I must preface this review (which is probably one of the more surprising choices of films that I’ve ended up writing about on here) by talking about the astonishing power of nostalgia.

I’ve never seen any research done on it, but I find that with most people I talk to over the age of 20, there’s a fond remembrance of the things that we enjoyed as a child. 

For some, it might be the Star Wars films.  For others, it might be the music they listened to when they were little.  Or maybe a favourite holiday destination.  Certainly, it will include their favourite cartoons they watched as a kid.

The amazing thing about this love of nostalgia is that it can completely override any sort of rational judgment on our part about quality.  For instance, somebody posted an episode of Secret Valley on YouTube recently (which they found in their garage on a video that they’d taped 21 years ago) and let me tell you – I was loving every minute of it.  The music, the plots, the terrible acting – it was, on the whole, quite dreadful, but I would have run out and bought a DVD box set of this series if it was available, just because of the nostalgia factor.  (If, by the way, you don’t know what Secret Valley is, then you clearly were either not in the country or not born in the early 80s – my condolences to you.)

The other funny thing about nostalgia is that if you don’t fall in love with something when you’re young, it can be too late to come back to it later in life.  For instance, I never did get to see the Star Wars trilogy as a kid (I was the first-born, so my parents were still trying to work out how many scary monsters and laser guns they should expose me to as a young person – and it had the dreaded PGR rating, second only to the ground-shaking finality of the AO rating, which I still think should have been kept as a rating, because it must have made parent’s jobs so much easier: “No, it’s an AO, you’re not watching it.  Go to bed.”)  So when I finally did get around to seeing Star Wars in my late teens, it was too late by then.  It was a pleasant piece of light entertainment, but nothing to write home about. 

The other one was The Princess Pride, which I still find relentlessly inane, but I know that puts me in a minority . . .

Maybe now that I have kids, I can rediscover all these things.

This long prologue leads me to one of the regular routines of my childhood – Sunday evening with Disney.  I can’t remember when this stopped in Australia, but for what seemed like years, there would an hour-long Disney special on every Sunday evening at 6.30 (was it channel 7?)

The shows were usually made-for-TV or minor Disney movies that they decided to broadcast.  Most of them were movie-length, but serialised across two weeks.  Sometimes, there were cartoon specials (usually for Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Christmas) which featured several old Disney cartoons cobbled together.  Most of them were enjoyable at the time, but quite forgettable.

Except for The Christmas Star, which I still remember fondly to this day.  I can’t remember what year I saw it in – I just found out that it was made in 1986, so it must have been a lot longer ago than even I realised – but it was shown in two parts on the Sunday Disney slot.  We ended up taping it, and must have watched it, I don’t know how many times, because rewatching it this time, I remembered nearly every scene clearly as it played, so it must have been a lot.

The reason I ended up seeing it on DVD, was that I spotted it in a store, and was mentioning to Rachel how much I used to love this film as a kid, and so she ended up buying it secretly for me, just to shut me up.  I was a bit nervous about coming back to it, because one of the problems with returning to nostalgia is that we can see the holes in it that weren’t there the first time around.

I was pleasantly surprised.  It actually held up as well as I remembered it. So I either had exceptionally good taste as a youngster, or I’m being blind to its faults.  Either way, while I haven’t found much on the internet to confirm this, I’d say there must have been somebody in the DVD office who loved this film as much as I did, because there were many, many made-for-TV Disneys which came and went – why has this one been given a new life, 20 years later, on DVD?  And not only that, it has been restored to an amazing level of details.  It looks as if it were made yesterday.

Well, whoever it was in Disney, thank you!

The storyline for this one (sorry that it’s taken so long to get there) is fairly simple, but not one that you see too often in a Christmas movie.  The grey-bearded Horace McNickle (played in a beautifully grumpy manner by Ed Asner) is a prisoner who makes a breakout from prison disguised as Santa Claus and sets out to find the money left over from the robbery that he committed eight years ago.

While hiding from the police, he ends up living in the cellar of a small house in a lower-class part of town, where all the tenants are about to be evicted by their cold-hearted landlord, Mr Sumner (played by Rene Auberjonois, for those of you Deep Space Nine fans).  Two kids that live in the building find “Santa” living in the cellar, and help him in his plots, not realising that they are aiding a criminal . . .

I think what makes this story work so well is two things.  Firstly, the realistic grimness of everyone’s situation makes the Christmas spirit of the thing shine more fully.  In fact, there’s something quite contemporary about a Christmas where parents aren’t sure if they can afford presents for their kids.

So by setting up a situation where not a lot of good stuff is happening, the message of doing good things for others, with no hope of reward, shines through more fully.  I always get moved by seeing acts of generosity and kindness in movies (because there’s not a lot of it) and this film delivers in that respect.

Finally, a word should be said about the soundtrack.  While there is a bit of incidental music, the vast majority of it is Christmas carols and songs.  The director clearly had an ear for music, because all through the film, the carols we know and love – the music which says Christmas to so many of us – is playing.  Sometimes it’s in the score, sometimes it’s on a brass band in the background, sometimes it’s on the radio.  But it’s all there and used magnificently (and sometimes quite poignantly) throughout the film.

So thank you, Rachel, for letting me relive some memories.  And thank you to whoever in Disney greenlighted getting this film up on DVD (after it having not really been shown since the 80s).

4 1/2 out of 5.

Posted in DVD

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