So a few years ago, I wrote a book called Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas, about the best (and, occasionally, the worst) movies of the holiday season. With each passing year, however, it seems there’s a constant stream of new and classic film and TV titles popping up for your December delectation.
Here’s a look at some of the best stuff that’s nestled all snug on the New Releases shelf:
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Scrooge-mas
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol continues to be an endless source for reinterpretation, with both old and new adaptations making their way into your DVD queue. Making its way to Blu-ray for the first time is the often underrated TV movie An American Christmas Carol (Shout Factory), starring Henry Winkler as tight-fisted financier Benedict Slade. Of all the attempts to move the story of Scrooge away from the Victorian era, this one wisely sets the tale in the American Depression, highlighting Dickens’ observations about the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
Also new to Blu-ray is The Muppet Christmas Carol (Walt Disney Home Entertainment), mixing the very human Michael Caine with an otherwise all-Muppet cast. (Statler and Waldorf make particularly good stand-ins for Jacob Marley, particularly when they heckle a certain joke-telling bear in the role of “Fozziewig.”) This release offers two commentary tracks, one from director Brian Henson and the other from Kermit, Gonzo and the gang.
And lest you think you’ve seen every possible rejiggering of A Christmas Carol, along comes the brand-new Scrooge & Marley (Sam I Am Films; available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray at Amazon.com). This contemporary tale gives us a gay Scrooge (David Pevsner) — who’s just as miserly, friendless and embittered as the previous versions — in a sweet and distinctive spin on a holiday standard.
For the Family
Just when you think all the great Yuletide tales have been told, along comes a charmer like Arthur Christmas (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), a sweet and funny Aardman Animations production that deserves to become an annual staple. The reigning Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is about to retire, and oldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie) can’t wait to take over and streamline the toy-delivery process, but it’s young Arthur (James McAvoy) who’s really got the spirit and who sets out to save the holiday for the one girl who didn’t get her present.
And heaven only knows who decided that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Horizon Movies) needed the Blu-ray treatment, but this silly tale of Father Christmas getting kidnapped by aliens has certainly never looked better. And with the inclusion of 45 minutes of vintage Christmas shorts, this one’s kind of a must for any die-hard holiday movie fan.
And even though the series has suffered from the law of diminishing returns, all three The Santa Clause films make their Blu-ray debut in a handsome box set from Disney. Even if you never pop the third one into the player, these witty, cozy comedies are great to have around for the holidays.
Christmas TV specials make a splash, as well, with both new favorites and vintage classics. In the latter category, check out Christmas with Danny Kaye (Inception Media Group), featuring two holiday episodes from the White Christmas star’s long-running variety program. A black-and-white episode features Mary Tyler Moore and Nat King Cole, while a color-drenched entry from later in the series offers guests Peggy Lee and Wayne Newton. (Keep your eyes peeled for bit players like Harvey Korman and Jamie Farr as well.)
Add to your collection of kids’ Christmas specials with Disney’s Blu-ray release of the Prep & Landing and Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice specials, and Warner Home Video’s new edition of the vintage Rankin/Bass production The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow.
After the Kids Go to Bed
Some Christmas fare is strictly for grown-ups, so while the little ones are having visions of sugarplums, here are some new DVDs for the older folks at home. For fans of holiday horror, there are screams aplenty in the outrageously violent Bloody Christmas (MVD Entertainment Group) and in the new thriller Silent Night (Anchor Bay), a remake of the infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night. (In honor of the new version, Anchor Bay is also releasing a double-DVD set featuring the original Silent Night, Deadly Night and its first sequel.)
Finally, nothing says Christmas like illicit (except in Colorado and Washington) substance use and an unhinged Neil Patrick Harris. An unrated extended cut of the bawdy and hilarious A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is just one reason to pick up the Harold & Kumar Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner Home Video). All three of these wild comedies come encased in a box set (shaped like a lighter) that also includes coasters and air fresheners. (One of them looks like a White Castle burger; I’m not brave enough to investigate whether or not it also smells like one.)