While the holidays are certainly all about tradition – wearing the same sweaters, baking the same cookies, playing the same Andy Williams CD, washing your hands with the same fir-scented liquid soap – sometimes it makes Christmas better to throw a little something new into the rotation. As you spend time with the kids this month, or even just park them in front of a TV so you can get some decorating done, check out these family-friendly movies that might be new to you and/or the young’uns. (And for more seasonal film options, check out my book Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas.)
Released at the same time as the bigger-budgeted Hugo and Tintin, and saddled with both a terrible marketing campaign and a titular pun that doesn’t really work outside the UK, this import from Aardman fell between the cracks in its original Stateside release, although its cult among Yanks grows every December. Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) is the son of the current Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent). Santa’s older son Steve (Hugh Laurie) has turned the gift-distribution functions of the North Pole into a ruthlessly well-oiled machine, but it’s Arthur who keeps the spirit of Christmas alive, especially when one final present needs to be delivered before the sun rises on December 25.
This is not the “What’s that? Timmy’s trapped in Dead Rock Canyon?” Lassie that you’ve gotten to know from the American TV series; this sweeping (and tear-jerking) British movie faithfully adapts the original novel by Eric Knight. Director Charles Sturridge (the Brideshead Revisited miniseries) assembles a powerhouse cast that places talented newcomers alongside vets like Peter O’Toole, Peter Dinklage and Samantha Morton. The brave collie makes her way across Scotland and England to be reunited with her impoverished young master – but will she come home in time for Christmas?
With a filmography that ranges from Steve Jobs to Trainspotting to Slumdog Millionaire, director Danny Boyle generally defies categorization, although you might not necessarily apply “kid-friendly” to his work – unless you’ve seen this delightful 2004 comedy. Young Damian (Alex Etel) is reeling from the recent death of his mother when a satchel of money falls down from heaven (actually, a passing train). With the clock ticking toward the New Year, when the UK will convert from pounds to Euros – this is a fantasy, after all – Damian has to figure out what to do with the money while staying a step ahead of the gangsters who want it back.
The British don’t have a monopoly on the genre; this made-in-the-USA tale introduces us to Christmas-obsessed Jessica (Rebecca Harrell), who’s convinced that the ailing reindeer she’s nursing back to health is actually Prancer, who has somehow gotten separated from his brethren at the North Pole. With an ensemble that includes Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman and Abe Vigoda, this disarming movie captures the magic and the power of childhood belief without ever overstating its case or getting too precious about it. And even adults might want to keep a hanky on hand.
After Freaks and Geeks and before Bridesmaids, director Paul Feig crafted this energetic and clever farce about a group of kids stuck at a snowed-in airport on Christmas Eve. While it’s been unfairly lumped in with other post–Home Alone comedies about kids outsmarting adults, this one’s actually based on a story from All Things Considered, and Feig once again casts some amazing young actors (including Tyler James Williams of Everybody Hates Chris and Dear White People) alongside an army of comic greats, including Mindy Kaling, Jessica Walter, Lewis Black, Teri Garr, Rob Corddry and three of the Kids in the Hall, to name just a few.