Video Picks Archive

December 20, 2000
This Week's Video Picks
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Reviews by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>

This week my picks are "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" (1966 TV Special - No Rating), Miracle on 34th Street (1947 - ), and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 - ).

The holidays are here again, and it's time to make some seasonal picks to last until the New Year. Having picked several of the greatest holiday films of all time last year, coming up with more proved difficult. However, a nice theme emerged among some of the films that were left out last year: sabotage. Not everybody likes Christmas or the mythologies and traditions that surround it, so some film characters have tried to stand in the way or change the holiday to suit their preferences. Presented this year are the three best examples of this sub-genre.

First off is the first and by far the best attempt at bringing Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! to the screen. Chuck Jones' 1966 TV special combines the Looney Tunes style of animation with Seussian characters and imagery. Boris Karloff narrates the tale, and speaks for the title character, who wants to keep Christmas from coming to Whoville. I described the story well enough in my review of Ron Howard's new live-action film, which borrowed many elements directly from this cartoon adaptation, including the songs composed by Albert Hague, with lyrics by Dr. Seuss, himself. It is Jones' version that will live on, and will be enjoyed by every generation that comes along. Besides being shown on television every year, you can also buy it on video, along with Jones' 1970 adaptation of Horton Hears a Who!

Next we go back to the silver screen for the original Miracle on 34th Street, written and directed by George Seaton. This time it is corporate America trying to destroy Christmas. Macy's department store needs a new Santa at the last minute, and finds a well-suited applicant (Edmund Gwenn) who calls himself Kris Kringle. They humor him at first, but their staff psychologist believes that a man who thinks he is really Santa Claus should not be working with children. Kringle gets himself thrown into a sanitarium, and depends on a lawyer friend (John Payne) to clear his name by proving in court that he is the real St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or whatever you'd like to call him. Maureen O'Hara also stars as an executive at Macy's who sides with him, even though she doesn't let her young daughter (Natalie Wood) believe in Santa. It's a true holiday classic that never grows old -- just beware of that pesky colorized version that creeps its way onto the air.

Finally, we come to a modern classic: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, the only great holiday film to come out in the last ten years. Burton conceived the story, in the form of a poem and some conceptual drawings, long before the film started. While he was busy filming Batman Returns, he hired stop-motion animation expert Henry Selick to direct his vision. The result is one of the most impressive animated features ever made, both in visual and musical terms. The soundtrack is basically a Danny Elfman opera about Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon during the speaking parts, but mostly sung by Elfman himself), the Pumpkin King who is in charge of bringing together Halloween. He lives in Halloween Town with a whole community of ghoulish creatures, but one day he gets a glimpse of Christmas Town. He decides to give Santa a break (by kidnapping him), and run Christmas himself. He means well, but with the help of the citizens of Halloween Town, Christmas turns into a whimsically macabre affair. Creating this precarious tone was no easy feat (and earned the film an unfortunate PG rating), but it was accomplished and can now be enjoyed by generations to come, just like the classics that preceded it.

Let's hope that none of these things happen to the holidays this year. We here at FilmHead.com wish you a happy and safe season, filled with joy, and many more to come. See you next year with more new and classic films on video!


For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) (TV)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), Horton Hears a Who! (1970) -- VHS
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), Horton Hears a Who! (1970) -- DVD
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a story by Dr. Seuss -- Hardcover
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Deluxe Edition), a story by Dr. Seuss -- Hardcover
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a story by Dr. Seuss -- Audio Cassette
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) -- VHS
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) -- DVD
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) -- VHS Widescreen
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) -- DVD
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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