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How the Toys Saved Christmas (1996)

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I have to start this review by explaining a big, giant, caveat. I was unable to obtain a version of this holiday special in the original Italian (or even verify that a subtitled version exists). In Italian, this special is called La freccia azzurra (The blue arrow) and the story is apparently somewhat different. Hopefully, it's better in Italian.

I knew that we would be watching a kludgy anglicization, but I held out some hope. I sought out this special because I knew it featured Befana, who is a character we'd love to see more of. Befana is a witch who brings gifts to Italian children on Epiphany (Jan 6). In the English version, this character is nonsensically renamed "Granny Rose" and is demoted to being one of Santa's helpers. At least she's still a witch.

The following description is based on the English version.

For some reason, Granny Rose has a shop where children can come to drop off their wish lists. One boy (Christopher, your requisite virtuous orp…

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas (2017)

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Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a Canadian documentary/musical ostensibly chronicling the influence several Jewish songwriters had on the holidays. I say "ostensibly" because - somewhat appropriately - the documentary itself seems to go through an identity crisis. It's difficult to summarize what the final product is, since it feels like the purpose and core idea must have changed a few times during production.

I'll back up. This opens with a quick introduction from the filmmaker, Larry Weinstein, who grew up fascinated by Christmas, a holiday he never felt like he could participate in. But from the start he lets us know this isn't quite accurate: his family had Christmas traditions built around avoiding the obvious trappings. He briefly explores the roots of the traditional Chinese meal enjoyed by many Jewish families at the holidays.

A little too briefly, frankly. This is an interesting topic in itself, but Weinstein glosses over the history. This is going t…

A Cosmic Christmas (1977)

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I stumbled upon this early Nelvana production and immediately knew we had to watch it. (I’m mostly familiar with Nelvana because they produced all the Care Bears material in the 80s, but they’re a prolific children’s media production company based in Canada.)

Apparently, when the young studio was trying to break into commercial animation, market research indicated a need for new Christmas television specials. Given a UFO sighting in Toronto and excitement for a then-upcoming movie about some wars in the stars, a sci-fi tinted holiday story must have seemed like just the ticket. And it worked! According to Wikipedia, the popularity and sale of this special put Nelvana on the map.

It's hard to imagine, now in the era of Peak TV, that long-ago time when networks were so starved for content that this quirky, hit-and-miss piece would cause a stir.

Our main character is Peter, a totally generic kid except for the fact that he has a pet goose. Why? We’ll get there.

Peter and Lucy the …

I'll Be Seeing You (1944)

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To really age well, an old movie really needs to overcome two hurdles time throws at everything: it needs themes or ideas that hold up, and it needs to deliver those in a form that doesn't feel too dated. Plenty of movies fail both tests, but if a film is going to pass just one, it's usually the latter. It's more common for a movie to still be funny or touching than for it to feel relevant.

I'll Be Seeing You, directed by William Dieterle and starring Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, and Shirley Temple, is an exception. The politics, themes, and ideas in the movie are astonishingly relevant. It's the experience that feels dated. Not too dated, mind you - there are several compelling moments and sequences - but as a whole, I found the film more impressive than enjoyable.

I'll get to the plot in a moment, but first I want to address the genre and tone. This is actually a little difficult, because the movie walks a tightrope between romantic drama and romantic comed…

Comic Book Review: Klaus (1-7)

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Klaus (Issues #1-7)
Grant Morrison and Dan Mora, 2015-2016

I remember seeing this title about a reimagined Santa hit stores. I've always been intrigued but also very tentative about it.

A big part of why I never read this book before now is that I've been burned before on Santa retellings, and the cover art was fairly realistic/Conan in style, making me think it would be too dark. I have strong opinions on what is appropriate Santa behavior and what is not. I have a history with this character that I'm protective of. In short, I have FEELINGS about this topic.

Now I've read it, and... y'all, this might be a new favorite.

I love the ridiculous line the book tries to walk from the first page. It's not actually realistic in any sense, but it's treating ludicrous situations and characters seriously. It's practically pulling from Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, with a town under the thumb of a cruel ruler who has outlawed toys and joy. Klaus lives outside of…

The Knight Before Christmas (2019)

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The Knight Before Christmas is another of this year's Netflix entries in their growing collection of Hallmark inspired, tween-friendly romantic comedies. Although it deviates from the formula and contains no princesses or royalty, I'd also group it in the sub-sub-genre of "Christmas Princess" films, due to tonal similarities.

The premise, that a medieval knight gets transported through time to the present day, where he meets a woman who doesn't believe in storybook romance and convinces her otherwise, feels as though it started with the pun in the movie's title and the rest was haphazardly developed around it.

I'm guessing it won't surprise you to hear this thing is, first and foremost, astonishingly stupid, even for this genre. What might surprise you is this: I didn't hate this. I'll get to why in a moment, but first let's synopsize.

The knight in question is Sir Cole (played by Josh Whitehouse), a fourteenth-century knight seeking to b…

Klaus (2019)

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Last year we were big fans of Netflix's entry into the family-friendly fray, but this new movie fell flat for us.

The plot follows Jesper, the spoiled rich son of the Postmaster General. His behavior and attitude are cribbed so closely from The Emperor's New Groove that we thought the voice actor was David Spade (it's actually Jason Schwartzman). To shock him into acting like an adult, Jesper's father banishes him to a remote city on a far north island, tasked with re-establishing the post office there and stamping at least 6,000 letters over the next year.

When he gets there, he discovers the town is home to two feuding clans, and everyone is only interested in making each other miserable. After trying and failing to encourage anyone in the town to send a single letter, he ends up at a solitary house on the far end of the island. Here he is terrified to meet Klaus, a huge woodsman with a house full of mysterious toys. He flees but drops a drawing he had been trying …