The upcoming holidays will, of course, yield the typical TV showings of seasonal-inspired movies. While some are like cozy old friends whose visits we cherish every year, others bring out the Scrooge in us.
Five of the worst offenders are:
Babes in Toyland (1986)
It’s great that some filmmakers attempt to provide G-rated holiday movies we can let our kids watch, but that doesn’t mean we will automatically enjoy them, if they’re not made well.
“Family-friendly” is not synonymous with “brain dead.”
I have seen three versions of Babes In Toyland, the 1934 one with Laurel and Hardy, the 1961 one with Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands and now this one. Although the eras they were made in and the casts are different, there is one common denominator …sheer boredom.
In the more recent version of this “classic,” Drew Barrymore plays the noble little Lisa, who, after an accident, wakes up in Toyland to encounter a bunch of Mother Goose characters and a lot of cutesy characters, like live teddy bears and toy soldiers.
During her time in Toyland, young Lisa saves the day by keeping the evil Barnaby from taking over Toyland and from marrying Mother Hubbard’s beautiful daughter Mary, who is really in love with Jack B. Nimble, Jr. (who happens to be played by none other than Keanu Reeves, who looks as though he would rather be surfing someplace than stuck in this sappy role.)
The musical numbers are dreadful, the plot is nonsensical and the entire film is just tedious to watch.
Kids over the age of 8 will find this too long and way too silly. (The villain’s sidekicks are two albino hunchbacks. Does that give you a clue about how bad this one is?)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Let me start off with this little trivia fact: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians helped launch the early acting career of Pia Zadora… and we all know what kind of career she grew up to have.
The premise of this movie is that well-intentioned Martian parents decide to have Santa Claus kidnapped and brought to Mars, because their kids need to have a lot more fun than their planet currently is offering. They get a hold of the jolly old fat dude, plus two earth kiddies as well, with the hopes that the younger Martians will now start to enjoy life, since they’ve put St. Nick to work making toys.
Now, you know there has to be a villain in there. This one’s name is Voldar. (Why is it that intergalactic villains always have names like this? Just once, I like to hear of one called “Bob!”) Anyway, he plots to destroy Santa and his Martian toy workshop.
Predictably, everything works out and Santa and the forces of good triumph.
I will warn you. There is singing in this. Awful singing. The plot is mind-numbing, the costuming and scenery are amateurish at best.
Take all this and add some of the most insipid dialogue ever written and you have something that makes your first grader’s holiday school play look like Masterpiece Theater.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
I bought Jingle All the Way when it came out on video a few years ago, just for the sake of adding it to our Christmas movie collection. After one viewing of this film, I immediately chastised myself for purchasing it..
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as salesman Howard Langston, a workaholic dad who waits too late to go shopping for his little boy’s desired Christmas toy- Turbo Man.
Okay, if you’re going to have this particular actor playing this part, then don’t you think a name like “Howard Langston” is a little off? Why not Hans von Something-or-other? Then that would explain the thick-as-a-bratwurst accent.
The son Jamie is played by Jake Lloyd. He’s a cute child, with virtually nothing to do except whine and look disappointed.
Anyway, the majority of this humorless film is focused on Arnie competing with comedian Sinbad, who plays an off-duty mail carrier, to find the last available Turbo Man. Really, if I wanted to spend my holidays watching parents wrestle over toys, I could drive to the closest Wal-Mart.
So, what do you do when there’s an uninspired plot and scarce laughs? Why, pull out the old special-effects, which they do near the last part of the film.
Maybe if they had used another actor in the father role, the results would have been a lot better. Schwarzenegger has the comic timing of a lox.
Arnie has always been best in action pictures, because they don’t require him to have the best acting chops, just to look tough and flex his muscles while he fires a huge weapon of some sort at the bad guys.
Thank goodness for him, the voters of the state of California did not take this film into account in deciding whether or not to vote for him.
My biggest beef with Jingle All the Way, though, is that the underlying message seems to be, “Buying your kid more stuff is a lot more important than actually spending time with him.”
One more point for crass commercialism.
Surviving Christmas (2004)
With the recent exception of his starring role in the recent hit Hollywoodland, actor Ben Affleck generally has a reputation for tanking nearly every film he is in.
No one will deny that Affleck is a very good-looking, likable guy, but it’s either his choices in the parts he plays or the way he plays them that just keeps audiences away in droves.
Surviving Christmas is par for the course.
Affleck plays a self-absorbed millionaire who pays an “average” family big bucks to let him stay in their home during the holidays, at which time they are expected to help bring back his childhood enjoyment of the season.
Inevitably, he ends up falling in love with the daughter of this family, played by Christina Applegate. The sparks between them run the gamut of 0 to 1. He is so totally obnoxious and charmless that you can barely stand to watch him.
With Applegate, as well as James Gandolfini and Catherine O’Hara in the cast, one might have hoped for this to be a lot better than it turned out, but with a contrived plot, weak writing and, of course, Ben Affleck in the mix, there was no way this movie could win.
It is likely to be trotted out on television for the holiday season, but my advice to you is to find something more entertaining to do with your time, like untangling the Christmas tree lights.
Christmas With the Kranks (2004)
Hollywood turned out two holiday-themed clunkers in the same year.
Christmas With the Kranks stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen as the Kranks. The vacuous plot deals with a couple who decide not to bother will the usual holiday fanfare, since their plan is to go on a cruise. Their neighbors aggressively express their dissatisfaction with the fact that the Kranks have nixed the idea of putting up any decorations, but the protests only cause the couple to dig their heels in deeper and they refuse to do anything related to Christmas.
When they get a call from their daughter that she is visiting for the holidays, the hapless parents have to quickly change gears and, in slapstick-style, try to get everything holiday-related up before she arrives.
And this is supposed to be hilarious? It’s about as ludicrous as expecting us to chuckle at the sight of a public hanging.
For some reason, Tim Allen just falls into these kind of lackluster, uninspired movie roles. He was a lot funnier on the small screen than he is on the big one.
As for casting Jamie Lee Curtis in the thankless part of a weak, intimidated wife, it was a bad idea and completely against type.
Even those of us with the most enthusiastic holiday spirit will end up saying, “Bah, humbug!” after sitting through 94-minutes of this dismally laugh-challenged “comedy.”
Will there be more?
Yep, as long as there’s Christmas, somebody in Tinseltown will be churning out another wretched movie revolved around this holidays and we’ll probably get suckered into going to see it.
My suggestion to you, though, is this: If you switch to a channel and see any of the films on this list about to be aired…RUN!