Best screenings of the season

It’s great to be home for the holidays, catching Christmas favourites on DVD
Watching movies with Christmas themes is as much a part of the ritual of enjoying the holidays as exchanging gifts. At least it is in my life, which is why Frank Capra’s inspirational It’s A Wonderful Life is still one of my all-time favourites.
So I’m intrigued with the avalanche of new/old titles coming to DVD for 2003.
Most make their DVD debuts. Some appear in new special editions. A Merry Christmas round-up:
* A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983): Bob Clark’s Canadian-American comedy returns in a wonderful two-disc, 20th Anniversary Special Edition that offers the beloved Christmas classic in both full and widescreen versions on the same disc. Another disc of excellent bonuses tells the story behind the story of Ralphie’s search for the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts: The Red Ryder, 200-shot, carbine-action, Range Model, Daisy Air Rifle. Extras include two of Jean Shepherd’s folksy radio broadcasts, one weaving the original tale of the BB gun, the other chronicling the infamous stuck tongue incident. And don’t forget, kids: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
* THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994): With Tim Allen as the reluctant Santa, the original movie is back in a Special Edition DVD, available in either full or widescreen versions. The extras really are not “special” but John Pasquin’s playful flick is still tons of fun for the holidays. A true original.
* NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989): Chevy Chase used to be funny. Find out how in this Lampoon flick, back as a Special Edition, which means the movie is in widescreen and there is a commentary with director Jeremiah Chechik and four actors, none of them Chase (humbug!).
* A CHRISTMAS WISH (1950): Also known as The Great Rupert, this goofy, yet charming flick stars Jimmy Durante and a clever squirrel. The DVD offers both the original B&W version (which I prefer) and a lurid colourized version (yuck).
* SCROOGE (1970): With Leslie Briscusse’s 11 eccentric songs and dances, director Ronald Neame turned Dickens’ A Christmas Carol into an oddball musical with sourpuss Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s entertaining enough but I still prefer the 1951 version with Alistair Sim.
* ROBBIE THE REINDEER: Co-written by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), this brilliant pair of satirical stories about Rudolph’s lazy son Robbie are acted out in stop-motion claymation. You can watch both with either the British or the U.S. (Ben Stiller, Britney Spears, James Woods and Hugh Grant) vocal casts –and both are terrific. A real gift!
* OLIVE, THE OTHER REINDEER: Matt Groening and Drew Barrymore bring alive, in odd but interesting flat-perspective computer animation, this eccentric story of a dog who saved Santa’s reindeer. Way off the beaten track — and fun.
* SECOND STAR TO THE LEFT: a christmas tale: In traditional cel animation, Graham Ralph crafts an utterly enchanting English tale of three unlikely animals who help Santa and ensure a little girl’s Christmas is jolly. A real gem!
* SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: christmas: The DVD is loaded with nine episodes of the hippest animated show under the sea. The double-length Christmas Who? shows how Christmas comes to Bikini Bottom with hilarious results.
* NICKTOONS CHRISTMAS: tales of good tidings: Four of Nickelodeon’s animated best. Includes SpongeBob’s Christmas Who? plus other great shows such as the Rugrats’ extended holiday adventure, Babies In Toyland.
* NICK JR. HOLIDAY: There are three good Christmas stories for the little ones: Dora The Explorer: A Present For Santa, Blue’s Clues: Blue’s Big Holiday and the quietly profound Bill Cosby creation, Little Bill: Merry Christmas, Little Bill.
* BOB THE BUILDER: A christmas to remember: Who knew that Bob the Builder and his crew were instrumental in burnishing the star of Elton John? Find out how in this beguiling, 50-minute tale that rocks with music and shows how Bob’s twin brother Tom survives in the far north.
* A FREEZERBURNT CHRISTMAS: With stop-action puppetry, this cheeky musical brings it all home for Christmas with Joe Pants’ conniving penquin Chill showing the way. A unique and nutty little Yuletide flick.
* ANGELINA BALLERINA: THE show must go on: Christmas In Mouseland: With strong stories and good moral lessons, the lovely Angelina animated stories do for girls what Bob the Builder does for boys. In this 50-minute special, Angelina has to learn a life lesson about being selfish.
* CHRISTMAS WITH THE SIMPSONS: The DVD offers five hilarious episodes (from 1990 through 2001), the best of which is the Christmas special Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire.
* BARNEY’S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS: The Big Purple One leads kiddies through 16 Yuletide songs and a tour of Santa’s North Pole home and toy factory.
* IT’S A VERY MERRY MUPPET CHRISTMAS MOVIE: The 2002 TV special is out on DVD. With God’s help, Kermit fights to save the Muppet Theatre and his Christmas pageant.
* WINNIE THE POOH: A Very Pooh Year and Seasons Of Giving: These titles represent two separate DVDs, each with a long, charming story about the holidays. The usual Pooh gang, from Tigger to Rabbit, is on screen in both.
* STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: very, merry christmas: Strawberry and Honey Pie Pony go to Holiday Land for prezzies for all their pals, only to discover that friendship is even better.