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Showing posts with the label Musical

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…

Mrs. Santa Claus (1996)

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Here's a quick quiz for you:

How do you feel about:
Old-School Movie Musicals? 
A: Love 'em B: Like some C: Meh

Broadway Musicals? 
A: Love 'em B: Like some C: Meh

Feminist Themes?
A: All kinds, all the time, it's even okay if they're slightly awkwardly handled
B: Passing the Bechdel Test is good
C: Only when impeccably researched/in documentaries

Angela Lansbury? 
A: Goddess of theater and film
B: She's pretty great
C: I only like her most of the time

Give yourself two points for every A, one for every B, an extra four points if you have a daughter younger than 12 who would answer A on two or more of the questions, and an extra point for every one of these names you recognize: Jerry Herman, Bob Mackie, Rob Marshall, Mark Saltzman.

If you score 8 or more, see this film. (My score is 11 out of a possible 16.)

That's a long way of saying that this movie may not be great cinema, but it can have a lot of appeal to a particular demographic. I found it incredibly charming, w…

Bratz Babyz Save Christmas (2008)

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It was awful.

I mean, we expected awful. It's called "Bratz Babyz Save Christmas," and it's a sequel to a direct-to-video movie based on a toy line spun off of another toy line that was essentially a knock-off of Barbie: this was never going to be brilliant film making. But we weren't ready. I'm not sure anyone could have been ready. I'm going to do my best to prepare you, in case you're foolish enough to try and watch this yourself, but the task of trying to depict in words the experience we just endured is a daunting one. This thing, on all levels, in all ways... it was awful.

Based on the four minutes I was willing to invest researching this, it seems to be the third movie in the CG Bratz Babyz direct-to-the-dumpster-behind-Best-Buy-because-no-one-was-actually-stupid-enough-to-buy-the-video series. Did I mention it was awful?

It was. Let's start with the animation. You know how crappy attempts to create CG humans result in a doll-like quality …

The Little Match Girl (2006)

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This Disney short was originally supposed to be part of a 2006 version of Fantasia that Disney abandoned. This segment was produced anyway, and we saw it as part of the Disney Short Film Collection.

It's a surpisingly faithful adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's short story of the same name, even incorporating the original visions of the Match Girl as she freezes to death in the cold. Good times, all around.

The original story makes it clear that the events transpire on New Year's Eve, though the girl hallucinates a Christmas tree. This short seems to have shifted the story to Christmas itself, as evidenced by her watching a family climb into a sleigh with a handful of wrapped gifts.

The story is relatively bare bones: a poor girl fails to sell matches. Ignored by the world around her, she retreats into an alley, where she lights her matches and sees beautiful visions in the fire. The last light to go out is her own, when her grandmother's spirit whisks her away t…

Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

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Lindsay unearthed three Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas specials we'd never reviewed (or heard of, for that matter), all of which were available on a single DVD. Naturally, we ordered the damn thing.

Not surprisingly, there's a reason we've never heard of it.
Pinocchio's Christmas is a bizarrely warped mashup of several early scenes from the Adventures of Pinocchio and the usual Rankin/Bass Christmas tropes.
The story starts out with Pinocchio learning about Christmas from Geppetto, who sells his boots to buy his son a math book. Pinocchio promptly sells the math book, planning to use the money partly on himself and partly to buy his dad a Christmas present. But first he comes across the Fox and the Cat, who convince him the coins will grow into a tree of gold if he buries them. Naturally, he falls for this, and they steal the money.
With the exception of the Christmas elements, this section is actually pretty accurate to the original, at least according to Wikipedi…

Chanuka at Bubbe's (1988)

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We came across a crappy-looking DVD titled, "Chanuka & Passover at Bubbe's" on a shelf of Chanukah (/Chanuka/Hanukkah) books at the local library and decided to throw ourselves on the grenade and save some poor kids from the experience. Naturally, we didn't bother watching the Passover section (we're Mainlining Christmas, not Mainlining Easter), but we sat through the forty-two minutes of low-rent puppetry constituting the Chanukah portion.

I should mention that this thing has neither a Wikipedia page nor an IMDB entry, though it seems to be up on YouTube (at least at the moment), and it has at least one fan. We're not 100% sure of the date - the end of the credits cites 1988, but we're not actually sure whether that's when it was released, aired, or finished.

Like a lot of children's entertainment, this is more premise than plot. It centers around two puppet children bringing their friend to their grandmother's for Chanukah. For reasons …

A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

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On the page for their new Christmas special, Netflix tags A Very Murray Christmas as "Witty, Quirky, Irreverent, Deadpan." This is probably as good a description as any I'm going to offer, but the internet isn't going to fill itself up with inane blather.

If I weren't copying off of Netflix's test answers, the other way I'd describe it would be a traditional Christmas special from a post-modern perspective. It's almost a deconstruction of the classic formula that doesn't actually want to give up that formula. Sound weird? It is.

I'm sorry. Not weird - quirky.

The quirky special opens with Bill Murray in his hotel room with Paul Shaffer, both playing themselves. After a quick blues tune, Amy Poehler and Julie White barge in, somewhat confusingly not playing themselves. They're producers, here to drag Bill downstairs to perform for a live TV special, despite the fact all their other guest stars canceled due to a storm. He's under contra…

Sofia the First: Holiday in Enchancia (2013)

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Aww, Sofia. I wanted you to be fun. I wanted you to be clever. I like the idea of a Ur-princess narrative. But you were only sticky-sweet and not-too-terrible.

Sofia the First is an animated series from Disney Junior, about a girl whose mother marries into the royal family of a fairy-tale kingdom. According to Wikipedia, she is the bearer of a mystic amulet that connects her to advice from other Disney princesses.

In this episode, we're introduced to their traditional winter-gift-giving holiday: Wassailia! It's a fairly simple fantasy Christmas. There are presents, decorated evergreen trees, and traditional foods. The most prominent point unique to Wassailia is the lighting of a special candle in honor of the season that...it's not quite clear, but it seems to bring blessings on the family.

The kids (Sofia and her step-siblings James and Amber) sing about how they celebrate the holiday to open the episode. Sofia is excited for her first Wassailia in the castle, but the p…

Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas (2014)

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The stop motion characters were capably animated, and the minimalist theatrical backgrounds served as a strong connection to the special's Broadway connections. Likewise, the cast was good - it was great hearing Ed Asner reprise his role as Santa, and (as is so often the case) I didn't even realize I was listening to Mark Hamill as Buddy's father. The music, while somewhat mixed, included at least one great song, which opened the special.

Yes, this was made by talented people. And that's the tragedy. Because they wasted their goddamn time on a soulless special that systematically guts everything substantive from a great Christmas movie.

Buddy's Musical Christmas seems to be primarily based on the Broadway musical, which I've never seen. Based on the fact it was well received, I have to believe it was better than this. The music was pulled from the show, though I'm guessing most of the songs were truncated.

The best of the songs was aforementioned opening nu…

The Partridge Family: Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa (1971)

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Oh man, The Partridge Family. I’ve had sort of a lingering urge to see The Partridge Family again since Shirley Jones appeared in style on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me last year.



I hope you enjoyed that, because this episode was not what I would call a winner. If you’re blissfully unaware, The Partridge Family was a sitcom about a single mother with five kids who become a traveling musical act to support their family. So the episode opens with, what else, a song. And it’s not bad. I mean, none of the people on film are singing, but the song is just a corny 70’s pop version of a holiday tune.

The family packs up after this gig and is headed home for Christmas. In an unlikely turn of events, their bus breaks down in a Hollywood backlot. Sorry, I meant a ghost town, complete with one picturesque local living alone with a donkey.

The donkey’s only in one scene. Maybe his agent was a good negotiator.

So they can’t get help, and the old guy invites the mom and young kids inside while the ol…

The Liberace Show: The Christmas Show (1954)

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Background information on this episode is hard to come by. Wikipedia has some notes on the series on the article about Liberace, but the show doesn't even have its own page. IMDB fares a little better, though not much. We're not actually sure if the year for this is correct - IMDB has it for 1953, but the stamp at the end of the version we saw said '54.

It's not difficult to understand why: very little of what we saw qualifies as memorable. Mostly, it was just Liberace playing the piano. Sometimes he was joined by other musicians. He didn't choose particularly interesting pieces, either, though some of the medleys were fun. But I definitely could have lived without listening to his generic rendition of "White Christmas." Come on - that was already cliche in 1954.

The episode played like a stage show, interspersed with the occasional camera trick. But most of the "effects" were theatrical in nature. The background would light up to display a fak…

The Mistle-Tones (2012)

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I don’t know what the message of this movie was supposed to be. I mean, I know it must have had one, it’s the type of movie that has a feel-good message to tie everything up in a bow at the end. It’s an ABC Family Original.

But I watched the movie, and I’m not sure what the message was.

It should have been that Christmas is about being with people who care about you, or that singing is about enjoying yourself, not beating someone else. Or about seeing what’s important in life. However, it all got a bit muddy in between montages.

Because, while I kind of enjoyed this movie, in a so-cheesy-it’s-almost-good kind of way, it was quite a bit lacking in actual plot or character.

Holly wants to join the singing group, the Snow Belles. She wants to do this because her mother founded the group. Even though the woman currently running the Snow Bells (Marci) is a horrible person and has obvious delusions of grandeur, and the most important thing this group of women does is sing at the mall, Hol…

Adventures in Wonderland: Christmas in Wonderland (1992)

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So I discovered this hidden, uh, 'gem' the way you do these days: by following a series of clicks down a black hole of the internet and reading about Disney Acid Sequences. And I was skimming the list of examples, and I said, wait. Adventures in Wonderland. That sounds oddly familiar…

A little YouTube later and I established that I not only had seen this crime against good aesthetics when it came out, but that there was a Christmas Episode.

This show is… weird. It’s weird on a lot of levels. Not just the super early-90’s look to Alice and the others, although that’s a lot of it (The White Rabbit zips around on black rollerblades and Tweedledee and Tweedledum dress like break-dancers). It’s got a sort of tell-it-super-straight vibe that I associate with television aimed at the youngest of the young, but the word usage and speed of the plot implies an audience of at least 6-8.

Okay, so the episode starts with Alice whining about how it’ll be a rotten Christmas if she doesn'…

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

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There’s a lot to enjoy about this old-school romantic comedy, but enough dated bits that I can’t recommend it without reservation.

Discharged soldier (and ‘hero’ for some unspecified reason) Jefferson Jones is recovering in hospital and dreaming about solid food. He flirts with a nurse to get better treatment, but she takes him seriously and proposes they get married. He claims to not have any context for a real home, and she decides to call in a favor to send him to the cozy farm home of matronly author and famous cook, Elizabeth Lane, for Christmas.

Cue the twist that sets up the plot.

Elizabeth Lane is not a woman with a family on a Connecticut farm. She’s a single writer living in a tiny New York apartment. She gets her ‘brilliant’ recipes through an arrangement with a friend, the chef at the restaurant downstairs, because she can’t so much as boil water. She and her manager try to get her out of the host-a-soldier-for-Christmas deal, but her publisher doesn’t know that her artic…

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

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Wow. We were warned about this one, but it still managed to reach pretty significant levels of awfulness. But the awfulness pales in comparison to how mind-numbingly boring this is.

Here’s the plot: a cranky Snidely Whiplash type named Prune has bought up all the land at the North Pole, and now he’s charging Santa rent. If the jolly old elf can’t come up with the funds by Christmas Eve, he’s going to repossess the land and all the toys. For help, Santa goes to a lawyer who apparently wrote him a thank you note as a kid. Ooookay.

Early on they establish that Prune hates Santa because he hates children, especially happy children. He sings about this. Throughout actors repeat the name Prune ad nauseum as if saying the word, by itself, is a hilarious joke. The lawyer gets Santa a job as the first department store Santa. (Insert facepalm here.) Santa is afraid of meeting children while they’re awake, but gets over it. After singing about it. Prune cheats them out of their pay, and it look…

Babes in Toyland (1986)

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Hey, did you guys know there's a tipline on the right of the page you can use to email us suggestions of things we should watch? Yeah, we didn't, either. Well, one of our readers found it and convinced us to try something she loved when she was young. Thanks for the suggestion, Loquin. And, uh... sorry in advance for the damage to your childhood memories.

This is the 1986, made-for-TV re-imagining of Babes in Toyland, starring Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, and Pat Morita. It is bad. Astonishingly bad, in fact. But, between the iconic statuses its leads would go on to achieve and the utter lack of talent behind the camera, it's kind of hilarious.

The producers must not have believed in the source material, which has been heavily modified. To their credit, the premise of Babes in Toyland is utter crap. However, the logical reaction would be not to adapt it, rather than trying to shoehorn in the frame story from The Wizard of Oz.

Drew Barrymore, 11 in 1986, is essentially pl…

Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

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Whoa.

WHOA.

We just watched the epitome of stop-motion Christmas specials. I know, I know, you don’t believe me yet. Just give me a minute.

You know Rudolph, and Frosty, and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, and Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. But did you know that every last one of these takes place in a vast shared universe, which involves still more epic figures deserving of winter myth-making? No? Then you haven’t seen this one.

For me, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July retroactively improves all the specials that came before it.

The premise is straightforward on the surface. An evil wizard who used to rule the Arctic wants to destroy Santa’s hold on winter, and to do so, he decides to take down Rudolph, using his friendship with Frosty as a lever against the young reindeer.

Oh, and we happen to establish the source and purpose of Rudolph’s magic, which I don’t want to spoil for you. What? You didn’t think Rudolph…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys (2001)

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys was a direct-to-video CG sequel to the original stop-motion special. Before we go on, I'd like you to stop for one moment, close your eyes, and count in your head all of the direct-to-video CG movies made in a five year period around the year 2000 that didn't utterly and completely suck.

Take your time: make sure you're not forgetting any.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say you were able to think of zero examples. Once you add Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys to the potential pool, you'll find the final tally hasn't changed.
Let's start with the animation. I appreciate this was a different era and CG animation was still new. But this was just pathetic. The characters were lifeless, the movement was constricted, and even elements you'd expect to be easy - camera movement and crowds - were lacking. I'd be extremely surprised if this thing's director had…

Lady Gaga & The Muppets' Holiday Spectacular (2013)

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Let's take a moment to ponder, in all its complexity and multitude of facets, the phrase, "missed opportunity."

I'm not a fan of Lady Gaga, but I respect her for what she is. I just don't really think she's a singer. It's not that she can't sing - she can. It's just that there's nothing special about her singing, and less than nothing special about her songs. Her music is generic, and her lyrics are gibberish. But that's okay, because - like I said - she's not a singer.

She's a performance artist. And a damn good one, if her popularity is any indicator.

Hell, she's practically a Muppet herself. She should be juggling porcupines with Gonzo - she'd be awesome at that. Why didn't she hang out with Animal or hire the Swedish Chef as a costumer? Her interactions with Miss Piggy should have been legendary, not trivial.

Like I said: missed opportunity. Instead, we got an hour of her singing songs off her new album, broken up …

The Frank Sinatra Show: Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank (1957)

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This episode of "The Frank Sinatra Show" was included as an extra on a DVD set of Bing Crosby Christmas specials. I went to Wikipedia to determine what "The Frank Sinatra Show" was, and learned there's no clear answer to that question. It sounds like it was basically a thirty minute segment where ABC gave Sinatra free reign to do whatever the hell he wanted to. Apparently, what he wanted to do this week was hang out with Bing Crosby and sing Christmas songs.

There's some quipping between songs, but no real story. They exchange gifts - each gives the other a Christmas album they recorded - and then go caroling in a grey sound stage that's supposed to be an English street... I think. That section was pretty odd.
The outside set was blatantly fake: elements were less developed than you'd want to put in a live stage performance. I suspect it would have been less conspicuous in black and white - this episode was filmed in color, though I can't imagi…