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Showing posts with the label Musical

The Star (2017)

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At this point, I'm fairly certain the entertainment industry has invested more time in trying to tell the story of the donkey who attended the birth of Christ than the story of Joseph and Mary.

While this attempts to wedge in a bastardized version of the nativity, The Star continues this tradition by focusing its attention on Bo, a donkey with big dreams of one day joining the royal caravan and doing something important. His friend, Dave (a dove), also plays a role, as does Ruth, a sheep obsessed with following the star of Bethlehem.

Opposing them are an assassin sent by Herod and his two hunting dogs.

I'll admit I kind of like the idea that a bunch of kids are going to be devastated when they learn there's no canonical justification for a bulky cave-troll getting pushed off a cliff by a flock of sheep. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Or am I? There's really not a lot to say about this in terms of plot, because - spoiler alert - it's mostly just the goddamn n…

Trolls (2016) and the Trolls Holiday Special (2017)

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We watched the Trolls Holiday Special and walked away with one big question: Is Trolls a Christmas Movie? After we got around to watching the movie itself, we decided the answer is ehhh... not really? Probably not?

However, its one holiday element is unique enough that we wanted to catalog it.

The movie Trolls (based somehow on the plastic dolls from back in the day) is a surreal confabulation of light, color, and pop music. The trolls are small and brightly colored, and the favorite snack of a larger creature that looks much more like your stereotypical common troll. These "Bergens" believe that the only way to be happy is to essentially steal the trolls' happiness (by eating them).

However, (and this is where the holidays come in) they only eat trolls once a year, on a holiday called Trollstice. Other than being a pun on solstice, Trollstice has very little in common with Christmas though. There is one very early scene in which the bergen prince wakes his father on Tr…

Santa, Baby! (2001)

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You know Rankin/Bass, it's the company behind all the classic stop-motion holiday specials. This has exactly one thing in common with those: it's loosely inspired by a holiday song.

And I do mean loosely. You might think that the song in which the singer offers to trade "Santa" implied sexual favors for material goods and marriage isn't exactly screaming to be made into a kid-friendly animated special, and you'd be right. But we can't lose that name recognition, so the song is awkwardly shoved in twice.

The plot follows a little girl named Dakota, whose father is a songwriter with writer's block. (He does not write "Santa Baby.") Also, Dakota is obsessed with animals, and the superintendent of the block (because that's a thing?) doesn't want animals in the buildings and keeps threatening to close down the local shelter.

Honestly, the shelter needs something because the assortment of animals there is utterly bizarre, including a dog …

Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas (2016)

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I guess at least one good thing has come out of HBO's partnership with Sesame Street: we got a new Christmas special! It's not as charming and perfect as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, but what is? It does have a lot of heart and humor.

After a warm opening number about the lights of the season (with brief glimpses of Muppet families celebrating various holidays), we get to the plot pretty quickly. Elmo wants to know why we leave cookies for Santa, so his dad tells him a story.

Apparently, back in an unspecified old-timey time, Sesame Street was an unfriendly place to live. This means we get a ton of gorgeous costume design on 19th-century versions of many of the characters.



Elmo's ancestor moves to Sesame Street just before Christmas and is surprised by how rude everyone is - so mean that Santa never visits. He makes a "friend" by declaring that a girl who stole his ball can keep it as a gift, and that act of selfless kindness starts a chain reaction. A magica…

Bunheads: A Nutcracker in Paradise (2012)

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Let's be real. Here's what I want you to take away from this review: BUNHEADS IS STREAMING AGAIN. It's on Hulu. Go. Get thee to Hulu. If you are a musical theater nerd like me, go watch the first couple episodes of Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop snarking at each other and see if you don't fall hard.

I'll pause here for a quick moment of silence for the fact that this show only received one season.

The basic premise is that Foster plays Michelle, a professional-dancer-currently-slumming-as-a-Vegas-showgirl who decides to change her life by getting married and moving to a tiny upscale California town, where she helps her mother-in-law (Bishop) run a dance studio. The show is by the woman behind Gilmore Girls and features her standout themes: intergenerational female friendships and pop-culture snark. I prefer this to the earlier show because this one is also about dance and art and living a creative life. (I promise The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is on my to-watch list. …

Elf: The Broadway Musical

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There are only a handful of movies and specials that we've watched over the years that Erin and I have felt strongly enough about to review separately. Elf is one of those films. I don't like it much; Erin does.

Now I can embrace my dislike of the movie more than I allowed myself to in that article because I have seen what the story can be instead.

It turns out, I like Elf a lot once you remove Will Ferrell, the more juvenile/gross humor, and the poor musical choices.

You know the story more or less, right? Human raised by elves goes to meet his father in New York, misunderstandings ensue, everyone learns the importance of family, love, and to be open to magic and wonder.

In the touring production I saw this year at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, Buddy was played as sheltered but enthusiastic. He wasn't dumb; he wasn't the butt of every joke; he just didn't understand a lot about human society. And he was so dang genuine and kind that he won over everyone aroun…

Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017)

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We covered Frozen back when it came out, despite some disagreement on whether it should count as a Christmas movie. (We've since decided it should be classified as Christmas in July.)

But with this new special there's no room for disagreement or confusion. It's Christmas in Arendelle.

The premise is that it's the first holiday season since the events of the movie, and so it's the first opportunity that royal sisters Anna and Elsa have for a holiday celebration both in public and together.

They decide to throw a party, but after a public ceremony, the local folks all have their family traditions to get back to. The sisters realize that their lives have been so circumscribed by hiding Elsa's powers that they don't really have any traditions of their own. Olaf sets out to save the day by collecting traditions from the townspeople. Naturally, complications ensue.

I loved this. I sat through it with a big stupid grin on my face the whole time. I liked the story…

The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town (1977)

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Shockingly, this stop-motion Rankin-Bass special is not the same as the 1971 Here Comes Peter Cottontail. However, it is essentially identical to the 1970 special, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The plots and setups are basically the same - they've just changed the character names and lowered the quality to make them distinct.
In this version of the Easter Bunny's origin, he's a baby rabbit located and adopted by a town of orphaned kids called "Kidville," because contrary to what the special's narrator would have us believe, there is clearly no God. He's discovered in the woods on Easter, so the kids call him, "Sunny," after the Easter Sun, which is not a thing. I'm pretty sure they're thinking of the Winter Solstice, which is (for all intents and purposes) Christmas.


Within a year, the bunny has enslaved the children of Kidville (at least that was my reading). For some reason, he convinces them they need to introduce capitalism and trad…

Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special (2017)

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The second most surprising thing about Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special is that's it's got a surprising amount of Christmas in it (the most surprising, obviously, is that it's actually worth watching, but I'll get to that in a moment).

This is a holiday special produced as a collaboration between Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Lonely Island. Blending together elements of old-fashioned Christmas specials, musical parodies, telethons, sketch comedy specials, and some 90's nostalgia, it sort of feels like a series of SNL music videos expanded into a short movie with a frame story.

The plot is pretty thin, but Santa Claus plays a crucial rule (hence this write-up). The elves made too many toys, so Saint Nick enlists Bolton's help, hoping that a Bolton Valentine's Day special will result in 75,000 more pregnancies and by extension 75,000 new babies born before Christmas. The special's opening number, "Ten Months 'Til Christmas…

Target: The Toycracker (2016)

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Depending on how generous you're feeling, The Toycracker can either be described as a live-action short film, an extended commercial, or the fourth seal of the apocalypse slowly peeling away to open the floodgates and usher in the end of days.

It's not exactly bad, per se; it's more that it's something that should not be. Its very existence is an affront to the world we know and the already fractured boundary between entertainment and advertisement. It's the final stage in the unnatural evolution that started decades ago when toy companies infected Saturday morning cartoons.

As the name sort of implies, The Toycracker is ostensibly a re-imagined Nutcracker. It starts out that way in a semi-clever scene where a modern Clara sings about losing WiFi on Christmas Eve to Waltz of the Flowers. Then she falls asleep and wakes in a version of the classic "giant Christmas tree" set, where she meets the Nutcracker, played by Chrissy Teigen, who starts singing a so…

Sofia the First: Winter’s Gift (2014)

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Sweet, another fantasy holiday revisited! The first holiday episode strained our tolerance, but this one was actually adorable.

Sofia is excited that it’s Wassailia once more, and she’s made a special gift for Cedric, the court magician. It’s a wand case she made by hand. When she and her rabbit Clover approach his study to deliver the gift, however, she overhears him ranting to himself about the useless trinkets people burden him with every Wassailia. Sofia decides that her gift isn’t special enough and she’ll need to find something better.

A chance comment tips her off to a magical flower - an Ice Lily - that sounds like a great gift, so she and Clover head out. Clover calls on a friend who knows the forest, a fox named Whiskers. (I don’t know why the fox and the rabbit are friends either, but you forget about that because the fox is busy being super sassy about the rabbit’s cushy life in the castle.)

On the way to find the Ice Lilies, they hear some beautiful music and stop to in…

Black Nativity (2013 Film)

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First, I would like to state for the record that about fifteen minutes into this musical movie, I started thinking that it wasn’t that it wasn’t awful, but there was a disconnect between the style of the music and the style of filmmaking that made it unconvincing and boring. But if either the music/singing were more grounded or the acting/set/cinematography more surreal, it might work. And then later in the film I was proven right when it suddenly got good.

The movie follows a young man named Langston (after the poet), when his mother sends him to her estranged parents’ home for Christmas. He’s never met his grandparents, but his mother’s jobs aren’t bringing in enough to make rent, so she ships him from Baltimore to New York.

And up to this point it’s just slow and schmaltzy, and it has that music problem I alluded to at the start. The music is full of autotune and style that doesn’t match the very realistic filming of characters walking and riding buses. The result is thereby defl…

Revisiting Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

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First of all, we've covered this already, over here. Lindsay wrote up a pretty glowing review for this and slapped on a "Highly Recommended" label, mainly because it managed to coalesce nearly the entire Rankin/Bass catalog into a single coherent Christmaverse and rebuild Rudolph's backstory using a mythic structure.

I'm not writing this as some sort of retraction, though upon rewatching, I do want to roll back the unconditional love we showered on it the first time around. While it accomplished everything listed above, that accounts for around fifteen minutes of its hour and thirty-seven minute run time. The rest oscillates between a series of mediocre love songs and a holiday-themed stop-motion circus show.

Obviously the main reason I want to revisit this now is to focus in on the "Christmas in July" elements we more or less skipped over the first time. Also, there are 31 days in July, we're doing our best to hold to our post-a-day commitment, an…

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

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I read and watch a lot of things. Most of us do, today. Which is why it's so special to find something I've never seen that is this magnificent.

I had a general awareness of Meet Me in St. Louis. I know the Trolley Song. I know the history of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (more on that later). But I'd never sat down and actually watched the movie.

Now I want a copy to put into permanent rotation. This isn't just me speaking as a lifelong fan of movie musicals; Erin loved this film as well.

For one thing, it's beautiful. The Technicolor is sumptuous, the use of light and shadow evocative and delicate. The sets and costumes are extremely detailed (it is a period piece, after all).

The writing and performance is wonderful. The script is clever and quick and the comedy hasn't diminished with time one smidgen.

The plot is simple and charming. It's based loosely on a series of short reminiscences about living in St. Louis in early 1900's, and follows o…

The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood (1965)

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Wow! Late in the season, a tip came through about a crazy-looking little-known TV special, so we tracked it down. And it was unexpectedly delightful!

This musical-comedy-fantasy is the type of thing that wasn't uncommon on television in the 60's, although it's all but unknown today. It stars Liza Minnelli and Cyril Ritchard. (If you don't know the latter, he won a Tony in 1955 for playing Captain Hook on Broadway. If you don't know the former, I don't know how to help you.)

From the start this is a bit of a subversion: the wolf is the narrator of this piece, here to explain 'what really happened.' He's living in a cage in the zoo, but he's sick of being ostracized from society because of the Red Riding Hood story.

Ritchard as the Wolf is exquisite. His dialogue is snappy, his mannerisms right on that line between charming and creepy. His costume includes big sleek sideburns, large pointed ears, and a furry suit jacket. He introduces the premise…

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (1995)

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Relatively unknown Christmas specials are often either terrible or boring, but this one has Muppets! Muppet specials are usually good, right? Not this time. Well, nuts.

In truth, this short special isn't terrible, but it is rather boring. The plot is from a book, and I would venture without checking that the book was short and mostly pictures.

It follows a mouse family in search of a 'perfect Christmas tree' for their holiday celebration. They choose a section at the top of a very tall tree, but then the whole tree is cut down and they go along for the ride. The big tree is for Mr. Willowby's 'perfect Christmas tree', but it's too tall for the room. The top third or so is cut off and sent upstairs to be the housekeeper's tree. The tree is too tall. The top is cut off and thrown out the window, where it's picked up by some bears for their celebration. Still too much tree. The top of their tree is taken by a group of owls, and the very tip is cut of…

A Miser Brothers' Christmas (2008)

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There's a lot of resentment in the air tonight.

I resent the executives who decided to try to squeeze more money out of an existing property. I resent the people who spent months making this. I resent this cheap DVD for existing, and I resent this blog for making me sit through it when I absolutely have better things, even CHRISTMASSIER things, to do with my time.

What I'm trying to be clear about is that there could have been a kinder, gentler version of me that would cut this special some slack.

She is not here today.

The worst thing, beyond the horrible plot and the terrible music (seriously, did they hire a committee of failed third-grade teachers to slap this together?), about sitting through this is that I like A Year Without a Santa Claus.

Erin wasn't very nice to it in his review, but I'm fond of it. I like Mrs. Claus, I like the story, I love the music.

This new special isn't fun, and it sucks most of the fun out of the world of the original.

Fact the fir…

The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold (1981)

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At some point, Rankin-Bass must have had a committee pawing through lists of holiday songs: "Has anyone made a special out of this one? This one? Oh, how about Christmas in Killarney? What do you mean the song has no story? We'll write something. Ireland is all about leprechauns, right?"

And so, we have this odd little half-hour of mediocre stop-motion. When a company famous for holiday specials has some you've never heard of, you know they’re going to be weirdly awesome or boring and dated. Guess which coin flip we lost today.

The story starts with Dinty Doyle, a cabin boy on a ship bound home to Ireland, sent to a strange island to dig up a tree for the ship’s Christmas celebration. In doing so, he releases a trapped banshee, who causes a storm, stranding Dinty, and subjecting the rest of us to incoming backstory. Instead of having much of any plot in the present, much of the special is taken up with the patriarch of a leprechaun clan (Blarney Kilakilarney, yes, r…

8 Women (2002)

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Stop me if you've heard this one: a family gathers for Christmas, but there's tension in the house. A person is murdered, and everyone in the house is a suspect. The denizens of the house are cut off from help, so they investigate each other, where all secrets, sexualities, and torch songs will be revealed.

That last bit was a little different than you expected, maybe?

8 Women (aka 8 Femmes) is a French movie, and, if nothing else, it is artful, passionate, surreal at times, and fascinating. It's adapted from a play, and obviously so: it takes place in one location, with a cast of just eight women. There is also the one man at the center of the mystery, but the focus is on how all the women orbit this man, and he remains a cipher. The actor has no lines and is never seen from the front.

The play is set in a Hollywood version of the 1950's, and it shows in the costumes, the story and the music. The costumes and set are sumptuous, and the setting may also prepare you fo…

The Little Drummer Boy Book II (1976)

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Somehow, in year six, there are still Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas specials that we hadn't seen. I don't know how this happened either.

This one is just as boring as its predecessor, but it does have nicer animation.

It picks up where the first left off, Baby Jesus suitably entertained by Aaron and his magic drum. Aaron wants to do something more (further undermining the message of the original song) and Melchior drags him off to town to help look for some bellmaker.

Melchior looks a bit more Middle-Ages-Europe king than first-century-Damascus king to my eye. Just saying.

The bellmaker, Simeon, has been telling people that Jesus is coming, and while they haven't believed him, he has cast a set of giant silver bells in preparation.

At this point, Erin can attest that I gave the screen some incredible side-eye at the idea that they would co-opt, even just by reference, one of my favorite holiday songs for this dreck, but it never went further than that reference.

Some…