After a surprising discovery in the snow catapults three small-town boys into the spotlight, the best friends hatch a plan to be remembered forever by setting a Guinness World Record title. Along the way, the trio battles schoolyard bullies, unites their community and discovers that, while fame may be fleeting, true friendship lasts forever.
This isn't just a well-meaning "family" film slapped together by amateurs with a minimum budget. Oh, it has a minimum budget, but it also has a charming quality and some powerful thoughts that could leave a positive impression on young minds. I think it will be one kids watch several times. It is rated PG (there are two or three minor expletives, but I caught no harsh or profane language; the film does feature a child who is recovering from cancer surgery; there is a fight between some boys, but compassion is the victor; a frozen body is found; a boy almost drowns -- he appears to be dead, which may upset little ones, but there is a happy, uplifting ending).
-- "Christmas with a Capital C"
Filmed on location in Alaska, the story concerns a small-town mayor suddenly challenged by an old rival who has moved back to town. Mitch Bright (Daniel Baldwin) returns under mysterious circumstances after 20 years. His rivalry with Mayor Dan Reed (Ted McGinley) re-ignites when Mitch wants the nativity scene removed from the front of the City Hall and the salutation Merry Christmas switched to Happy Holidays on all signs. In the heat of the legal battle and with Dan facing certain defeat when Mitch runs for mayor, Dan's wife, Kristen (Nancy Stafford), and their daughter show the true meaning of Christmas, which inspires the entire community.
Aided by the pro performances of Ted McGinley and Daniel Baldwin, and infused with comic relief by comedian Brad Stine, Helmut Schleppi directs with a leisurely pace, his story reminding us to love our enemies. It contains redemptive messages, and it displays a respect for God and Christ (prayers are spoken, church is attended and the main characters acknowledge the birth of Christ). I was moved by Christmas with a Capital C and find it the best straight-to-DVD Christmas-themed film since "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey." It is unrated, and I found nothing objectionable.
-- "Becoming Santa."
Well, this is the most unusual film on my stocking stuffer list, but I found it to be a compelling documentary. It's more for adults -- especially single adults. Looking for some happiness during the Christmas season, a man decides to become a Santa Claus. He enrolls in Santa School and soon discovers the joy and turmoil of stepping into Kris Kringle's boots. Though St. Nicholas was a kind-hearted man who gave to the needy, today the Jolly Good Fellow is not so much a religious character as a toymaker/deliverer. But as I said in my review of the remake of "Miracle on 34th Street" years ago, this film also points out that Santa is a symbol. In the film, he embodies love, hope and joy.
Interesting, often touching, it is a gentle reminder that lives are well-spent when caring for others. The film is unrated, and I found nothing objectionable.
-- "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey." A mysterious recluse also happens to be the best woodcarver in the valley. Slowly the woodcutter finds his world transformed by a young boy and his mother who have asked him to carve a yuletide scene. It contains uplifting messages, including a respect for God and Christ. It's one of the best seasonal films I've seen in a while.
When it comes to the famous Dickens tale, here are three of the best renditions: "A Christmas Carol" (1951) starring Alastair Sim; "A Christmas Carol" (1984) with George C. Scott; and the musical version, "Scrooge" (1970), with Albert Finney. Each is a well-acted redemptive parable.
-- "A Charlie Brown Christmas." A perfect animated tale by Charles Schultz with the Peanuts gang searching for the true meaning of Christmas, it has great dialogue, charismatic voice performances and an award-winning jazzy score by Vince Guaraldi. And how often do you hear cartoon heroes quoting from the Gospel of Luke?
-- "The Little Drummer Boy." The very moving seasonal song comes to animated life with the capable voices of Greer Garson, Jose Ferrer and Teddy Eccles. It puts present-giving in perspective.
-- "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Based on Dr. Seuss' beloved book, and aided by the voice of Boris Karloff, this delightful animated made-for-TV special from Chuck Jones asks these questions: Can the Grinch steal the town's holiday spirit by stealing their holiday treats? Or does Christmas mean a little bit more?
-- "Elf." Hilarious. It's not a message film. This Will Ferrell comedy is a forget-your-troubles film. Rated PG (mild crude humor and some language).
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of "Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad," available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org and moviereporter.com.
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