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How Not to Make a Christmas Movie

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Image via Wikipedia

Good holiday movies have a never-ending shelf life. They will get watched and re-watched year after year. The bad ones will be forgotten before New Year’s. While it is a magical season where anything can happen, there are some common holiday movie mistakes that should never happen … again.

Here are some rules to remember:

Don’t screw-up a classic.
I’m all about being original and showing your creativity, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” was cartoon perfection. Now every time I think about it all I can see is Jim Carrey overacting in green makeup. And don’t stretch a 30 minute short into a 90 minute feature by adding a backstory. “Grinch: Origins” would have been a better title for Ron Howard’s 2000 atrocity “Dr. Seuss’ How the Ginch Stole Christmas.”
You can still put your own spin on things. After the umpteenth “A Christmas Carol,” a little reimagining is much appreciated. Casting Vanessa Williams as Ebony Scrooge in “A Diva’s Christmas Carol” or watching Michael Cain act along side a bunch a muppets in “The Muppet Christmas Carol” are both good fun. Just don’t go overboard on the changes; like the holiday cookies, everything in moderation.

Don’t be too creative.
The holidays are all about traditions and the familiar. When it comes to movie-making, stick with the basics and don’t try to make it all fancy with new tricks and the latest technology. Robert Zemeckis gets so obsessed with motion capture and CGI animation technology that he doesn’t see what it actually looks like. “The Polar Express” and 2009’s “A Christmas Carol” both have animation that make the characters look soulless and creepy. Plus hearing Tom Hanks and Jim Carrey voice every other character gets old really fast.
If you want to try something new and innovative do it with the script. Think “A Christmas Story.” Think “Bad Santa.” Think “Elf.” All of these movies take classic holiday ideas and make them seem fresh. If you are dead-set on animation, learn from the Rankin/Bass classics. (My favorite is “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”)

Don’t make it a horror film.
The idea of an old fat man breaking into my house, eating my food, and rewarding little kids’ good behavior is scary enough. A psychopathic snowman in “Jack Frost” (1997) or slain sorority sisters in “Black Christmas” (1974) don’t really scream holly jolly Christmas, they just scream.  If you are going to make it all about the blood and gore, then at least come up with an original title. “The Gingerdead Man,” “Satan Claus,”Silent Night, Deadly Night” … these show as much creativity as the porn industry and I think you can do better.
That doesn’t mean that the movie has to be happy, friendly,  or feature singing and dancing reindeer. “Die Hard,” “The Ref,”Trapped in Paradise,” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” are all top-quality films that just happen to take place around Christmas. They’re better in a lot of ways because you don’t overload on the sugary sweetness of more traditional holiday films.

Don’t substitute big-name actors for a good script.
This problem seems to be occurring more and more. Studios want to cash in on the “it” actor of the moment so they slap a holiday themed story together and expect him/her to carry the film. Yes, Vince Vaughn is hilarious and Reese Witherspoon is adorable, but that doesn’t save a piece of crap script like “Four Christmases.” “Jingle All the Way,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Christmas with the Kranks” are all guilty of forfeiting story for celebrity and it must be stopped.
It’s okay to cast well-known actors in your movie. “Love Actually” and “The Family Stone” both have a slew of popular actors and they are really good. What do they do right? They remember it’s about the script and not the box office haul. Never forget about the story.

Just remember to keep it simple and rest assured that no matter what you do, it won’t be worse than “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” Happy Holidays everyone!




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