The Glutton sits down to feast on Rudolph, the Grinch, and other Christmas specials. Plus: Celebrating ''Rocky'' before the franchise became punch drunk, and the five worst comic book superhero movies of all time
Dalton Ross on the Grinch, Charlie Brown and other holiday faves
I may talk a big game from time to time, but deep down, I’m a sap. A softie. An easily emotionally manipulated tool. How do I know this? Because every December I sit down and watch the same silly Christmas specials over and over again. Okay, I could use the whole having kids excuse, but the fact remains that I watched them all before I unleashed offspring on the world. And now, when I watch them with the family, the kids look at me like I’m some sort of Christmas freakazoid who insists on pausing the screen if I have to leave the room for a minute lest I miss any of the action. But being a freakazoid has never been easy. For one thing, there is no parking on the dance floor. For another it’s hard to look cool in front of your peers when you’re always off buying Rankin/Bass DVDs. But ’tis the season of sharing, so I figured I’d share some of my favorite yuletide Christmas specials with you for this ho-ho-holiday season.
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
My favorite of all the Rankin/Bass stop-motion extravaganzas. First off, I love the idea of a fed-up Santa basically saying, ”Ah, to hell with these kids. Why should I drag my fat ass all over the planet just so these little brats can complain about not getting the right kind of Transformer.” (By the way, do kids still even play with Transformers? Whatever. You get the point.) Then you have the whole Heatmiser-Snowmiser battle royale. Those two dueling brothers are responsible for the finest seasonal anthems ever, and if they don’t grab you, the fact that Jingle and Jangle disguise their reindeer as a dog by basically sticking some smelly socks over his antlers will. Evidently, I’m not the only EW staffer obsessed with it as our own Gillian Flynn even recorded a podcast about it. Check it out! (Airing Friday, Dec. 15, 7-8 p.m., ABC Family)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
I can’t dance. But if I could, I would dance like some of the kids in this Peanuts special. First off, there’s that one dude who does some sort of Frankenstein running in place maneuver, where he sticks his arms straight in front of him while he runs on an apparently invisible treadmill. Then there’s the other kid who sticks his arms straight down with hands facing out while he alternates moving his chin from one shoulder to the next. True, it comes off as somewhat schizophrenic, but it also represents the duality inherent in the holiday season in that…uh…well…oh, I have no idea what I’m talking about. IT JUST LOOKS FUNNY, OKAY?!? (Sunday, Dec. 17, 7-8 p.m., ABC)
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)
This is a weird one. For some reason, Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass took it upon themselves to write the entire story of how Christmas and Santa began, only it’s positively ludicrous. Look, selling Santa as a real person to your kids is dicey enough in this day and age, but tacking on some story about a guy named Burgermiester Meisterburger who sent baby Santa off to an orphanage and then later locked him in jail for handing out toys in Sombertown is kinda pushing it. Plus, for most of the time, Santa is a skinny redhead. What the hell?!? When exactly did Kris Kringle morph into Ralph Freakin’ Malph? (Friday, Dec. 15, 8-9 p.m., ABC Family)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
First off, it’s narrated by — speaking of Frankenstein! — Boris Karloff, with songs sung by the guy who voiced Tony the Tiger. But for me, it is all about little Cindy Lou Who. When she peeks out looking for that late-night glass of water, my jaded, grinchy, two-sizes-too-small heart just melts. (Tuesday, Dec. 12, 8-9 p.m., ABC)
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)
A controversial choice to be sure. Most people dis and dismiss this Rudolph sequel, but I actually find it far superior to the original. Eon the vulture scared the beejezus out of me when I was a youngster, and you have some of the weirdest character names around, including One Million B.C., Sir Tentwothree, and 1776 (or, ”Sev” as he’s known for short). And the whole moral of the story may be to not laugh at people because they are different, but the Baby New Year’s ears are pretty damn awesome. (Tuesday, Dec. 26, 8-9 p.m., ABC)
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
Oh, Magoo, you’ll bury us all… (Tuesday, Dec. 19, 7-8 p.m., Cartoon Network)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here, because this is a movie rather than a TV special, but considering that NBC shows it multiple times every holiday season, it’s achieved honorary status. I love everything about this film. I love how Jimmy Stewart manages to be completely believable as both a wide-eyed youngster, and a frustrated, desperate man on the brink of collapse. I love how he runs around like a lunatic at the end trying to carry on conversations with buildings. I even love the guy who says ”One of these days this bright young man is going to be asking George Bailey for a job,” even though he appears to be approximately 63 years old. This is the kind of film that reminds you that no matter how insane and annoying the holiday season can be at times, it’s all worth it in the end, and while it is often a lot easier to dwell on what we don’t have as opposed to being thankful for what we do, it’s also a hell of a lot less satisfying. See, told you I was a sap. (Saturday, Dec. 16, and Sunday, Dec. 24, 8-11 p.m., NBC)
OBSESSION OF THE WEEK
It’s hard to take Rocky too seriously considering in the previous three films (leading up to Rocky Balboa) the Italian Stalion has faced a dude with a Mohawk, an Apollo Creed-killing Russian pumped full of Roids, and then…well, I try to block out Rocky 5 as much as possible. But a new Collector’s Edition DVD of the original Rocky reminds us how special that first film was. Not only does it feature the best movie quote of all time — ”You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!” — but it also comes across as mildly realistic (as opposed to all the sequels, which — don’t get me wrong — are genius, but on a purely campy level). The new disc features three commentary tracks as well as an hour-long documentary featuring new interviews with everyone involved still around to talk about it (Burgess Meredith — R.I.P.) and needless to say, it’s a knockout.
Okay, last week we tackled the Top Five Comic Book Superhero Movies, so in the interest of fairness — not to mention making fun of tremendously silly movies — I now present the less-than-super Five Worst Comic Book Superhero Movies Ever.
1) Captain America (1991)
There’s good, there’s bad, and there is Captain America. On the bright side, Ned Beatty’s appearance ensures him that squealing like a pig will now go down as only his second most embarrassing appearance on film.
2) Catwoman (2004)
This one is actually pretty good…if you watch it as a comedy. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the way they intended it. I didn’t think it was possible to screw up a movie featuring Halle Berry in skin-tight leather, but I guess if there’s a will, there’s a way.
3) Batman and Robin (1997)
You have to give director Joel Schumacher credit. On the commentary track for this disaster, he totally owns up to this being a stinkerama, even going so far as to point out all the cross-promotions and concessions to toy manufactures made. (”A lot of things look like action toys and action figures because I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what kind of profits those toys make.”) But that doesn’t mean the thing still doesn’t suck. ”I take full responsibility,” he says. ”If you love a movie, there are hundreds of people who made it lovable for you. If you don’t like it, blame the director, that’s what our names are there for.” Fine, we will.
4) Elektra (2005)
Wow, so it seems I was wrong. It was possible to make a spin-off worse than Daredevil. I guess I owe somebody a Coke or something.
5) The Punisher (1989/2004)
I couldn’t decide which was worse, the cheesetastic 1989 Dolph Lundgren-Louis Gossett Jr. version or the 2004 John Travolta-Thomas Jane fiasco, so I asked EW Senior Editor (and comic movie geek extraordinaire) Marc Bernardin to cast the tiebreaking vote. His verdict: ”Yeah, sure, the Dolph Lundgren version has a very basic problem in that he doesn’t even wear the Death’s Head skull on his shirt. (Oh, and it’s not particularly good. At all. And Dolph appears to be a better actor that Gossett — who has an Oscar on his shelf.) But what it does have that the Jane flop doesn’t is a ridicuously high body count. And that, when you break it all down, is all you want from a Punisher movie. People dying. Quickly and often.” Marc Bernardin, ladies and gentlemen!
I wrote last week’s main section about having to endure Disney on Ice’s Princess Wishes, but more readers wanted to give me the royal business for idiotically stating that Batman was from Metropolis instead of Gotham City in my list of the The Top 5 Comic Book Superhero Movies. In my defense, however…well, I honestly have no defense. But as one reader kindly pointed out, I was in a bit of a princess-induced haze all week. In any event, on to this week’s mailbag!
I am equally mystified as to how my 3- & 4-year-old daughters caught the princess fever. I never once showed them a Barbie! Lady & the Tramp and Fox & Hound were the only Disney movies permitted!! And when they were born, I openly avowed they would not place value on princesses or Barbies or the color pink. All of a sudden they just wanted to be frilly and girlie…and being a girl myself, I can understand some of it, but I was a tomboy and tortured my dolls for fun. I am patiently waiting for the day to arrive when my darlings find beheading Barbie is better then being her. — Dara Yastrzemski
I think it’s like some sort of virus, Dara. One girl catches it and then it just spreads until they’re all infected. Ask my daughter what she wants for Christmas and all she’ll reply is ”Barbie! Barbie! Barbie!” I’m not even quite sure how she knows who Barbie is, because we sure didn’t tell her. I just keep muttering to myself… it’s just a phase… it’s just a phase…oh Lord, please let it be a phase.
Dalton, you are so right! I’m standing in line at the pharmacy the other day, and my eye rests on the Chap Sticks. Regular run-of-the-mill Chap Stick — $1.79. Right next to it is the Disney Princess Chap Stick for $3.49. Either those fairy godmothers are adding a little something extra to the Disney brand or I think there might be some unjust price inflation going on. Also, why is Disney selling Chap Stick? Must be too much prince-on-princess action; just ask Snow White. — Miranda
That Snow White is, was, and will always be a little hussy. As for that stupid Chap Stick — I know it all too well. I purchased it to avoid having a very public meltdown in the CVS. Hopefully she’s not planning to use it to suck face with some random dude in tights like Ms. White did.
As the mother of a similarly princess-obsessed 4-year-old (yep, the Cinderella bridal dress is on order for Christmas), I forbid you to mention the Princess Wishes ice show anymore. If my daughter hears about it, we’ll never have peace again in my house. Speaking of those princesses sitting back and letting the men do the fighting, that was my biggest issue with the ”Spider Man” movies — Mary Jane is such a wuss! At least the X-chicks could fight alongside their X-brethren. — Martha Culver
I don’t blame your code of silence, Martha. In this case, ignorance truly is bliss. Speaking of women who do and do not kick ass in films, that brings up one of my favorite movie clichés — the female character who cowers in fear through 95 percent of the movie and then near the very end when her male hero is on the brink of defeat, comes out of nowhere to shoot/stab/hit-with-a-big-metal-pole-of-some-sort the bad guy, often while spouting off a cheesy one-liner. Classic stuff.
Serious Batman fans are pretty consistent in declaring Batman Begins to be the best of the Caped Crusader’s flicks. Thank you for including the lesser-known Hellboy on your list. But I’ll leave you with what many feel is the best comic book flick: V for Vendetta. — Tom Dissento
I knew I would take some heat from Batman fans for putting Tim Burton’s Batman above Batman Begins, and I could see how many would feel Batman Begins to be the better film, but no way is it anywhere remotely as influential as Burton’s was. Burton’s Batman completely changed the entire look, feel, and tone of superhero films, which is why I gave it the nod. As for V for Vendetta, remember this was not a list of the best comic book movies, but rather the best comic book superhero movies. I suppose you could make a case that Vendetta features a hero, but not the type I was considering for this category. Vendetta is a pretty divisive film. Me myself? I loved it.
I personally don’t see anything wrong with your man-crush on Yul. Then again, I am gay. — Luis Silva
Well, see, now that’s not much of a help, Luis. Seriously though, I am confident enough in my sexuality that I can make fun of my curious Yul obsession (and allow others like Jenna Morasca to do the same). The reason I like Yul is because he brings strength, smarts, and social skills, but he is not a cocky bastard like so many others who do well in the game of Survivor. One thing is clear, however, he is no Sally Schumann — even in knee socks.
Yul — boring or brilliant? Have another favorite holiday special you wanna pimp? And what comic book superhero movie deserved to be in the bottom five (the not-so-Fantastic Four, by chance?) Email me your questions, comments, or quibbles to firstname.lastname@example.org or just fill out the handy dandy form below. (Note: That is not a link to send this article to a buddy. Hitting that little ”Send it” button shoots your comments to EW. I say this only because a lot of times emails come through that just say something along the lines of ”Dude, check this out!” or ”Can you believe what an idiot this guy is for ignoring Batman Begins?” Which is fine. Just realize they are going to me and not your old college roommate. Unless your name is Mik Reed, in which case they are going to both.)