Christmas Day-watching can get a little repetitive over the years. You’ve seen Miracle on 34th Street or been put through Frozen by your little cousins one too many times. Trinity Film Review contributors have chipped in with three films they believe make the perfect alternative to textbook holiday movies.
Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (1993)
Written by Mia Sherry
The trumpets. The delightful flourish of a flute. It’s Wallace and Gromit, which means only one thing: it’s Christmas time
When is it ever so universally acceptable to watch (and indeed, seek out and enjoy) clay animated films as Christmas time? What else heralds in such a distinctive epoch within the holiday season as BBC 2 announcing showings of Wallace and Gromit? Next to nothing. How else will you while away those pesky few hours on Christmas Eve before “midnight mass” (read: four o’clock)? What else provides the perfect backing track as you slink into a delightful food coma on St. Stephen’s Day? Wallace and Gromit encapsulates the very best, and very distinctiveness, of Christmas time, and without it our days would be much darker indeed.
Of course Wallace and Gromit is far from a mere children’s film; anyone with two brain cells to rub together will see that in fact it is a careful and examined study on the coexistence of both the bourgeois (Wallace) and the proletariat (Gromit), with the proletariat eventually always winning out, or at least having the higher moral ground; which is exactly the kind of message the very Christ of ‘Christmas’ was sending with his arrival.
I want to focus specifically on Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers, and why it, in particular, is the most Christmassy of all. In many ways, The Wrong Trousers is a modern day adaptation of the nativity story itself. Where Wallace is the bourgeois innkeeper (who has to let his room out to economize much like the actual innkeeper), the penguin is Joseph and Mary who takes this room; but instead of birthing the saviour of the world, he brings chaos and destruction. Which, to be honest, is not entirely far off the course.
Also, let’s not forget the central heart of the conflict: Gromit’s birthday. And what is Christmas centered around?
Oh yes, that’s right.
Not only that but the final showdown scene holds clear references to the ultimate Christmas film of our modern time: Die Hard. Everything from the red colour-coding to the nail biting gun fight; it’s all there in one clay package.
Wallace and Gromit is many things; criminally underrated, a victorious ode to the common man, an adaptation of The Communist Manifesto. But first and foremost, at this time of year, it is a Christmas film. I hope you watch it while eating some cracking cheese; may it guide you well into the New Year.
Batman Returns (1992)
Written by James McCleary
There are few directors who can claim to possess a filmography as bizarre and varied as that of Tim Burton. His repertoire ranges from the gruesome musical tragedy of Sweeney Todd to childish adventures like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, with enough space in the middle for both the unbridled insanity of Mars Attacks and the touching biopic based on the titular Ed Wood. It makes a certain amount of sense then, that his attempt at a Christmas film would result in the outrageous, shamelessly erotic Gothic melodrama humbly entitled Batman Returns.
The story is centred around Oswald Cobbleplot (Danny DeVito), a hideously deformed villain who was abandoned in the sewers as a baby and rescued by a pack of escaped penguins. His dastardly plots for revenge on the upper classes of Gotham City include, but are not limited to: the use of a giant rubber duck to first abduct and then return a baby, the deployment of an army of penguins armed with missile launchers, and not one, but two riots during tree-lighting ceremonies featuring sword-fighting clowns and Gatling guns dressed up as dollhouses. In the meantime, stoic hero Batman (Michael Keaton) struggles to balance this threat with the arrival of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a transparently insane killer who naturally becomes the love of his life almost immediately.
It should be noted that Batman Returns is not a superhero film in the contemporary sense. This is more akin to Caligari in spandex, complete with a romantic subplot which owes more to Eyes Wide Shut than It’s A Wonderful Life. It is a silly yet oddly thoughtful piece of camp filmmaking, and the cherry on top is its gorgeous winter wonderland aesthetic. There are few things more delightful than the image of our stiff and leathery Dark Knight awkwardly punching circus freaks into the snow or brooding under seasonal neon lights, especially when these moments are paired with sincere emotional beats tied to those most Christmassy themes of family and companionship. There are few festive films which leave as strong an impression on their audience as Batman Returns: a deliriously fun offbeat gem of franchise cinema that has a bone to pick with just about every convention of the genre. So, if it’s an alternative movie-going experience you desire come this holiday season, you could do a lot worse than this unforgettable Christmas classic.
Written by Grace McEntee
The cultural impact of Gremlins is undeniable, having spawned a wonderfully wacky sequel in 1990, endless amounts of merchandise, and a slew of copycat “tiny monster” movies such as Ghoulies, Critters and Munchies. It’s also responsible for the creation of America’s PG-13 rating. Despite this, it’s far too often overlooked as a Christmas film. Joe Dante’s horror-comedy sees an outbreak of tiny, vicious, and sometimes hilarious creatures on a small American town set against the backdrop of the most wonderful time of the year. It’s funny, it’s macabre, it’s a little bit sad, and it’s perfectly festive. I find it to be a refreshing holiday pick among the sticky sweet Christmas staples, as it celebrates the mischief and mayhem that so often accompany (or outright replace) the wholesome family moments pushed by typical holiday films.
Nothing helps the film achieve this tone more than Jerry Goldsmith’s score, the main theme of which can only be described as pure mischief perfectly translated to music. Paired with the adorable tune sung by Gizmo (a cute, fluffier version of the rest of the gremlins for those who haven’t watched) throughout the film, it provides the perfect mix of naughty and nice that makes Gremlins such a classic.
The thing that makes this film stand out the most, however, has got to be the amount of fun we as an audience have with the little things. Unlike the giant kaiju-like monsters that played an important role in horror before this, the gremlins’ main goal isn’t necessarily to kill and destroy. Sure, a few people die along the way, but most of the problems they cause around town can be filed under “general mischief”. In fact, I bet if it wasn’t for the existence of Stripe, the leader of the pack, the gremlins would be about as destructive as a mass of particularly nasty toddlers. Nothing makes you feel this more than seeing hundreds of them go absolutely nuts for a screening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in the town’s cinema. For a brief moment, they’re actually quite precious. Ultimately, Chris Walas and Rick Baker’s puppets end up giving a more accurate representation of sugar-fuelled kids on Christmas Day than you’ll see from any child actor. If you’re looking for a film whose stars definitely won’t make Santa’s nice list this Christmas, definitely give Gremlins a go.