MOVIES: Christmas movies for everyone
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965). The Peanuts gang searches for the true meaning of Christmas in this animated TV treasure, with its funny dialogue, charismatic voice performances and an award-winning jazz score by Vince Guaraldi. And how often do you hear cartoon heroes quoting from the Gospel of Luke, proclaiming the Christ-child as the Messiah?
"The Little Drummer Boy" (1968). The moving seasonal song comes to animated life in this 30-minute Claymation parable with the capable voices of Greer Garson, Jose Ferrer and Teddy Eccles. It puts present-giving in perspective.
Devised to have genuine family appeal, The Miracle Maker (rated G, available at Amazon.com) is able to relate the Jesus of the Bible to little ones without sacrificing the integrity of the Gospels. The kid-vid combines two very different animation disciplines and adds vivid special effects to make mesmerizing storytelling for older family members as well.
"Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962). You put Jim Backus together with Dickens' timeless classic, then add the Broadway talents of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, and you're bound to have entertainment fit for the kid in all of us. This hour-long animated musical version of "A Christmas Carol" works for the whole family.
And for the older family members ...
"Three Godfathers" (1948). John Wayne stars in this western morality tale about three outlaws who come across a dying woman and her newborn baby. The symbolism between the Christ-child and this new foundling has a redemptive effect on the three bandits. Unrated.
"The Gathering" (1977). Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton star in this Emmy-winning TV movie about a dying man's efforts to reunite his family. It reinforces the importance of family and presents positive Christian images including a heart-felt prayer, the scripture reading of Jesus' birth, and a child's christening. Unrated
"The Fourth Wiseman" (1985). Gateway Films/Vision Video. Martin Sheen is featured as a devout man searching for the Messiah in order to give valuable treasures. But one by one he sells his priceless gifts to help the needy. Full of compassion and illustrations of how our Lord would have us treat our fellow man. Unrated.
"The Bishop's Wife" (1947). Cary Grant stars as an angel aiding struggling minister, played by David Niven. I marveled at the ending sermon given by the church's pastor. Standing behind his pulpit, the reverend reminds his parishioners to focus attention on Christ. "All the stockings are filled, except one. We've even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's His birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that." Unrated.
"The Nativity Story" (2006). Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac play Mary and Joseph in the retelling of the birth of Christ. The filmmakers worked hard to ensure that The Nativity Story was both historically and biblically accurate: There were several Christians involved, such as screenwriter Mike Rich and producer Wyck Godfrey, and a wide spectrum of Christian New Testament scholars and historians were involved in the pre-production process. PG.
"Miracle on 34th Street" (1994). Richard Attenborough, Mara Wilson. The manager of a New York department store hires Kris Kringle to be the store Santa. Soon the old fellow has to convince the woman and her precocious daughter that he truly is Father Christmas. A delight and a rarity, as it is one of the few worthwhile remakes. Full of laughter, poignancy and charm, it is noteworthy for containing both visual and verbal Christian metaphors and for pointing out that Santa is a symbol. The scene where Santa communicates with a little deaf girl is worth the viewing. PG.
"Miracle on 34th Street" (1947). The original version stars Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, little Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara, who delivers the best line in the film: "Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."
"White Christmas" (1954). Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney. About as corny as they come, but it has great music, some good laughs and beautiful color. It's festive and takes us back to gentler times. Unrated.
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). James Stewart's George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never been born. He reminds us that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact. Unrated.
"Scrooge" (1970). Albert Finney is terrific in this musical version of the Dickens classic. Warning: there are a couple of scary moments, which may be unsuitable for little ones. But this is a powerful and most entertaining parable about a man finding redemption. G.
"Elf" (2003). Having accidentally snuck into Santa's sleigh, a human baby is raised at the North Pole as an elf. After wreaking havoc in the elf community due to his 6'2" size, Buddy (Will Ferrell) heads to New York City to find his place in the world and track down his father. Absolutely hysterical. PG.
"A Christmas Carol" (1951). Yes, it's old and in black and white, but this version with Alastair Sim is considered by many to be the best of the Scrooge movies. It contains lots of Christian references and symbolism. Unrated.
"Picture a Perfect Christmas" (2019) is one of those Hallmark Channel movies designed to place us romantics at the center of the story's holiday fantasy. There are many of these TV movies this time of year, with some coming closer to perfection than others.
"Picture a Perfect Christmas" (not to be confused with "Picture Perfect Christmas" or "Picture Perfect Royal Christmas" or "A Perfect Christmas," etc.) is as predictable as most of the cookie-cutter Christmas collection on that network, but besides being a notch above most others with its story and whimsy, this pleasant film confection has Merritt Patterson as its female lead.
With a long list of credits that include "Christmas at the Palace" and "Unbroken: Path to Redemption," the Canadian-born Patterson is picture perfect in style and substance.
The story has a photographer returning home to care for her grandmother during the holidays. Soon she gets involved with helping a neighbor look after his nephew. The uncle is good looking and a good guy. Hmmm, could there be a romance in the near future? If you have to ask, you haven't been watching Hallmark! Look for it on the Hallmark Channel.