iPhones, Netflix and dumbing-it-all-down: what happened to the humble Christmas movie?


By Daisy Game, First Year, English

Christmas films have been a commonplace for over seven decades, but the classics of the past still remain supreme.

We’re all on the sofa, the Quality Streets have been distributed - green triangle, please - and the much-anticipated Christmas movie is soon set to begin. Only one question remains: how many years back in time should we travel first?

In 1965, we find a small-cartoon-pooch decorating his kennel in the falling snow; 25 years later, and we’re eating junk and watching rubbish - you better come out and stop us - when we’re left home alone; skip backwards 14 years from today’s holiday season, and Tom Hanks will gladly serve us hot chocolate and lost train tickets.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946); A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965); Home Alone (1990); The Polar Express (2004); Love Actually (2003). The youngest flick of the lot? It’s Richard Curtis’ schmaltzy-jigsaw-romance, coming in at an astonishing 15 years old.

IMDb / The Polar Express / Castle Rock Entertainment

So, what gives? Is it simply nostalgia that keeps us returning to these golden oldies? Or is it that since the early 2000s, we have been given no real alternatives? And what on earth could have changed which means our viewing habits are apparently incapable of change? Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your tinsel.

The adverts on television tell us that the festive season remains as it always has been: families gather around a Marks and Spencer’s table; grandma talking to auntie and grandpa talking to baby and baby gurgling at brother; all nestled about the golden turkey - Iceland - and foil cracker - Sainsbury’s.

And yet - at a time when the commercialism of a big, sparkling, family Christmas has never been pushed harder, the reality of our festive season is a fragmented one. We live in homes housing screens of all shapes and sizes; screens that fit into the palm of a hand, or sit paper thin against the wall.

Where once you would fight a sibling for the remote, today you can use the other profile. Compromise is no longer a necessity, and Christmas film has seen the ugly ramifications of this fact. One screen meant one film: sharp enough for the adults, and giggle-y enough for the children.

For me, one film in particular sums up all that we have lost in this age of constant options. I do not cry in films; but I cry in A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). This small, snowy world of unripe snowflakes, dusty snow men and skinny Christmas trees. It is gentle, slow, and completely delightful.

Little cartoon people pottering about a frozen world, fostering a runty Christmas tree and tossing back their heads in song. Grab the mop - the Ice Queen melts. But it’s not only heartbreakingly charming and gorgeously gentle, its whip-smart. Where in today’s film would we find children talking of pink Christmas trees one minute, and hypengyophobia the next?

Youtube / Steinway & Sons

Charles M Schulz’s genius was that he didn’t put children on the floor and adults on the sofa. He squeezed everybody onto one gloriously uncomfortable couch, and facilitated the wonderfully legitimate cliché of Christmas togetherness which today’s cinema somehow seems to lack.

Grandma, grandpa, granddaughter and grandson: these were films made for everyone. This year, a feebly received, aesthetically grating version of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch hits the screen - beating that glorious lunatic Jim Carrey was always a long shot. And sure – it might be momentarily amusing. But where’s the shame in being gently smart?

It’s a tricky debate. Perhaps it makes little sense. When I talked to my flat mates about the evolution of festive cinema, they rolled their eyes, and laughed. ‘Always the cynic’, they chortled. And perhaps it is just cynical nostalgia. We learn to love what our parents taught us to.

I do hope that the children of today might look back on the likes of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), or A Christmas Carol (2009), and tell their children how gentle the world used to be; how clever.

But for now, perhaps it is best to curl up and return to our own gentle times.

Featured Image: IMDb / A Charlie Brown Christmas / Lee Mendelson Productions

Are there any recent Christmas films you love?

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