A Christmas Carol (1951) PICK
Madagascar 3 (2012) PASS
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) PICK
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) PICK
Santa Clause Trilogy (1994-2006) PASS
Christmas comes early to new home-video releases, with a number of festive offerings — some better than others.
Alistair Sim’s iconic performance as Scrooge in the classic A Christmas Carol is back on Blu-ray/DVD. As in most tellings of Dickens’ secular parable, the true meaning of Christmas is in the background — though the Ghost of Christmas Present does speak of "the Child born in Bethlehem" who "does not live in men’s hearts only one day of the year, but in all the days of the year" and faults Scrooge for having "chosen not to seek" the Child in his heart. Oh, and the score includes Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night.
The spirit of Dickens’ classic is also honored, though with far more liberties, in The Muppet Christmas Carol, new to Blu-ray. One of the best Muppet movies, it’s got Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Gonzo as Dickens himself narrating the story, and — in a casting tour de force — Michael Caine as Scrooge himself, wisely playing the role straight rather than going for comedy.
One to skip: Tim Allen’s Santa Clause Trilogy, new to Blu-ray. Though undeniably popular, the trilogy suffers badly from a lack of genuine holiday spirit: the mean-spirited postmarital snarkiness of the original; the explicit identification of toys as "what the true spirit of Christmas is all about" in the second film; the sheer dreariness of the threequel, which critic Keith Phipps disturbingly describes as "a bit like The Last Temptation of Christ played out with candy canes and elves." Don’t say you weren’t warned!
While we’re skipping family films, pass on Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, a frenetically paced threequel that adds new characters, colorful production numbers and lots of schtick, but no heart or wit. Among the more tasteless moments are a couple of Catholic-themed jokes, from a gag about a character kissing the pope’s ring only to steal it in his mouth to a Marian "prayer" that goes "Mama Maria … Santa Maria … Mama Mia … Mia Farrow."
Finally, for adult cinephiles, I recommend Moonrise Kingdom, the latest, most accessible film from quirky director Wes Anderson. Affecting, amusing, sometimes painful, the film explores a special connection between a pair of troubled 12-year-olds on a remote New England island in the 1960s. Despite (or partly because of) some troubling content, the film’s bittersweet sense of longing expresses a desire for a purer world, particularly in connection with marriage: the purity of what it should be in contrast to the messiness of what it often is.
Content Advisory: A Christmas Carol: Mild spookiness. Fine family viewing. Moonrise Kingdom: Adolescent sensuality, including some explicit dialogue; a reference to an extramarital affair; fleeting crass language. Adults. A Muppet Christmas Carol: Mild Muppet-y spookiness; a stray swear word. Fine family viewing.