Our biweekly viewing guide returns with a classic animated film, specials adapted from classic animated films, and a new movie featuring live-action characters that aren’t quite classic, but are pretty animated.
All times Eastern (check local listings for time and channel in your area):
Jesus’ saying in Mark 10 is a familiar one: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Children show us how to approach Jesus: with wide-eyed belief and unquestioning faith.
One animated film worth seeing again this Christmas reminds us of what it means to have faith like a child’s. Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express takes us on one boy’s journey from doubt to belief. On one level, the story can be interpreted as a retelling of The Miracle on 34th Street, but for Christians, this film can also be seen as a tale about a return to untainted belief.
Shrek the Halls; Toy Story That Time Forgot — Thursday, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC
“Shrek the Halls,” from 2007, features the beloved film ogre dealing with a house full of fairytale pals on what he had hoped would be a family-only Christmas.
First aired in 2014, “Toy Story That Time Forgot” finds the toy gang on a post-Christmas play date, where they meet some delusional action figures.
The upbeat 2006-14 series returns with a holiday movie that reunites fake-psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday), his crimesolving pal, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dule Hill), Shawn’s retired-cop dad, Henry (Corbin Bernsen) and the rest of the original gang.
In this reboot, the action has moved from Santa Barbara to San Francisco (although it’s still all shot in and around Vancouver, Canada). When a mystery assailant targets one of their own during the Christmas season, best buddies Shawn and Gus go to work.
Guest stars include Zachary Levi (“The Star”), Kurt Fuller, Jazmyn Simon, Ralph Macchio and WWE wrestler Charlotte Flair.
They join cast regulars Roday, Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson and Bernsen, and returning guest stars WWE wrestler John Cena, and Jimmi Simpson.
Throughout its run, “Psych” avoided overt violence and sexual content, and always emphasized fun, friendship, family and general wackiness. The twists, turns and pop-culture obsessiveness may be too much for elementary-school kids, but preteens and up should enjoy watching with their parents.
Archaeologists have excavated a sphinx from the sand, and they didn’t have to leave California to do it.
On Dec. 4, 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille’s first — B&W and silent — version of “The Ten Commandments” had its Los Angeles premiere, at the Grauman Egyptian Theater. More than 50 years later, in 1956, DeMille returned to the story in a full-color, widescreen spectacular, starring Charlton Heston as Moses.
The Egyptian scenes from the original film were built at the Guadalupe-Nipomo sand dunes on the Central California coast, between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.
Long before the days of green screen, motion capture, and CG, DeMille had Paul Iribe, a designer known for his spectacular art deco work, to construct a massive set that was 12 stories high and 800 feet wide on the Guadalupe-Nipomo sand dunes. Like the film, the set was ambitious in scale, but as soon as the film wrapped DeMille realized it was too expensive too move and he didn’t want another filmmaker using it. That said, he had it buried.
In early November, archaeologists exploring the dunes unearthed the head of a sphinx, made of Plaster of Paris and weighing about 300 pounds. Even though the film was in black and white, it — like the rest of the set — is painted in brilliant colors.
The saga of finding and digging up DeMille’s 95-year-old set is a story in itself. Back in the ’80s, filmmaker Peter Brosnan heard about the set and wanted to find it. But, he faced headwinds from environmental preservationists, and the actual dig didn’t begin until many years later.
In 2017, he released a documentary called “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille,” which includes footage of the dig and interviews with local residents who saw the filming back in the ’20s. Also appearing in the film are DeMille, niece Agnes DeMille, granddaughter Cecelia DeMille Presley (who wrote a book not long ago), Heston and producer A.C. Lyles.
Here’s the trailer:
Sadly, many movie and TV sets, costumes and props have been considered junk once the project ends, winding up recycled, discarded or warehoused. So, much of Hollywood history has been lost, along with the work of countless craftsmen.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is among the organizations helping fund the costly excavation activities. The artifacts can be viewed at the Dunes Center museum in Guadalupe, where the latest sphinx head will go on display in summer, 2018.
The weekend (and Monday) edition of our biweekly family-viewing guide is back, loaded up with Christmas goodies. I’d like to say they’re all about the true meaning of Christmas, but for that, you’ll have to head to theaters to see “The Star.”
But if you want glitter and tinsel, Santa and silliness, we’ve got you covered. All times Eastern (check local listings for time and channel in your area).
Oh, and happy First Sunday of Advent!
Masters of Illusion: Christmas Magic — Friday, 8 p.m., The CW
From The CW:
Hosted by actor Dean Cain, MASTERS OF ILLUSION features great escapes, fascinating sleight-of-hand and large-scale illusions, all in front of a studio audience. The series features amazing magic performed by cutting-edge illusionists and escape artists and performers in each episode display skills ranging from perplexing interactive mind magic to hilarious comedy routines. Live audience members and viewers at home will be baffled by the astounding skills of these modern illusionists.
Guests include Jarret and Raja, Jonathan Pendragon, Ed Alonzo, Jibrizy, Les Arnold, Murray SawChuck, Farrell Dillon, Tommy Wind, Titou, Naathan Phan, Greg Gleason and Christmas Choir.
In an extended version of a 2016 episode, ATM’s Wayde King and Brett Raymer, joined by Australian pop star Alli Simpson, head to Flint, Michigan, to create a custom tank for Hurley Children’s Hospital.
In Nickelodeon’s brand-new holiday TV movie Tiny Christmas, it is Christmas Eve, and a clumsy elf accidentally shrinks down two cousins into miniature sizes! The kids are then scooped up into Santa’s sack and dropped off across the street at their neighbor’s house. In order to make it home for Christmas (just one house away!), the tiny kids must comically work together and overcome holiday hazards to set themselves right and make Christmas magic happen! But, will the tiny kids get home on time?
Tiny Christmas stars Riele Downs from Henry Danger and Lizzy Greene from Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. Matty Finochio will also star in the movie as Chill the Elf.
Parents need to know that The Santa Clause is a 1994 Christmas-themed movie in which Tim Allen plays a toy industry executive who transforms into jolly old Saint Nick himself. The original Santa Claus takes a fatal, accidental fall (yikes — Santa dies!). Guns are drawn as Tim Allen’s new “Santa” gets arrested by police. There are grown-up (and gross) jokes, and the movie deals with divorce and estrangement between a father and son. While the whole plot revolves around the idea of Santa being real, many characters talk about the fact that he might not be — so this may not be the best fit for families looking to extend kids’ belief in St. Nick. There is also some potty humor involving human and reindeer flatulence, as well as a vague reference to being on drugs in the 1960s.
Each episode of this reality-competition series features four families found through a nationwide search, who have erected extravagant Christmas displays at their homes, involving not just lights but choreography, staging, etc.
Lifestyle expert Carter Oosterhouse and interior designer Taniya Nayak judge the entries, with $50,000 going to the winner (a k a the one most likely to be able to be seen from space).
Monday’s episode features a wireless light show, an interactive gingerbread house, figurines and giant lollipops, a large property with 78 wrapped trees, a seven-acre drive-through property, and a concert of lights with a five-piece band.
This charming animated, animal-centric Nativity story is the rare film that you can take grade-schoolers to, while the adults might also get some laughs.
It’s not making nearly as much money as it should. Christians are finally given an entertaining, fanciful yet respectful adaptation of the Christmas story, and they’re skipping it? Catholics are passing on a movie with a wonderful portrayal of Mary? Come on, people.
Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” stars as Charles Dickens in this delightful yarn, as the Victorian-era writer struggles to create “A Christmas Carol.” Most irritating for Dickens is that his characters, led by Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) have a habit of coming to life and pestering him.
It’s not a a religious Christmas movie, but it’s full of the spirit of love and generosity.
Click here for a full review, but in short, this one has some material that may not be suitable for little ones, but would appeal to older grade-schoolers and up, or just adults. Common Sense Media concurs.
Pixar’s Mexican-flavored Dia de los Muertos animated tale is not a Christmas film — as the holiday it’s centered on actually takes place on Oct. 31-Nov. 2 — but it’s as colorful as the Christmas season (and it’s raking in scads of green).
It’s a stunning achievement, but Catholic reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus has reservations about its theology:
On Earth, and even in the afterlife, Mexico’s Catholic heritage has not been entirely effaced. There are church buildings and crosses on monuments in cemeteries and in homes. An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe adorns a wall in the home where our protagonist, 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), lives with his extended family.
Miguel’s elderly, irascible Abuelita (Renée Victor) crosses herself, and someone says “Santa María!” I don’t remember any actual priests or nuns, but we see that there are movie priests and nuns in a clip of a film-within-the-film starring Miguel’s hero: the late, great Mexican guitarist and singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who not only sings and plays guitar in a Roman collar, but even flies like Superman.
Yet what good is Catholic iconography when the movie pretty explicitly stipulates that life after death is strictly a temporary affair, tied to earthly memory? A stopover in skeleton-land is one thing, as long as there’s some openness to the idea that this isn’t the end. A “final death” with no hint or hope of a further stage or life beyond seems to make a mockery of that image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the crosses dotting the landscape.
Common Sense Media gives it a big thumbs-up, but Catholic parents may need to have a chat with their little ones about the Church’s view of the afterlife, heaven and eventual resurrection. This short explanation from EWTN might help.
“Wonder” (Lionsgate) is a beautiful film about ugliness. Its protagonist is August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy born with facial deformities whose misshapen visage becomes a moral Rorschach test for the people around him.
This gentle, moving drama centers on Auggie’s struggle to win acceptance from his peers as he transitions from being educated at home to attending the fifth grade of his local middle school. But it also explores the lives of his supportive parents, Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts), and his loving older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic).
Via gives Auggie unstinting affection despite the fact that his emotional needs have left her feeling overlooked by Mom and Dad.
And, here’s a video from a mom whose son, also in the video, has a similar condition to the fictional Auggie:
Lastly, a movie that’s definitely not for kids, but one that Catholics may love …
This one is garnering lots of critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, and shockingly enough, for a mainstream movie with Catholic themes, it isn’t anti-Catholic. Writer-director Greta Gerwig isn’t Catholic, but she is Catholic-educated, and this is a semi-autobiographical tale.
It is a coming of age story for Christine, who’s dubbed herself “Lady Bird,” a smart, awkward Catholic high-school student (Saoirse Ronan) in Sacramento, California. She’s trying to figure out who she is, while negotiating a complex relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), who is described as both “scary” and “warm.”
There’s rough language and sexual content, so it’s definitely not for the whole family. Common Sense Media rates it for ages 16 and above, but those who are weak in their faith may find it unsettling.
The Catholic school experience is rendered with hilarity but, again, without meanness and even with a sprinkling of generosity. The senior nun on the staff (the wonderful Lois Smith) cuts through the BS to be real with Lady Bird, and great fun is had with the school’s theater productions; when the original faculty director of The Tempest bails out, he’s replaced by the school’s football coach, a loudmouth who rambunctiously illustrates how the Shakespearean drama will be staged by diagramming a chalkboard with X’s and O’s and firmly drawn arrows.
It’s no spoiler to point out that the movie’s conclusion, during which Lady Bird has finally achieved her dream of college in New York, shows a very strong old-school moral compass at work. It’s a redeeming wrap-up. But the problematic material that precedes it requires thoughtful discernment by grown viewers well-grounded in their faith.
Gerwig does a remarkable job portraying a Catholic teenager torn between the “good girl” everyone expects her to be, and her growing desires to be different. The movie handles the complex emotions of teen romance and, yes, sex with discretion visually and powerful emotion. Its portrayal of the priests and nuns in her life are all uniformly positive, Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother may be occasionally contentious, but it also is one of the most positive portrayals of a teenage child/parent relationship in ages.
First aired in 1964, this stop-motion animated special has spawned scads of Christmas decorations, toys and games. But strangely enough, no one has tried to do a live-action feature-film version. THANK THE LORD– because modern Hollywood would try to make it either crass or intentionally meaningful, and either would ruin it.
Based on the song of the same name, this apparently simple story of an outcast reindeer that saves Christmas is a light but surprisingly deep tale. It speaks to anyone who’s ever been rejected, who stepped out of a comfort zone, had an adventure, made new friends, helped the despondent, grew up and faced fears head-on, and was forgiving enough to save the day — even for those who persecuted him.
This is one of the Christmas specials that doesn’t mention Christ, but for a reindeer, Rudolph is a pretty good Christian.
On a personal note, Clarice is my spirit animal. Girl knew a good thing when she saw it.
The magnificent tree outside iconic Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan — home to NBC and very near to St. Patrick’s Cathedral — lights up in this annual special. Among the performers are Brett Eldredge, Jennifer Nettles, Leslie Odom Jr., Pentatonix, Gwen Stefani and The Tenors. Doing hosting duties are “Today” regulars Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker.
Here’s a little background on this year’s tree:
And here’s this year new Christmas video from Pentatonix, “Away in a Manger” …
This 1965 “Peanuts” classic has a lot going for it: Charles Schulz’ immortal characters, sharp wit, a great jazz score by Vince Guaraldi, Snoopy and the Christmas lights, a sad little tree and, most wonderful of all, a Gospel recitation of the true meaning of Christmas that probably wouldn’t make it past today’s PC censors.
Take it away, Linus:
Whether intentionally or not, when Linus begins his recitation from the Nativity narrative in the Gospel of Luke, he’s bathed in pink and purple — the colors of Advent, which begins this Sunday.
So, do you have the Advent wreath and purple and rose candles ready to go? Is the Advent calendar on the wall?
After all, we’re Catholics, and we’ll celebrate no Christmas before its time (and then we’ll keep celebrating it for a good long time).
What’s Advent, you say? If you’ve got two minutes, this video from Busted Halo is happy to explain:
As your family works its way through those Thanksgiving leftovers, and takes a break from backyard flag-football games, there’s a cornucopia of family-suitable fare to share together on the couch — so 5 for Friday goes supersized!
As always, all times Eastern (check local listings for time and channel in your area.) Also owing to the length of this post, we won’t have an audio version this week.
We covered this new edition of the classic ’90s cartoon in an earlier blog (click here), but basically, this one picks up a few years after the show, as the characters are a bit older and taller. In search of his long-missing parents, city kid Arnold accompanies his class on a trip to South America.
Also, we learn that the beloved Pigeon Man has taken up residence at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, to care for his feathered friends there.
According to the A.V. Club, “The Jungle Movie” is something special:
Arnold is the quietly grounded, positive kid who lives and breathes hope, who in his own way gave that hope to a city and its citizens. In his quest to find his parents, he is taken out of his urban comfort zone, a place in which he is well-known and trusted, and thrust into the unknown, where his faith, resolve, and friendships are challenged.
Arnold has always been a kind of an outsider though, a loner whose drive has always been backed, however subtly, by the idea that his parents were out there, somewhere. Now he has the chance to find them, and Bartlett presents that search as the true, adventurous, heartfelt culmination that he, and Arnold, deserve after all these years.
The 1970 stop-motion-animation special, with Fred Astaire as the storytelling mailman, is a rather weird version of the Santa Claus origin story — but it does have this lovely, faith-filled moment:
By the way, if you want a Christmas animated presentation that actually IS about the real Christmas, “The Star” — Catholic director Tim Reckart and Christian executive producer DeVon Franklin’s Nativity tale from the POV of the animals — should still be in theaters. But if more Christians don’t go see it, it may not hang around on the big screen for Christmas. Just sayin’. We now return to our regularly scheduled post, already in progress.
Jimmy Durante narrates the 1969 animated tale of a snowman who comes to life, from a story by Romeo Muller (who also wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) and based on the popular song. Following is a 1992 sequel, with John Goodman as the voice of Frosty, who is in peril from a snow-removal spray; Jonathan Winters (that’s appropriate, right?) narrates.
From NBC, describing this follow-up to the 2016 “Trolls” movie, which introduced the troll-eating Bergens:
Now that the Bergens’ one holiday (Trollstice) is gone – and the Trolls don’t have to worry about being eaten by their neighbors – Poppy, the eternally optimistic Troll queen, has made it her mission to bring a brand new day of celebration to Bergen Town.
When Poppy recruits reluctant Branch and the rest of the colorful Snack Pack to join her quest, she’ll try to prove to her best Bergen friends, Bridget and King Gristle Jr., that life would be better if they’d just adopt a new holiday. But just because Poppy won’t rest until the village embraces Ticklepalooza or Balloon Squeal Day doesn’t mean the Bergens are ready to launch a celebration as loud, crazy and glittery as the little Troll suggesting it.
The British-produced animated specials air back-to-back, with Irish actor Ardal O’Hanlon as the voice of Robbie. In the first special, from 1999, he struggles to get in shape to join Santa’s team. In the second, from 2002, Robbie joins forces with a lost Viking tribe to battle nemesis reindeer Blitzen.
This might be too much of a romance for younger kids — kissing, ick! — but preteens and up might enjoy this new movie starring Tatyana Ali as a mall manager whose little niece asks the mall Santa (Brendan Fehr) to find her a boyfriend — not knowing that her aunt is trying to close Santa’s aunt’s failing toy store.
The “Director’s Cut” airs Monday at 8 p.m., also on Lifetime.
Edward Asner is the voice of Santa in this 1996 animated special, which also features Tim Curry as the voice of elf Nostros, and Betty White as Mrs. Gretchen Claus. It’s another Santa origin story, produced by Arnold Shapiro, better known for such reality fare as “Scared Straight!” It’s … odd, but some orphans do get helped.
Christian Melissa Joan Hart and Catholic Mario Lopez star as rival toy-store owners who must join forces to fight a big-box-store interloper. Again, like the other Lifetime movie above, might be too lovey-dovey for little ones.