I happened to come across a bizarre title from 2003 called Stealing Christmas over the holiday season last year. I’m always looking for stuff to watch with the wife, and this TV movie seemed like a fairly good prospect. Tony Danza from who’s the boss, Lea Thompson from back to the future, and Betty White from 100 years of being Betty White.
Tony Danza is a bank robber, who bundles of robbery at a mall in Chicago. He barely gets away, stealing a Santa suit to try and sneak out. He then jumps on a bus, using money he found in the wallet of the Santa suit, and buys the first ticket heading anywhere but here.
Anywhere happens to be a town called Hell. I’m going to assume this is Hell Michigan, because I don’t know any other cities with that name, and it would be definitely within driving distance of Chicago. It’s smaller than advertised though, a dying town where the new mall has sucked up all the business. Danza is greeted at the bus stop by a surly teenage girl who seems to be expecting him. It turns out her mother, Thompson, runs the local Christmas tree stand and put in an order at the employment agency for a Santa Claus for the season. It’s a misunderstanding, but because the employment agency is notoriously unreliable, no other Santa arrives, and Danza figures it’s a good place to Lay low… and plan his next bank job.
It’s a traditional fish out of water story, dancing with his heavy Brooklyn accent and a gruff persona, sometimes telling the kids the way it is… Sometimes you’re feeling he’s a big softy inside. He brings in his old partner to help figure out how to blow the safe, and get him a job in Betty White’s Christmas Shop. But along the way, Danza starts to get emotionally invested in the town… Bringing in business, and being a surrogate father to Lea Thompson‘s daughter. He may be about to get cold feet out of the robbery, that is, if he isn’t exposed first and he can stop his partner.
It’s a surprisingly fun film. In many ways it almost feels like a reverse Hallmark movie. It’s not the busy city girl finding her way to the small old home town where she has to save the ranch and pull off the baking contest… In this case it’s a bad guy who’s arriving in a strange (but still small) town and has to save the town before he rob the bank. Me, I’m always rooting for the robbers to get away with it, but it doesn’t feel like that sort of film… It’s a strange mix. Still, all the familiar faces keep you engaged and the performances are genuinely good. Tony Danza is just being Tony Danza, Lea Thompson is just being Lea Thompson, and Betty white… Well, you know the drill. Still, I enjoyed this way more than I expected to, and if you can track it down on streaming You could do worse.
In our house, our tradition for Christmas Eve is the kids get new pajamas, and then we all get together for a Christmas movie. My wife was scrolling through and found something in the same Netflix category as the Christmas Chronicles. It had a similar feel and she watched about 15 minutes of it, before deciding this would be a good one for this year. The film is A Boy Called Christmas.
The movie reminds me a great deal of L Frank Baum‘s the life and adventures of Santa Claus. That’s really what it is. It’s Claus as a young boy, in desperate poverty, he was left alone when his father goes out to hunt for a miracle to save the town. Young Nicholas soon followed him, having discovered a secret map to the legendary city of Elf Helm, hidden in his red hat… You know, the one lined with fur?
Nicholas and his small pet mouse begin the arduous journey across barren snowscapes to seek out the land of the elves, along the way making friends with a reindeer that he names Blitzen… after his favorite lake.
This is good. I mean it’s shockingly good. We have enjoyed the Christmas Chronicles a couple of years previous which were fine fantasy, elevated by Kurt Russell, but it still very traditional in it’s Christmas imagery. A Boy Called Christmas looks more like straight fantasy – though you never forget that it is indeed a Christmas film. it’s a great adventure with amazing characters, and is narrated by Dame Maggie Smith (in intermissions much like grandfather in The Princess Bride).
I liked this WAY more than I expected to. It hits all the right notes, with fantasy, adventure, drama all wrapped up in a Christmas package.