The 2022 holiday season is finally coming to a close. There was something off about this year’s festivities. It’s hard to put a finger on it. There’s no name for this malaise, but it reminded us of all the bad Christmas movies that have come out over the past several decades. Whether animated or live-action, our writers Sarah Leone and Mike Phalin dug up their Top Five picks of the most personally offensive pieces of holiday fiction.
In keeping with the never-ending reboots and remakes, last year Disney released another Home Alone movie called Home Sweet Home Alone. On the surface, it’s basically the same plot line. The rowdy family leaves behind a boy in a frenzy to make it to their scheduled plane ride just before Christmas. It’s a Christmas miracle for the boy until two henchmen try to invade his home, and it’s time to craft a master plan of attack. Ending with the return of his family just in time for Christmas.
What works for the original movies does not work for this one. In the first two movies, the bad guys were clearly the Wet Bandits. They were cartoony versions of thieves looking to take any easy opportunity they could find to score the next big steal. In the 2021 movie, the two “bad guys” are way more sympathetic people, a married couple just trying to find a doll that could save their house, their careers, and their lives. It’s rightfully theirs, and they go through similar torture you see in the first two movies.
At the end of the Home Battle, it all turns out to be a complete misunderstanding. Max never had the doll. In fact, it had been in the married couple’s home the whole time. You almost feel sorry for them instead of rooting for the bad guys to be stopped. What’s the point of having an actual bad guy anyways? And the way the couple is able to find the house feels so forced when the mother calls Max by his full name, and Max calls his own mom by her full name, which feels super awkward. This exchange happens right in front of one of the married couples… in their home. How convenient.
Home Alone 1 & 2 had the heart that this one did not. They balanced the crazy characters with heartfelt side characters. The first being with the elderly man mistaken as a killer, and the second with the homeless woman. If you want something with more heart and soul, skip Home Sweet Home Alone. Stick with the classics
When you go to watch a play or movie called The Nutcracker, you expect it to be about…. Well… the Nutcracker. You’ll certainly not find that in the 2018 live-action Disney movie The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. This movie rendition is all about subverting expectations. This movie makes good use of showing the traditionally bad guys are actually the good guys, and the traditionally good guys are actually the bad guys. What a twist no one asked for!
Having a twist in a classic story can sometimes work. But because a family member is killed off before the start of the movie, the movie shifts focus on life, death, and grief. It becomes far less about breaking the curse of the Nutcracker because, in this movie, that doesn’t exist. The focus is on Clara trying to understand this mysterious message left behind by a dead family member, behaving rather selfishly towards a clearly grieving parent who is just trying to do the best they can.
The original story was a magical adventure of a girl meeting a boy who’s under a curse, full of dancing and scary creatures out to put a stop to this Nutcracker. The only good thing about the Four Realms movie is, of course, the graphics and special effects. They chose a beautiful actress to play the lead role in a movie that should have easily done well for the story. But no, she has to learn to be her own, to be the leader and the smart one in the bunch. The only dancing she does is with her father at the end of the movie. And it’s not even ballet dancing.
This was a pretty looking movie that left one feeling underwhelmed and as though something was missing. If you want an actual story of the Nutcracker, check out the animated movie “The Nutcracker Prince”, which is considered one of the closest movie adaptions of the original story. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than “The Four Realms”.
The history of the Rapsittie Street Kids is a rabbit hole we’re not going to dive down today. What’s important is that this 2002 CGI eyesore is god-awful in every aspect. From sound design to character design, voice acting to songwriting, the Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa movie is 42 minutes of Hell.
The story, if you can call it that, is as thin as a razor’s edge. It’s full of contradicting plot points and nonsensical world-building. I’m still trying to figure out why teenage-looking characters are attending an elementary school. If these are 10 or 11-year-olds, why is one wearing a shirt showing off her midriff? Do we need to call child services or get Chris Hansen involved? Is Rapsittie Street Elementary a safe place for minors?!
The animation looks like something that came out of the mid-1980s, with character models looking ugly and about as functional as paper cutouts. Hell, some of the assets in Rapsittie Street Kids are 2-D, including some of the main characters in certain shots! Worst of all, the team behind this mess made Paige O’Hara sound terrible! The voice of Belle! The woman whose personality and vocals sold us all on Disney’s greatest film (Beauty and the Beast) gives a performance in Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa like she was under duress and an incompetent director.
What’s so strange about this movie is that it has big names behind it. OK, Mark Hamill isn’t exactly a big name, but he is when it comes to the voice acting part of the entertainment industry. Hell, even The Simpsons’ Nancy Cartwright lends her voice to the production, of which she is also listed as a producer. As I said, the backstory of this movie and the production studio behind it, Wolf Tracer Studios, is full of strangeness and possibly some shady dealings.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Watch it yourself!
There are several Hanna-Barbera animated Christmas specials. Some are one-offs, and others tie in well-known characters from the studio’s massive catalog of anthropomorphic animals and humans. But the one that always offended me the most was the misuse of Pac-Man.
I’m a Pac-Man purist. My office is filled with Pac-Merchandise. I’ve played all the games. I know all the moves. So, when Hanna-Barbera overdosed on power pellets in the ’80s and crapped out a Christmas special featuring the yellow puck and his family, I was overjoyed. That is until I actually saw Christmas Comes To Pac-Land. It is obvious that Pac-Man and his kind aren’t true Christians. They want to culturally appropriate the season but never once recognize what it stands for. Disgusting.
Even though the citizens of Pac-Land sing Christmas songs, they have no idea who Santa Claus is when he accidentally crashlands. In fact, Santa states he has never heard of PacLand. What sort of shoddy writing is this?! Is PacLand in a pocket dimension, and Santa was sucked into it via some occult spell? My goodness! I don’t think the All Mighty would approve of this at all, especially when this tale includes things like Ghost Monsters.
OK, that’s enough of the Church Lady schtick. Christmas Comes To Pac-Land is exactly what you’d expect from Hanna-Barbera in the early 1980s. The animation is dodgy, and the plot is by the numbers. Santa gets stranded, and there may not be a Christmas unless some miracle happens. Also, the jolly old Saint Nick explains Christmas to Pac-Landians without mentioning any of the religious parts. I always found that odd, even though I’m not religious. What was it about Christ’s birth that was so taboo?
This special pretty much is the accumulation of all the animated Christmas cartoons I disliked as a kid. They came off as cheap and hollow, similar to Buttons and Rusty. Where’s the magic? Where’s the heartfelt story? I guess not everything can be as amazing as The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas.
Christmas Comes To Pac-Land is out there if you want to see it. You can find the special on the Internet Archive.
There’s one film both Sarah and Mike picked, and that fifth terrible holiday-themed piece of media is Robert Zemeckis’s 2004 CGI trainwreck known as The Polar Express.
I’ve never been disappointed by a film as much as I have been with The Polar Express. Animation in all its forms is a medium that I love the most, be it stop-motion, cel-animated, or CGI. There was so much leading up to Robert Zemeckis’s major theatrical Christmas event that you would have thought the entire world of animation was going to change. Well, in a way, it did. The Tom Hanks vehicle showed us all that you can make a computer-generated character look as realistic as possible, but you cannot replicate the window into the soul: the eyes.
A character’s eyes tell us much, even if they’re flat 2D heroes or villains. Yet, The Polar Express, with a budget of around $170m, could not deliver a single character without vacant dead eyes. The saddest part is that there is much to enjoy about the film. The visuals, mainly the world and cinematography, are amazing. It’s too bad that the world is populated with these odd automatons pretending to be human adults and kids. The entire experience comes off like a grand technical demonstration rather than a fully fleshed-out cinematic experience. The Polar Express is akin to something you’d see in the early days of IMAX in the 1990s. A demo reel of impressive visuals to get you ready for the possibilities ahead.
The blame cannot be pinned on Tom Hanks, either. He tries his damnedest to breathe as much life as possible to the multiple people he is tasked with playing and mo-capping. Hell, even some of the musical numbers are good. It all comes back to the characters. They don’t feel like they deserve my attention because they come off so artificial and, at times, downright creepy. Consider how easily we can make a connection to a Rankin/Bass stop-motion puppet and compare that to the pit that forms in the stomach when Eddie Deezen’s Know-It-All looks directly into the camera.
I think, at that time, we were all hoping for a new Christmas classic to add to the catalog. The Polar Express is a hit with kids; my child loves it, but the connection adults want to make to ensure a longstanding holiday movie tradition is harder to snap into place.
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