. A multi-billion dollar corporation invests hundreds of millions of dollars into a movie where the story and script has virtually been created over a hundred years ago to reap a mere $125 million in profits. Which means all the money spent went into 3D animated computer imaging and to the actors for the use of their voices. What did the audience pay for? Sights, sounds, and a little substance.
Ok, I am not a Charles Dickens-basher. The story line is priceless and apparently timeless. It has a great meaning and effect on those that let it. It warms the heart and scares some sense into the audience. The reviews are in and it is a smash! But, it is the same story told over and over. How about something different?
Another example of over-used plots, is the looming reality that each and every year will be the last year of Christmas; or the end to the real Christmas spirit. Every year, an old, tired Santa Claus and his North Pole empire is threatened by any number of possible evil forces and some how despite impossible odds the good guys prevail at the very last minute before midnight so another Christmas will take place. This whole premise for this plot is so confusing to begin with because of this “all-of-a-sudden” intermingling of Christmas spirit, Santa Claus, and the greedy, uncaring, unloving millions on this planet that need to be reminded of what Christmas is all about!! I want to pull a hair out!
Can we gloss over some of the calamities that threatened Christmas? A blizzard on Christmas Eve; Santa Claus falls off a roof, is single, and ambushed by Jack Frost; not enough Christmas spirit to power the sleigh; a Grinch; a Griswold; elves gone wild; Santa gone wild; or Santa got old and landed in America where no one knows him and he doesn’t know himself! All of these films threaten traditions, comforts, and joys of Christmas… only to end the movie with a “Yay! Christmas is saved. And we get to enjoy another unquestioned, unappreciated Christmas with gifts from Santa that magically appear under the Christmas tree.”
My last example of Christmas movie plots that are as predictable as snow in Minnesota during January is the “happily-ever-after” Christmas story. All of these flicks hover around the familiar topic of strained or non-existent relationships… unsurprisingly around the holidays. How can you tell if this movie is playing in front of you right now? Is the movie on the Hallmark channel? Is there a main character that is single, engaged and/or is unhappy with their significant other? Does the main character have children or work tirelessly 14 hours per day or both? A perfect setup for a happy ending of bringing new loves together, the rekindling of old loves, or the salvaging of family bonds once destroyed in years past. In some ways these movies get less ribbing from me because of the nature of the content. Every human is subject to every kind of relationship success and failure in their life’s path. We encounter good people and bad people. We trust and be trusted. We betray and be betrayed. We deal with the unique attitudes of children and elders. We feel love, hate, anger, happiness and fear. And our emotions are so tricky that each of those I mentioned may be disguised as something totally different. So, in these fictionally sappy movies, there in lies some truths or ideals that maybe we find real or hopeful.
Still, despite the warm and fuzzies from these relational-type movies, there is still an over-abundance of “awwww” moments between the title sequence and credits, or between Halloween and New Year’s Day for that matter.
Which brings me back to my initial paragraph; is there anything new in the world of Christmas media? There are not too many original real modern Christmas songs; the Beatles and Band Aid’s version of Christmas carols are not very heart-warming, sit-around-the-yule-log, have-a-cup-of-hot-cocoa-type Christmas carols. In fact, I wish the radio stations would stop playing that noise. The movies are cookie-cutter, and again, I can’t speak on the books. (Maybe there is hope for us in the books!)
However, there is one movie, in my opinion, that does not fit the usual mold. It is more popular today than when it was released in theaters back in 1983. Released just before Thanksgiving, “A Christmas Story“ was pulled from all but a hundred theaters around the country by Christmas. Today, it has cult status. It can be found playing on TV channels 24 hours straight before Christmas. Quotes from the movie can be heard being recited year-round; “I double-dog dare ya!”, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”, or “Fra-gee-lay.” There are objects from the movie for home purchase; the leg lamp, hats, ties, miniatures, toys and games, for example. There is a Christmas Story House & Museum located directly across the street from the actual house used in the movie. There is now a musical stage production touring the nation stopping this year at the historic Chicago Theater in Chicago. Peter Billingsley who played Ralphie, is the producer of the show.
What makes this movie stand shoulder-to-shoulder to other classics, such as; “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street“? I would point out first and foremost that I do not believe it fits in with any of the above mentioned schemes. It is not typical. It is a story about a 9-year old kid that deals with the ups-n-downs of being a kid during the most exciting time of a kid’s life; Christmas. He is teetering on the belief of what is magical (Santa Claus), wanting the materialistic gleam of special Christmas presents under the tree, skirting around parents, respecting teachers, and even facing the class bully. The romantic setting of the 1940’s brings back to mind a simpler time; despite tremendous differences in modern conveniences. Still, back to my examples; there are no main characters in this movie in search of an epiphany that needs to have the crap scared out of them by Christmas ghosts. Christmas is not threatened in this movie either. It is coming. In fact, Ralphie is counting on the “big man” to help him get his Red Ryder BB gun. And lastly, the relationships we see at the beginning of the movie are same at the end of the movie. The silly dysfunctional love of the family at the opening is the same silly dysfunctional love we see at the end sitting around a table in a Chinese restaurant having Christmas duck.
In a way, this non-typical movie is typical of a way of life. People who need to be entertained may not like it at first, or think it “cute.” Where’s the drama? Where’s the action? But it seems the people come home to what is comfortable and safe… just like in real life.