Combustible Celluloid

The Twelve DVDs of Christmas 2004

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the great tradition of that very long, very annoying Christmas song, I present my fourth annual "Twelve DVDs of Christmas" column, highlighting a dozen recently-released holiday goodies designed to make your spirits bright.

For the first DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A Christmas Carol (1951, VCI Entertainment)
Sorry, Mr. Capra, but the all-time greatest Christmas movie has to be Dickens, and Alastair Sim's is the definitive celluloid Scrooge. VCI Entertainment has once again re-released their classic for the new holiday season. While the transfer is the same, VCI has improved upon their previous release with new animated menus, two optional sound mixes, a cast list and production notes, optional subtitles, and optional colorized or black-and-white versions. It also includes the old introduction by Patrick MacNee (who plays young Marley in the film), and Max Fleischer's classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" cartoon.

For the second DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Elf (2003, New Line)
Will Ferrell adapts his guileless child persona gracefully and touchingly to this hilarious story of a full-sized elf on the loose in New York who annoys his children's book publisher father (James Caan). New Line gives the movie the full treatment in a spectacular two-disc set.

For the third DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special (1988, Image)
The greatest live-action hour-long Christmas special ever made. Among a heavenly host of guests (Charo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Grace Jones, Magic Johnson, the Del Rubio Triplets, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, k.d. lang, Dinah Shore, Little Richard, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey), Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) hopes for a sleighful of presents. With its perfect combination of childish innocence and grown-up irony, this special even introduces viewers to "Feliz Navidad" and Hanukkah. Laurence Fishburne co-stars as Cowboy Curtis.

For the fourth DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas (2004, Disney)
This new 68-minute DVD marks the first time Mickey Mouse and friends have been presented in 3D computer animation, and it's a delight. It's a compendium of five Christmas stories: a skating competition between Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck, a trip to the North Pole with Huey, Dewey and Louie, Goofy's son brings his girlfriend home for the holidays, Donald wishes to relax with a mug of hot chocolate, and Mickey and Pluto prepare for a Christmas party. The crisp, colorful animation sparkles and the film moves at a brisk pace; only the Goofy episode bogs down with a ridiculous song. The cartoons stray into modern elements without pandering to hip kids, and without offending old-fashioned fans. The disc comes with the usual collection of featurettes and games.

For the fifth DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
What's New Scooby Doo? Vol. 4: Merry Scary Holiday (2004, Warner Home Video)
This DVD comes with four episodes of the new "Scooby Doo" series, which, thankfully, is just as cheap, stupid and silly as the old one. Only one of the four has a Christmas theme. In it, our fearless five battle a "headless snowman" in a remote wintry village. It's easy to figure out who the villain is, and the story is riddled with inconsistencies, but it has a nice old-fashioned charm to it. James Belushi, Mark Hamill and M. Emmet Walsh provide guest voices. A second episode takes place in a toy store and involves evil toys coming to life; it could serve as a makeshift Christmastime follow-up.

For the sixth DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Cartoon Network Christmas: Yuletide Follies (2004, Warner Home Video)
Like their Halloween collection, Warner Home Video culls nine cartoons featuring the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, Courage the Cowardly Dog; Ed, Edd & Eddy and others, this time with a Christmas theme. Few of the shorts are very Christmasy, though. One is set to the theme of "The Nutcracker" and another is about snowball fights. "Johnny Bravo" gets his own half-hour Christmas special in which he forgets to mail his letter to Santa and journeys to the North Pole. And "I AM Weasel" teaches his baboon sidekick how to ride a bike that Santa left for him. Not many of these cartoons inspire much enthusiasm except for the Powerpuff Girls, and they have their own Christmas special available on a separate DVD.

For the seventh DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Santa vs. the Snowman: 3-D (2002, Universal)
This half-hour special starts out promisingly, with its heartwarming snowman character and his delightful facial expressions, but it soon collapses into a noisy spectacle, more interested in sound and fury than in anything else. The 3-D effects, originally created for the IMAX screen, are only just average. Jonathan Winters plays Santa, and Victoria Jackson and Ben Stein provide other voices. The disc comes with four pairs of 3-D glasses, but viewers can also opt for the normal, 2-D version.

For the eighth DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Christmas in Connecticut (1992, Warner Home Video)
Arnold Schwarzenegger made his directorial debut with this made-for-cable remake of the 1945 Barbara Stanwyck classic. Dyan Cannon plays a cooking show host who can't really cook and winds up the subject of a live Christmas special. Kris Kristofferson is her love interest. The DVD comes with trailers for both versions, plus an optional French language track and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Sadly, the original still isn't available on DVD.

For the ninth DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Comfort and Joy (2003, Warner Home Video)
Not to be confused with Bill Forsyth's 1984 bittersweet holiday movie (as I unfortunately did), this is instead a made-for-TV Lifetime Original Movie starring Nancy McKeon as a busy single woman who wakes up on Christmas Eve and suddenly finds that she's a wife and the mother of two. The DVD comes with cast and filmmaker interviews and optional English and Spanish subtitles.

For the tenth DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Eloise at Christmastime (2004, Disney)
Based on the best-selling children's classic, this 87-minute live-action feature film has Eloise (Sofia Vassilieva) celebrating Christmas in New York with her "mostly companion," Nanny (Julie Andrews). Includes a making-of featurette and a short documentary on author Kay Thompson.

For the eleventh DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Taxi: The Complete First Season (1978-79, Paramount)
Co-created by James L. Brooks, this 1978 sitcom attempted to capture some semblance of street life without sentimentality, and it worked -- sort of. A superb supporting cast ranging from Danny DeVito as a cynical, greedy dispatcher, Marilu Henner as a sexy broad, Tony Danza as a washed-up boxer and Andy Kaufman as a incomprehensible immigrant, really kept the humor close to the ground. But at the center of it all is Judd Hirrsch's Alex character, a totally sweet and supremely perfect straight guy for all the comic madness. Hirsch lent the character a kind of loping, day-to-day realism, but Alex was just too darn nice to really fit in. Paramount's three-disc set comes with 22 half-hour episodes, including the holiday episode "A Full House for Christmas."

For the twelfth DVD of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
The Man Show Presents: Girls on Trampolines (Special Holiday Edition) (2004, Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Now we have a holiday Yule Log video for the red-blooded male. This DVD consists of 45 minutes of cute girls -- whose attire ranges from little holiday outfits to topless -- jumping up and down on a trampoline to the tune of nine holiday classics. The songs are terrible, performed with a Joe Satriani-like wailing electric guitar and drum machine, but, really, who cares? Extras include a making-of featurette, a photo montage and the totally tasteless "guess the bra size." Now I've seen everything...

Best Buy Co, Inc.