Christmas Special Review: O Natal de Todos Nós

Introduction

I didn’t, as of yet, stockpile a bunch of new Christmas specials for this year so I am unsure how many of these reviews will be posted, and how many titles will be added to this year’s Holiday Viewing Log (to be posted soon) in addition to the first class.

O Natal de Todos Nós

However, I did see this short special through the year. It’s interesting that this universally loved group of characters in Brazil in essence did one special did kind of what I suggested in this piece. The film goes through short iterations where we see disparate characters, one-by-one, have their own Christmas preparations and they all coalesce in the end and join into one story.

The stories deal with the following characters: Horácio, Jotalhão, Mônica, Cebolinha, Cascão, Magali, Bidu, Franjinha, Chico Bento, Astronauta, etc. and is made up of shorts produced from 1966-1986. It includes a preponderance of voice over, emphasis on montage and stills. Techniques aside there are quite a few interesting thematic touchstones in it such as, mainly, the fact that there are dinosaurs and Jesus, thank you, Brazil! Aside from the co-existence of science and religion in the same special, which would be unheard of here; there is also fantasy and reality side-by-side such as acknowledgment of the true nature of Santa Claus and embracing it nonetheless. There are other aspects touched upon both universal (midnight mass) and culturally specific (trying wine with parental consent), more creative touches (a celestial Christmas tree and the Big Bang) and voice talent up the wazoo.

Perhaps what’s best is, that at least for the time being, I found it on YouTube (Sorry, I did not locate English dubbing or subtitles). Enjoy!

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The Movie Rat Schedule

I’ve recently rediscovered the joys of posting in themes. So that there is always a handy reference I have decided to post this schedule to tell you all what the main focus of my site will be at any time cinematically.

I will try and add more regular features and/or special features as we move into the new year but for now this is what I have enjoy.

What’s Changed?

9/2/13
-Added the update post to the schedule. Post updates will occur tomorrow.

7/8/13
-Added Series Tracker to schedule
-Added Silent Feature Sunday as a regular post
Changed date of BAM Nomination Announcements to 1/2/14 (to get past the whole New Year crossover craze).
-Shifted dates of BAM Best Picture Profiles
-Added Food for Thought starting January 13th

Schedule-At-A_Glance

    Regular Features

Short Film Saturday

A short film is showcased each weekend.

Silent Feature Sunday

A new silent feature film post weekly.

BAM Award Considerations

Where I track candidates for all categories in my awards. New post monthly.

Mini-Review Round-Up

Short Reviews of non-theatrical but 2013 BAM- Award eligible films. New post monthly.

List of Films Seen

Where I list as accurately as I can what I’ve seen. Updated approximately bi-weekly.

Considerations for Favorite Older Film Seen

A list of the best older vintage film I’ve seen in a year for a separate list. Updated approximately bi-weekly.

Series Tracker

Where you can find links to special series and ongoing series that may post sporadically.

BAM Special Award Considerations

Posts that track candidates for Jury Awards, Lifetime Achievement, Neutron Star and Entertainer of the Year.

Update Posts

A bi-weekly post highlighting what’s been updated.

Special Features

Bela Tarr Retrospective

Starts Tuesday, May 7th

Part of winning the Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award will now, officially, include a retrospective the following year. Starting on Tuesdays in May I will re-examine the films of Bela Tarr.

September 1st – October 31st

61 Days of Halloween

A focus on horror-related review and write-ups.

November 1-28

Thankful for World Cinema

A focus on films made both outside the US and/ or not of the English Language.

November 29th- December 31st

Year-End Dash

A head-long sprint to try and get as many titles eligible for the BAM Awards as possible. Capsule reviews of year-end dash to add eligible titles. Updated daily.

BAM Best Picture Retrospective

December 8-19

A look back at the films that have won the Best Picture title at my awards.

December 23rd

BAM Awards Shortlists announced.

January 2

At some point after midnight EST, the nominees for the 2012 BAM Awards will be announced here via LIVE BLOG.

January 7

The Winners of the 2012 BAM Awards will be announced in a series of posts and they will be added to the historical lists.

January 8th to When Complete

Favorite Older Films First Seen in 2013.

January 13th-February 28

Food for Thought

An undetermined number of analytical pieces during a fairly slow time in the film cycle.

Christmas Special Review- It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown

Unlike its predecessor, and like many sequels, this sequel doesn’t quite work and fails to live up to the standard set by the original.

There is a lack of focus in the story-telling and a lack of foreword progress in the narrative. The tale starts with Charlie inexplicably hocking wares related to the holiday, trying to exploit the commercialism of the season. This goes a bit beyond him reverting to his former self into a wholly uncharted territory of regression to another character type.

Part of the reason this film lacks some focus is because it’s later in the history of the Peanuts and new characters have been introduced. Characters that are a presence in the strip and split focus here. A lot of the time is spent with Patty and Marcy, and thus, Charlie takes a backseat and quits being a salesman unannounced and due to his utter failure at it.
 
There is no real climax to this story either. Things that would’ve lead up to it aren’t seen but discussed and then there’s an ending. No real denouement either, no crescendo, just an abrupt stop.

The humor and observations do stop this film from being downright awful and raise it to a level of unfortunate awkwardness.

Christmas Special Review- A Charlie Brown Christmas

When you think of the iconic Christmas specials one of the first, if not the first, that comes to mind has to be A Charlie Brown Christmas. It is most likely the best suited for repeated viewing and in all likelihood holds a special place in the heart of the masses because it’s the one you can most closely identify with.

Think about it: this special probably connects to adults more so than children. Not only is Charlie a character with anxieties and worries but he has developed some of the same observations about Christmas that we do over the years: its become too commercial, it’s a hassle, etc.

The discussion of the commercialism of the holiday is very on the head but it also allows for the easy transition from a secular to a religious story. At first, there is only concern for the fenestration: gifts, decorations, trees and the like. Eventually the true meaning is allowed to burst forth.

It is a very brief but also very powerful intercession of the religious in this tale wherein Linus recites the story of the Nativity. Linus in many ways ends up being the hero of this tale because he is the first to change his mind on Charlie’s modest tree choice, and then, he relates the true story of Christmas.

Of course, the carols in the film are also religious and a breath of fresh air. It’s a fact that many of the memorable Christmas specials feature original music but just as often specials fall flat on their face in their attempt to create something new. Here we get the simple, tried and true and beautiful throughout, whether it be in carols or story choices.

This special succeeds because it is exceedingly human, and like the season, gives us a glimmer of hope for the world annually and that is why it is a timeless classic.

Christmas Special Review- Mickey’s Christmas Carol

I don’t know for certain if this airs annually but considering this is a Disney property I’m sure they play it somewhere. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is significant in a number of ways and not just because it was one of the animated crown jewels of my favorite decade.

The first bit of significance that this film holds is that it is the return of Mickey to theatrical shorts (albeit this is a hefty short) after a 30 year hiatus. Secondly, this unlike the other Christmas-themed specials that have been highlighted was released in movie theatres. The others for as cinematic as they may have been were all projects designed for television.

However, all of that is just anecdotal trivia for the film history buffs amongst us. What is truly special here is that not only is this a truly wonderful and moving rendition of Dickens’s classic but it seems as if it was fated to be.

In this short, as the name implies, Disney pulls from its stable of characters to cast its own version of A Christmas Carol. This is a popular device that is frequently used on TV shows most notably recently with Family Guy recreating the original Star Wars trilogy. What’s fun about them for the makers and viewers alike is that combining two well-known entities plays into and against audience expectations.

The “casting” of Mickey’s A Christmas Carol could not be more perfect after all Disney already has a character named Scrooge so from there the progression is natural and eerily similar. Scrooge also has a nephew who likes him and wants his approval even though Scrooge seemingly doesn’t care much for him; Donald. Then, of course, there’s Bob Cratchit and who better to portray him than Mickey Mouse? It goes on though, Goofy plays Jacob Marley, as a child (and to an extent to this day) his first apparition scared me.

They each have love interests (Minnie and Daisy) but then there are also the three spirits: Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Willie the Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol it is typically the execution we are interested in and the execution in this version is flawless and for many youngsters this could be their indoctrination to the tale as it was for me.

Disney, once upon a time, absolutely positively could not miss on an animated feature or short and this is the epitome of, and a testament to, that greatness.

2012 Battle of the Nutcrackers

Last year I took inspiration from Ovation TV’s annual Battle of the Nutcrackers for a post on a cinematic version thereof. This year I decided to be a bit more literal about it.

While I’ve known of this programming block for years, and it’s served as background, or the occasional distraction during past year-end dashes, I have never seen enough of each selection to vote. This year I wanted to do so.

Now, clearly I will look for a cinematic treatment in a selection, but it does come down to the ballet. While I, through my production company, sponsor a competition, I can claim no expertise but I know what I like and know this story extremely well.

I could give this an over-analytical approach as I tend to compartmentalize and choose which one has the best in the following general categories: libretto, choreography, blocking, set design and depth thereof, filmic treatment, casting, then with show specifics: Russian Dance, Arabian Dance, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Look of the Nutcracker and Rats/Rat King; Tree, prince casting, the snowfall; and I just might next year, but this year I wanted to just give overall impressions and why I picked what I picked.

The Australian Ballet’s rendition of an alternate take called Clara’s Story is the better of the two non-traditional selections and the most cinematically rendered. The Casting of the San Francisco Ballet may be the best.

However, the best overall production in my mind, which did have its visual allure, is the Mariinsky production. The color palette is spectacular. The first half usually makes or breaks a production, the second is the tiebreaker. The consistency of costuming and color selections ties together the seemingly disconnected pieces of this tale. Also, lending to this cohesion is that some part of the town set is always visible. The execution of the individual dances is consistently excellent. Even though there is a lot of the musical conductor it is visually intriguing because of the occasional interesting shot or movement, the sets and costumes.

Overall, it was fascinating to view each of these unique productions, to compare and contrast. It’s a story I know well and enjoy, I could’ve easily voted for quite a few versions. The winner of the vote airs on Christmas Eve at 8PM EST. A marathon of encores airs all day on Christmas Day. For channels and schedules visit Ovation’s site.

Christmas Special Review- Frosty Returns

Where does one begin with Frosty Returns? Well, I supposed I could start out by simply saying that it is not recommended in the least and what follows will illustrate why:

Firstly, there is a stylistic incongruity to this special that’s hard to get over. The first few scenes set up different locations but are animated as if they are splicing scenes out of different projects. There is no sense of visual unity to the front end of the piece but it’s a problem that never fully rights itself.

Then there is the absolutely odd mixture of voice talents. The first mistake this special made in that regard was to carry on the tradition of creating a character that looks like the actor doing the narration. With the shoddy animation work and the fact that you have Jonathan Winters and not Jimmy Durante it’s a failed homage. You get a grab bag of comedic actors: Jan Hooks, Andrea Martin and Brian Doyle-Murray. Notable amongst the kids is Michael Patrick Carter a few year before his only true claim to fame in Milk Money.

Then there is John Goodman as Frosty, which ends up being the most troubling and much of the why doesn’t even have to do with him. He’s given quite a bit of weak dialogue to work with, nothing even shining a candle to what came before, and we all know John Goodman can sing but then he’s given songs not quite in his range and it wouldn’t work because the lyrics are terrible.

Then there’s this asinine plot about this aerosol type spray that will remove the snow, ruin a festival and the environment and in this crazed little town a majority of the kids hate snow, which is really weird.

If this hadn’t been included in the holiday specials set I got I never would’ve sought it out it really is an unfortunate misfire in all respects.

Christmas Special Review- Frosty the Snowman

The first thing that needs to be said is that Rankin/Bass are to the Christmas special what Cecil B. DeMille is to the biblical epic. They go big and more often not they create a classic in the process.

They always bring great voice talent into the equation and in this special they had the talents of Mr. Jimmy Durante as the narrator. While many of this generation may not know Jimmy Durante from anything else he will be immortalized to many from this special alone. Having a storyteller adds a certain magical quality to these tales and the right casting choice accentuates it.

This tale creates its villain on the spur of the moment, there is no overtly evil entity at play. It is merely that the magician Professor Hinkle sees the hat is magic and greed takes over.

It also starts on the last day of school before Christmas break so the kids in the mix are free to pursue their adventure, which mainly consists of getting Frosty (also brilliantly voiced by Jackie Vernon) to the North Pole.

This special also features a spectacular apparent defeat as it really seems that all has been lost. There is just something magical to a child, and the child in us all, about a snowman and the personification thereof is a nearly fail-safe formula.

Christmas Special Review- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Amongst Christmas specials, but particularly amongst those produced by Rankin and Bass, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town stands apart. It does so because it is most the most triumphantly well-told of the lot, soon I will describe the most cinematic but here we’re talking strictly based on narrative.

The film opens in a fashion reminiscent of Citizen Kane with a newsreel spewing headlines about Christmas that go from mundane to fantastical and we are braced for the story. Then we are introduced to a mailman modeled after and voiced by Fred Astaire, he reads and we hear, in voice over, the questions children have about Santa Claus. These facts about him we all take for granted are about to be explained.

This may seem like a simple enough, paint-by-numbers method of concocting a tale but there is such ingenuity in the plot devices and also a lack of any rococo quality to it that it works. It all flows naturally from the action. Then the narrator chimes in and connects the dots just in case, and a child’s voice is heard responding.

This may just be Romeo Muller’s, the writer Rankin/Bass employed, best work as he makes Santa an even more heroic figure because in this tale we learn of his past, learn to think of him as a person not just an icon, and then also have an antagonist who vilifies him and renders him an outlaw.

You have, of course, the talents of Astaire and Mickey Rooney in this tale and the indelible figures of the Winter Warlock and Bergermeister Meisterberger and of course another classic song. It is an absolutely unbeatable combination and one of the best options for the season.

Christmas Special Review- Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

If you need further evidence of the genius of Rankin & Bass, and their favorite writer Romeo Muller, I present to you exhibit B: Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer. The only thing I could really call this special out on, in my umpteenth viewing, was how silly Rudolph’s ostracism is, but that’s a given of the story, and ostracism is usually baseless and it’s really lampooned if it’s based on something so frivolous.

What really stands out in this tale is the characters and some of the things which are done with them. You have Rudolph’s parents who have differing opinions his mother sees no problem with the nose, his father, Donner; is embarrassed by it. You also have Santa Claus, of all people, being wrong about Ruldolph and admitting as much.

Typically, I do not favor didacticism in the arts, but there are exceptions to every rule, and many to this one; here it works wonderfully because it’s not overt. Kids see that even Santa can be wrong and learn not to judge a book by it’s cover, so to speak.

Yet, where this special really excels is in the original characters it brings into the mix, and the different wants they each have, and yet, most of them are also misfits. There of course is Hermey, who wants to be a dentist and not build toys. He and Rudolph are fast friends.

The cause and effect also works very well the Abominable Snow Monster chases them away and they run into Yukon Cornelius. A character who meets a very real fate, following a Disney axiom that you can scare kids if things work out in the end.

Then of course there is the iconic Island of Misfit Toys. All these pieces may seem disparate but the fact that they’re all sewn together in a coherent manner, and each are still original pieces that do not get homogenized, make this story work.