1. A Christmas Story (1983)
OK, so the idea of kids and guns does not mix, but it is this tension that is at the heart of this beautiful and irresistible story. Lovingly narrated by the story’s author, this is an unashamedly nostalgic look back on Christmas in the 1940’s and one child’s desire for Holy Grail of Christmas presents - a Red Rider air rifle.
Ralphie, our narrator, is steering a difficult path through early adolescence with a younger brother and loving, if eccentric, parents. He’s made up his mind that the only thing he wants this year for Christmas is an air rifle, but all his mum, teacher and even Santa tell him is he’s going to “shoot his eye out”. A great coming of age story and a great reminder to parents of just how memorable Christmas time is for kids.
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
I have to admit that I was never a Peanuts fan. I could never work out the bitter-sweet humour that is the Peanuts hallmark and, as a result, Charlie Brown just frustrated me. That was until I sat down and watched this great movie from 1965. Suddenly, it all made sense.
Charlie Brown’s neurotic tendencies are beautifully played in this film as he worries about the spirit of Christmas and if it has been lost to consumerism. Ultimately it is up to Linus to explain to Charlie what the spirit of Christmas is all about. A great tale that is as timeless as the story of Christmas itself.
3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
It just wouldn’t be Christmas without one viewing of this outstanding movie over the holiday season. Edmund Gwenn appears born to play the role of Kris Kringle, the mysterious older man who steps in as a store Santa. Before long, it appears as though Mr Kringle may be taking this whole store Santa thing a little too far when he starts promoting good will over corporate greed. His approach is a surprise hit, not only with customers but other stores.
But it is not all smooth sailing for Mr Kringle. Insisting that he is, in fact, Santa Claus, Mr Kringle is committed to a mental hospital where it is recommended he remain permanently. This leads to a court case where Mr Kringle’s only chance of clearing himself is to prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that he is the big man himself
4. Home Alone (1990)
Just watching this clip made me relive the first time I saw this movie, and how much I loved it. Showing it to my own kids last year was an absolute highlight and it was great to see it has not aged a day since Joe Pesci, as one half of the Wet Bandits, stepped into Macauley Culkin’s home. Forced to spend Christmas at home alone when his parent’s fly off on holiday without him, Culkin finds himself relying on his considerable wits to fend off two burglars who are as persistent in trying to break in as he is in keeping them out.
While slapstick comedy may not be to everyone’s tastes, the cartoon nature of the film’s violence ensures the kids are entertained rather than scared. This clip is a great montage of all the booby trap scenes and ends with one of the greatest screams in cinema’s history (apologies to Janet Leigh’s great effort in Psycho):
5. The Polar Express (2004)
There was a time, not that long ago, when everything Tom Hanks touched turned to gold. Fortunately for us, Mr Hanks found time in this period to turn his attention to a children’s Christmas story. The result is up there with his best and is one of those films that you’ll be happy to let your children watch over and over again. While the tale is familiar – a child rediscovering the magic of Christmas – the quality of the animation, the acting, the songs and the great pace of this movie set it apart.
Only one question needs to be asked: Hot chocolate? We got it!
6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Could it be possible to have Christmas without Rudolf? He has become, in his relatively short lifespan, as integral to Christmas as Santa, the manger and the North Pole. This stop-motion animated TV special from 1964 is a beautiful telling of a ‘misfit who finds his place’ story. Teamed with an elf who longs to be a dentist, Rudolph makes his way to the Island of Misfit Toys, before discovering where his true home lies.
Classic animation, wonderful songs and a timeless story make this a great film for kids of all ages.
7. Merry Christmas Mr Bean (1992)
I know it’s not a movie, but there is something about Mr Bean that speaks directly to kids (and quite a few adults as well). It is a very rare comedian who can convey so much with nothing more than the movement of his face – and boy can Rowan Atkinson move his face. And this sketch is one of the greatest Christmas sketches of all time. For those of you who may be squeamish at the sight of a grown man with a turkey on his head, look away now.
8. A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
I’m unashamed to say I grew up on the Muppets. Probably the first movie I ever went to see was The Muppets Take Manhattan, and from then on I was hooked. Everything they did was fun and this TV special is no exception. To add to the fun, this special includes the Muppets, all the muppet characters from Sesame Street, the fragils from Fragil Rock as well as the Muppet Babies. All of Jim Henson’s creations in the one place, with a cameo from the great man himself.
The story is simple enough with Fozzy Bear deciding to surprise his mum by visiting with all his muppet friends on Christmas Eve. But as with all things the Muppets touch, it doesn’t stay simple for long! There are great gags, plenty of singing and more than enough fun to keep the whole family feeling warmer and fuzzier than Fozzy Bear in pyjamas. I for one can’t wait for the new Muppet’s movie next year.
9. Fred Claus (2007)
Who would have thought, watching Swingers in the mid-90s, that Vince Vaughn would end up being the king of feel-good comedy? Luckily for Vince, Fred Claus doesn’t try to stretch him too much so he can still bring a bit of that Swingers swagger to this Christmas story.
Fred Clause (Vaughn) is Santa’s black-sheep elder brother. Suffering from a severe case of Jealous Sibling Syndrome, Fred only heads back to the North Pole when a get-rich-quick scheme forces him to approach younger brother Nick for a loan. With a support cast that includes Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey and Paul Giamatti as Santa, this is a surprisingly fun if light-weight family movie that older kids will especially enjoy. This clip shows a unique and very funny take on Santa’s elves.
10. Are We There Yet? (2005)
Ice Cube is known for a couple of things – as a rapper with NWA, a music producer, clothing mogal and as an actor in ‘urban’ movies such as Boyz N The Hood and Barbershop. Not the sort of person who instantly springs to mind when you think “children’s entertainment”. But thanks to the revolution in digital TV, I chanced upon this movie one day while checking out one of the new channels. After exactly two seconds my kids - 5 and 8 years old - were hooked.
As a comedic actor Ice Cube has been putting in the time with his Friday series (co-staring with Chris Tucker) and All About the Benjamins. But this movie is his first attempt at family friendly fun – and it works. Having fallen for a single mother (Nia Long), Ice Cube agrees to drive her children to spend Christmas with their father. What follows is one of the best holiday road trip movies since Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And it is all kid friendly.