Stuck on what to watch with your loved ones this merry season? Here are our five picks of overlooked shows that embodies the spirit of the holidays. Sort of.
Christmas is a time for cheer and good old-fashioned capitalism at work, if the eagerness of Singaporean companies putting up Christmas decorations a month-plus in advance at Orchard Road is of any huge indication. For the pop culture aficionado like you and I, we would celebrate such an occasion not just with a feast & a party, but with the usual traditional movie-bingefest of A Nightmare Before Christmas, Die Hard, & something back in the 80s or early 90s that’s tied in with the holiday spirit.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but isn’t it high time to maybe update that catalogue with recent X’mas-laden fares to keep that classic video-watching routine fresh? Here are a few suggestions that we feel that are worth your viewing time. We guaren-damn-tee that these will leave you all warm and tingly inside at the very least.
Keep in mind that our main list will only include shows around the very late 90s and 2000-ish period.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
The animated film is about the latest Santa Claus ready to hand his legacy down to his eldest son. However, his other son Arthur Claus who works in the mailing room finds out that one of the children’s delivery has been missed. Thus begins the quest to save the little child’s Christmas with his grandfather, a gift-wrapping Christmas elf who takes her job seriously, and a bunch of untrained reindeers.
Part action flick and part debate between technologically-advanced and traditional methods of handling Christmas, it’s a very unique take on your typical Christmas-laden animated tale. It’s amazing how much detail and story is packed in an hour-and-thirty minutes’ worth. The early elf infiltration-slash-gifts-delivering scene alone merits repeated viewings just because of how fast it happens.
The film doesn’t pick a side between the new and old ways of making Christmas work. Rather than the clichéd route of having a bad guy in all of this, the film focuses on characters who have lost sight of why they’re doing the Christmas shindig in the first place and regain it thanks to the main hero. Yes, the character’s eyes and stares can come off weird upon initial viewing.
Once you get that out of the way, you’ll find one epic Christmas tale that both kids and adults will enjoy. And no matter what you wrap, there’s ALWAYS time for a bow.
Rifftrax Live! Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza (2009)
After the cancellation of the cult classic show Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a series that did DVD commentary on films before it was a mandatory thing, comedians Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett went on to create the comedy audio commentary du jour Rifftrax. Naturally, there was a huge demand for such things as time went by, which led to the trio to do live riffs in theatres on shows such as Birdemic, Reefer Madness, and Jack The Giant Killer.
One of their live riffs that’s relevant to this joyous period is the Rifftrax Live! Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza where the trio riff on a bunch of Christmas shorts, toy commercials and, I wish I was kidding, a documentary on a local US swimming championship. And it is glorious.
You’ve got so many cynical jokes and references up the wazoo shot at different old bizarre shorts ranging from Dancing With Wolves’ to Lord of the Rings. You have Weird Al Yankovic guest-starring and making up tunes as a short goes on. The Christmas vibe and camaraderie between Mike, Kevin and Bill is genuine. Having a live audience laughing with them adds to the already Christmas-like atmosphere. What’s not to love from this heckle-fest that amplifies the “fest” and gives you a warm & fuzzy chuckling feeling?
Joyeux Noël (2005)
Centered on the Christmas truce during World War I on December 1914, this French flick focuses on six characters from different sides of the war. Through a series of events, an unofficial truce was made within the trenches with both British, Scottish and German soldiers crossing the trenches to exchange greetings and talk. One moment they’re ready to kill each other for their respective countries, the next moment they’re mingling, sharing photos of their families, and gather together for a mass.
Granted, the film is a fictionalized account, but you can’t help that even in dire times of war, all it takes is a traditional holiday for people from different backgrounds and culture to bond and form powerful friendships. Things get complicated when the truce ends, so the film’s emotional bulk lies within each of these main characters making sacrifices to preserve their recent friendships.
If you want a recent Christmas show that tugs at your heartstrings, look no further than this take on a rather human historical moment.
Futurama – “Xmas Story” (1999)
Why shouldn’t an episode from the incredibly-renowned sci-fi comedy Futurama be on this list? It’s Christmas-themed and is an interesting-if-slightly-morbid twist on a holiday special.
In this episode, Fry spends his first Christmas in the 31st century, oblivious to the fact that every year a robotic Santa Claus comes out to wreck havoc in New York. The spirit of Christmas shines in the episode in its own special way: Bender bonds with a bunch of homeless robots and goes on a robbing spree, Fry searches for a gift for Leela despite there being a psychotic robot on a rampage, and Zoidberg being himself saves the day.
Everyone in the cast behaves in their usual comedic and bumbling selves, and John Goodman’s voice work nails it as the Xmas killing machine, channeling a more sociopathic Walter Sobchak with holiday-themed one-liners aplenty. It’s definitely one of the more memorable Futurama episodes just because of its holiday context and its absurd take on an iconic Christmas myth.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
We find it insane that this anime masterpiece isn’t placed on anybody’s Christmas period to-watch list of movies. That needs to be sorted, as this is one of the late director Satoshi Kon’s finest.
It’s about three homeless people who have to return a lost baby to her parents via a set of clues on the child’s blanket wrap. One is a kid runaway, the other is an alcoholic, and the last one’s a transexual and former drag queen. That alone is a recipe for unique tale, and it really delivers. The three characters are fleshed out very well and have their own set of demons to conquer within the film, and the plot takes a number of unexpected turns. All this happens in a beautiful snowy time in modern Japan that help balances the grim, zany and surreal nature of the story.
Given the range of esoteric films Kon has done in his lifetime, this one is the least weird of the lot and we do not mean this as a slight on his talents. The themes of miracles, family and forgiveness is prevalent in Tokyo Godfathers, and that makes it a must-watch during this festive period.
Honorable Mention: The Snowman
This wasn’t on the main list since The Snowman was created in 1980. Let it be said, however, that not many people here know about this short that encapsulates the spirit of Christmas in a sombre tone. Within its runtime, this tale between a boy and his new snowman buddy (who has the power of flight, mind you) teaches the lesson of treasuring the simple act of friendship that will eventually fade away and should never be taken for granted.
And it’s all done without any sound or dialogue to boot; that’s the power of animation, folks!
Got any recent Christmas classics to share in this list? We’d like to hear it from you readers! Have a happy holiday-slash-Christmas-slash-break, everybody!
Jonathan is an avid self-proclaimed connoisseur of films, video games, music & comics. Prefers screwdrivers over martinis. Fears oblivion.