Since everyone will be stuck at home with their nearest and dearest even more than usual this Christmas, here are a few suggestions for family films, from old favourites to new releases, that will hopefully keep the bickering at bay for an hour or two…
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Netflix)
Netflix’s Christmas offering for 2020 is an all-singing, all-dancing affair about a down on his luck toymaker called Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker), who had his once lucrative business ruined when a young assistant stole all the plans for his inventions. With the bank breathing down his neck, he must come up with a show-stopping invention that will save his livelihood and, because this is a wholesome family movie, help him get back to his old self in the most redemptive way possible. Set in a kind of theme park Victorian fantasy world, with upbeat, if not particularly memorable, songs, that take their cue from Hamilton and The Greatest Showman, Jingle Jangle is a pleasant enough watch, although it’s unlikely to end up a Christmas classic.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (Amazon Prime, Disney Plus)
Because The Muppet Christmas Carol has become such a clichéd response to the question of what the best festive film of all time is, I considered going hipster and recommending the non-Christmassy Muppet Treasure Island instead. But I watched it and it’s really not great, so I’ve just had to follow the herd instead.
There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said a million times about this film. It’s a superb adaptation thanks to the gags, puppetry and the complete sincerity Michael Cane brings to Scrooge. The songs are pretty good, too. The scene from ‘Christmas future’ in which Kermit and Miss Piggy, playing the Cratchits, mourn the death of Tiny Tim could be one of the finest sad moments in the history of cinema. When Kermit does his speech about life being about “meetings and partings”, it brings a tear to my eye every time, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas (Daily Motion)
This year, our family tradition of taking the kids to see the excellent stage adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas at the Lyric, Hammersmith, has been kiboshed by the pandemic. So instead I’ll be showing my two young boys the cartoon adaptation from 1991, which takes its cue from both the original book and its sequel, Father Christmas Goes on Holiday. It brings Briggs’ wonderful illustrations to life and the grumpy charm of his Father Christmas shines through.
Home Alone (Amazon Prime, Disney Plus)
In researching this article, I made the mistake of showing Home Alone to my five year old, forgetting that the opening section, in which the extended McCallister clan gather before flying out to Paris for Christmas, is packed with kids and grown ups being hilariously rude to each other. Sample quote: “I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room, if you were growing on my ass!”
With this in mind, perhaps avoid watching Home Alone with very young kids, but otherwise go for it. Even after all these years, Macaulay Culkin’s performance is still something to marvel at, and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are perfect as the hapless burglars who get more than they bargained for. Those who fell in love with Schitt’s Creek during our locked down year will enjoy being reminded that Catherine O’Hara plays Kevin’s mum in the movie.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Netflix)
If you after a non-festive film and have Marvel-mad young people in the house, then Into the Spider-Verse is a must watch. A Brooklyn teenager is bitten by a radioactive spider and soon finds himself not only in possession super powers, but also battling alongside various spidermen, spiderwomen and spider creatures who have popped up from parallel universes to foil a dastardly plot being carried out by crime lord Kingpin. Into the Spider-Verse is narratively complex, sharply written and visually dazzling, colliding a range of animation styles to stunning affect. Best of all, it’s that rare thing, a superhero flick that feels totally original.
Arthur Christmas (Amazon Prime, Netflix)
A very British family animation for Christmas from Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman Animations. If your family love those films, then you’ll probably get on pretty well with this one that tells the story of Father Christmas’s bumbling son, who sets out on a mission to rectify a delivery error and make sure a little girl gets her presents in time for Christmas morning. It’s action packed enough to keep the kids entertained, and, as with Wallace and Gromit, there are plenty of gags for grown ups to chuckle at. The voice cast includes Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton.
Onward (Disney Plus)
In Pixar’s latest, two brothers, who live in a fantastical kingdom that has lost touch with its magical roots, happen upon an old spell that will bring their dead father back to life for 24 hours only. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan and they only succeed in conjuring up half of him – his bottom half – and the boys head off on a road trip to find a magic crystal that will help them resurrect the rest of their dad. Although it doesn’t quite hit the heights of Pixar’s greatest films such as Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles, it’s still engrossing, funny and packed with memorable characters, and the emotional pay off hits the spot.