See that face smack dab in the middle of the poster there? That’s the face I made when I found out I’d be reviewing one of my favorite Christmas movies (and also when I realized I wouldn’t be publishing it on time; Happy Valentines Day!) Because, honestly, what can I say about Home Alone that hundreds before me already have?
There’s an argument to be made that Home Alone shouldn’t count as a Christmas movie because it’s a story that can be done on any given day of the year – except that Christmas is tied into this film’s very identity. Kevin’s house is full of reds, greens and whites, the soundtrack is stuffed with Christmas tunes, even beloved classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street are playing whenever a TV is turned on. Add themes of family and togetherness and a magical score by John Williams, and you’ve got a movie with Christmas in its DNA.
While Home Alone didn’t impress critics upon release, it made enough bank that it held the title of highest-grossing comedy of all time until 2011. It’s entered the pop culture lexicon not just here in the states but abroad. The film’s release in most former Soviet-occupied countries aligned with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and is so tied to that feeling of holiday cheer and nostalgia for a monumental positive change that it’s broadcast with the same heartfelt frequency as It’s A Wonderful Life in America. “It’s not Christmas without Kevin” has become something of a popular slogan for most stations that air it. But why does this simple story retain so much of its appeal 30 years later?
“Children need a little order in their lives, especially if they can order it themselves.”
I’d like to start off by pointing out a mistake which should have been fairly obvious from my last review. When I said that the only two Disney movies that haven’t gotten a blu-ray release yet were the remaining package features, I was wrong – The Black Cauldron has yet to be released on that format. This is something I should know both as a Disney fan and for the fact that it’s On The Shelf for future voting (it might even be perfect review fodder for Halloween…)
Anyway, on to this month’s review.
Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking, or Pippi Longstocking for short, was one of my childhood idols, something I never quite realized until I rediscovered the film that introduced me to her in the first place. Pippi lived a Peter Pan-esque life completely independent from grownup rule and schooling; she called the shots in her own house, but had a firm grip on average adult responsibilities – which she was able to approach and complete as if they were games – and little to want for thanks to a sizable fortune she happily shared with those in need, not to mention she knew how to run circles around stuffy useless old farts with her playful, seemingly simple wit.
Basically, she’s everything I wanted to be as a kid AND as an adult.
And who do we have to thank for bringing this character to life? That would be none other than Sweden’s own Astrid Lindgren.
If JK Rowling is the literary world’s cool mom, then she’s its sweet and occasionally sassy old granny.
Lindgren is revered in her homeland for perfectly capturing a child’s point of view in her stories; you’ll find no wishy-washy protagonists or condescending for the kiddies in them. Her female main characters in particular are fierce, free, and adventurous, though they keep a genuine loving heart beating within them. That’s probably why I was drawn to Pippi so much after finding her. Though it’s been years since I’ve picked up the Pippi Longstocking books, I recall them being among my childhood favorites. They’ve been adapted multiple times for television, film, and even stage, yet as of writing there’s only been one full-length animated version, the one we’ll be looking at today from Canada’s primarily television (but sometimes film) animation studio, Nelvana. This wasn’t the first time Pippi was courted for an animated retelling, however. Hayao Miyazaki approached Lindgren for one back when Studio Ghibli was just getting off the ground, even going so far as to draw an entire sketch book’s worth of preliminary designs and storyboards, but she turned him down because…
You know what? She’s got no excuse. As satisfied as I am with the one we got, you really dropped the ball, Lindgren. Just think about it. HAYAO MIYAZAKI’S PIPPI LONGSTOCKING. Something simple yet beautifully animated and whimsical that could have stood on the shelf between Kiki’s Delivery Service and Whisper of the Heart. Seriously, look up the drawings he did. You’ll be wondering why he got left holding the bag too.
So without further adieu, let’s sail right into Nelvana’s Pippi Longstocking and see how it holds up.
(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.)
“Twas a long time ago,
Longer now than it seems
In a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams
For the story that you are about to be told
Took place in the holiday worlds of old.
Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from.
If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you’d begun…”
– Opening narration
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a movie that I’ve always had a personal connection to. It was released when I was just a child, but I can still remember seeing ads and toys for it in certain places and being oddly fascinated by it, despite the fact that it had ghosts and skeletons and monsters and other such things that would usually scare the bejeezus out of me at that age. I can still remember my first time ever seeing the movie – not in theaters, but at my cousin’s third birthday party. He was a year younger than me, and on his birthday that year, all us kids gathered in the basement of his house and watched this movie in the dark. Whether there were any adults there to supervise us I can’t say, but I can say that I was enraptured by every second of it. I can vaguely remember some of the other children being a little afraid, but I wasn’t (well, maybe for two parts, but those were rather quick moments that didn’t traumatize me as much as you might think). Up until then I had never seen anything like The Nightmare Before Christmas; it was dark but not gruesome, lighthearted without being sappy, humorous, heartwarming, and the visuals and the music stayed in my head long afterwards.
I remember really enjoying it, but a long time passed between that one viewing and the next time I would see it again. For whatever reason, maybe they thought I would be too scared by it, my parents never bought the movie for me. It wasn’t until I was about thirteen or fourteen that I caught it on HBO one day, and all those memories of watching it through the eyes of a child came flooding back. I became obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas big time, watching it and listening to the soundtrack even when it wasn’t Halloween or Christmas, learning all I could about the movie via books and dvd bonus features, and yes, making fanart of the characters. It was my gateway to the dark and quirky world of Tim Burton, and seeing as how I was also going through an angry, rebellious, anti-Rankin-Bass phase as a teenager, I embraced this movie with open arms while my family looked on with something that wasn’t quite disgust and wasn’t quite confusion.
And for the record, this was BEFORE this chain got their sticky fingerless gloves all over it and slapped the characters’ faces on everything they could sell, freakin’ posers.
So you may be wondering what the story behind this odd little film is. Well, back in the 80’s Tim Burton worked for Disney as an animator. Yes, the Man of Merry Macabre once worked for the bright and squeaky-clean House of Mouse. I still have a hard time believing it (What Alice in Wonderland movie? Disney only made one Wonderland film and it was animated, silly!) Burton’s time at Disney wasn’t a happy one as most of his ideas were shot down for being too dark and different and he wasn’t too keen on drawing only cutesy animals for a living.
One day, while walking down a street, he came across a window display in a store having its Halloween decorations switched out with Christmas ones and inspiration struck. He wrote a poem based on the classic holiday tome “The Night Before Christmas” showing what happened when two holidays collided. Initially he pitched it as a half-hour stop-motion special, ironically in the style of Rankin-Bass, and he wanted it to be narrated by his idol, Vincent Price. Disney, however, wasn’t interested, and Burton would eventually leave the studio. It wasn’t until after he achieved popularity with “Beetlejuice” and “Batman” that Disney approached him with the idea of turning The Nightmare Before Christmas into a movie. Burton was all for it, but couldn’t direct it himself due to his commitment to filming “Batman Returns”. Instead, he got stop-motion artist Henry Selick to direct it.
Now I’d like to clarify something right away – this is a Tim Burton movie through and through; his name and signature style may be all over this film (heck, the title of the film is preceded by Burton’s name just to remind you whose brainchild it was), but I cannot give enough credit to Henry Selick. The man is a genius of stop-motion; his name is up there with Ray Harryhausen and Nick Park as the best in the business. People often assume that because it’s a Burton film with his name in the title that Tim Burton directed it, but it’s not. Selick did an amazing job with this movie and I’m happy to say it’s led to a very fruitful career for him, directing other stop-motion greats such as James and the Giant Peach and Coraline. Even though there have been innovations in animation since then, this film looks just as great today as it did twenty years ago. So while the story and characters are pure Tim Burton, this movie is just as much Henry Selick’s as it is Tim’s. You’ll see why when I finally get around to reviewing it…
…which is now.
We open in the middle of a forest, where, in a clearing, there is a circle of trees, each one with a door representing a different holiday – an egg for Easter, a heart for Valentine’s Day, a clover for St. Patrick’s Day, a Christmas tree for Christmas, a turkey for Thanksgiving, a jack-o-lantern for Halloween, and one which for years I was unsure was either a firecracker for 4th of July or a dreidel for Hanukkah. We can only imagine how this film would have turned out if it was “The Nightmare Before Hanukkah” instead of Christmas.
Anyway, as the opening narration wraps up, we enter the jack-o-lantern door and we get our first musical number “This is Halloween.”
Oh, and did I forget to mention that longtime Tim Burton collaborator and former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman did the music for this movie? How foolish of me. How could it have possibly slipped my mind when this music is OHMYGOSHUNBELIVABLYAWESOMEANDBEAUTIFULANDBLAAAAAAGHHHH –
Uh, can I pay you to pretend that didn’t just happen?