I loved the new Robert Zemeckis/Jim Carrey version of A Christmas Carol — it is toasty, dazzling, touching, and spirited; rousingly old-fashioned and, at the same time, eye-tickingly fresh — yet every time I remind myself that the movie is being released this weekend, I have to do a double take. A big, lavish, holiday-cheer Christmas movie coming out the first week of November? Sorry, but that just seems too early. Memo to Disney: It’s not Christmas yet! I do realize that movie release patterns are forever changing. The summer movie season, which a long time ago used to start in, you know, the summer, then got pegged to Memorial Day, then to the week before Memorial Day, then the week before that, and now it starts somewhere in the middle of April. The goal posts keep getting moved back. But do we really want to start kicking off the Christmas movie season — or, for that matter, the holiday season itself — the weekend after Halloween?
During the holidays, when it comes to pop culture, a lot of us can find ourselves getting wistful over the strangest things. When I was a kid in the ’60s, I always marked the start of the holiday season with the appearance of a television commercial that now holds as much Proustian resonance for me as A Charlie Brown Christmas: It was that Norelco “Jingle Bells” spot with Santa zipping down a snowy hill on top of an electric shaver. Christmas movies, for me, provide a similar happy jolt of memory, which is why I can generally recall exactly where I was when I first saw most of them. That’s part of their nostalgic fun.
A Christmas Carol isn’t the first big Christmas movie to go early. Elf, which in the six years since it was released has become a perennial holiday favorite, also came out the first week of November. For too many years to count, though, the traditional opening day for holiday movies has, of course, been the day before Thanksgiving — and I admit that I still love it that way. That rhythm is wired into my holiday DNA. There’s something about the Thanksgiving weekend that lends even a raucous yuletide comedy like Four Christmases a bit more soul than it might have otherwise had.
The decision to release A Christmas Carol this early could prove a shrewd commercial move. Or not. On the one hand, audiences can, of course, still see the movie over Thanksgiving, or during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Yet I wonder if the studio will end up watering down the film’s appeal during those crucial holiday weeks. In a way, there’s something a little too commercially eager about coming out this early. When you consider that Black Friday, with its increasingly beleaguered dreams of consumerist cheer, is the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season, it does seem a tad ironic (at least, in This Year Of Our Economic Distress) that a movie like A Christmas Carol, which so marvelously celebrates the spirit of Christmas, is essentially attempting to stretch that season back by a couple of weeks. Regardless of how much we may welcome the holidays, more shopping is now probably the last thing on most of our minds.
So what do you think: Should they have waited until Thanksgiving to release A Christmas Carol? Or am I making a tinsel mountain out of a molehill? And what’s your all-time favorite holiday movie memory — not just the movie itself, but when and how you saw it?