Every year there’s a new onslaught of holiday movies and TV specials. And almost without exception, what they mostly do is demonstrate that conjuring true holiday magic is a whole lot harder than it looks, providing an incentive to go back and re-watch the old ones.
If that sounds a little “Get off my lawn”-ish, so be it. But watching Netflix’s “Klaus” — an animated feature that delves into the roots of the Santa Claus legend — just made me want to go back — again — and bask in the elegant simplicity of Dr. Seuss’ original 1966 version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the stop-motion animation of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or the great Charlie Brown specials built around Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween.
There’s a reason those are dubbed “perennials,” because they do, indeed, hold up year after year, with parents who watched them as children introducing them to their own kids.
Of course, TV was just a part of the holiday-entertainment formula, and it’s now the conduit for receiving movies that fall under that heading, even if the means of distributing them continues to evolve.
Yes, Hallmark, Lifetime and Freeform all have their regular contributions, but the place for this holiday buff is Turner Classic Movies (like CNN, part of WarnerMedia), as the old standbys begin making the rounds.
Several of the highlights come from the 1940s, notably, and the aftermath of World War II. That list includes “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Bishop’s Wife,” the last being the least heralded of the three, but probably a personal favorite.
Not to be outdone are the various versions of “A Christmas Carol,” in rough top-to-bottom order, starring Alistair Sim (1951), Reginald Owen (1938), the musical version “Scrooge” with Albert Finney (1970), and a fine TV production with George C. Scott (1984). (Colorized showings of the earlier black-and-white films, incidentally, is a continuing source of irritation, if a topic for another day.)
More recent standouts include a pair from the 1990s, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Santa Clause,” along with the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.” “Home Alone” wouldn’t rate on my list, and as far as the “Die Hard” debate, it would have more weight if the movie didn’t work perfectly well anytime, which explains why it always seems to be playing on cable somewhere.
Although the focus is not surprisingly on Christmas, a brief shout-out, too, to the sweet and funny “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” with Steve Martin and John Candy trying to make it home in time for Thanksgiving.
As for more recent TV, Disney’s “Prep & Landing” is among the rare list of original concepts that have managed to conjure some of the magic of old, with a pair of specials about the elves that pave the way for Santa’s arrival.
The mere fact that the TV-Christmas industrial complex keeps churning out fresh titles obviously indicates there’s an appetite for them. And each generation, in theory, should have an opportunity to mint memories of its own.
Still, if the gold standard is delivering a movie or TV special that will hold up for years and decades, the “nice” list quickly begins to look a lot shorter, and the oldies become a little more golden.