Making a sequel to a beloved holiday classic that countless families have a tradition of watching every year is a tricky proprosition that rarely works out. Anyone who’s suffered through Frosty Returns can attest to that. Thankfully, HBO Max’s new A Christmas Story Christmas mostly pulls off the task. The film may not be a new classic itself, but it avoids being a stain on the original, and that’s something.
This actually isn’t the first sequel to 1983’s A Christmas Story. The 1988 TV movie Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss and the 1994 theatrical feature It Runs in the Family (a.k.a. My Summer Story) were both semi-sequels based on additional memoirs by author Jean Shepherd. Both were harmless, if forgettable. More recently, and more egregiously, Warner Bros. spat out the direct-to-video A Christmas Story 2 in 2012 to resoundingly negative reaction. A Christmas Story Christmas ignores all of those, and is the first follow-up to bring back star Peter Billingsley and many of the other original cast from the 1983 film. In that regard, and a lot of other ways, this could be considered the first true sequel.
|Title:||A Christmas Story Christmas|
|Release Date:||Nov. 17, 2022|
|Watched On:||HBO Max|
Thirty-nine years have passed in our real world since A Christmas Story was first released in 1983. The sequel fudges the timeline just a little and is set in 1973, thirty-three years after the original tale. Ralph Parker (Billingsley) is all grown-up, with a wife and two kids of his own. A struggling writer, he’s set a personal deadline of year-end to sell the epic science fiction novel he’s been working on to a publisher, any publisher, but none are even remotely interested. The most polite of them informs Ralph that he could chop half the length of out his manuscript and it would still be too long. If he can’t make a career of this before New Year’s Day, Ralph has resolved to give up his dreams and take a boring 9-to-5 job. His wife, Sandy (Erinn Hayes from Children’s Hospital), is remarkably supportive of him however this should turn out.
In the meantime, the family’s holiday plans take a sad turn when news comes that Ralph’s father has passed away. As a result, he and Sandy pack up the kids and travel back to Hohman, Indiana to settle his dad’s affairs and comfort his mother (Julie Hagerty capably taking over from Melinda Dillon). While there, Ralph feels pressured to make the perfect Christmas for his kids, just as his father used to do for him. On top of that, his mother asks him to write an obituary for the local paper. Living up to the Old Man is no small challenge, nor is trying to sum up his life in one short paragraph.
Although Darren McGavin died in 2006 and Melinda Dillon retired from acting not long after that, A Christmas Story Christmas makes a real effort to reunite as much of the original cast as possible. During his time in town, Ralph catches up with old friends Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D. Robb), and has a run-in with former bully Scut Farkus (Zack Ward). Younger brother Randy (Ian Petrella) is out of the country but shows up eventually. The movie could’ve gotten away with recasting those roles and most of the audience wouldn’t have even noticed, but seeing the original faces is a nice touch. Aged though they are, you can still catch glimpses of the kids they used to be in a casual expression or the glint in an eye.
Like many sequels, especially belated sequels, the movie serves up quite a heaping of fan-service references to its predecessor. Ralph still drifts off into daydream fantasies, including one about Western outlaw Black Bart. The neighboring Bumpus family are still terrors with their menagerie of dogs. The pink Easter Bunny costume turns up in a box in the attic, an eye injury factors into the plot and, of course, the family must make a trip to see Santa at Higbee’s department store. Just in case you should miss any of the callbacks, clips from the original film are regularly inserted as flashbacks. These sorts of things can grow tiring, and A Christmas Story Christmas may be overly relilant on them at times, but it stops short of going too overboard.
Unlike the original, the sequel is more about the grown-ups than the kids, and is told from an adult perspective. This may prove difficult for younger viewers to relate to it. The movie seems intended as a holiday gift for the older audience that grew up with A Christmas Story. It doesn’t stand well by itself, and I doubt it will ever become an annual viewing staple the way the first film did. However, it does a good job of capturing the tone and spirit of the original, has a number of heartfelt moments, and earns a few genuine laughs of its own.
A Christmas Story Christmas may ultimately be an unnecessary sequel, but it’s not unwelcome. That’s more of a success than I initially expected.
A Christmas Story Christmas streams on HBO Max with all the highest of high-end technical bells and whistles in 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio, but probably needn’t have bothered. While this is a well-made movie with perfectly competent production values, the photography is somewhat bland and makes little use of the High Dynamic Range grading. If anything, you’d hope that maybe all the Christmas tree lights would pop with some nice highlights and sparkling color, but they rarely do. The Atmos soundtrack has barely any noticeable surround usage, much less height activity. Frankly, it sounds a little rolled-off and dull.
The movie is primarily presented at an aspect ratio of 2.00:1, with one fantasy sequence letterboxed to a shorter 2.35:1. The picture quality is acceptably sharp with a very mild layer of grain that was probably added digitally to give it some texture. The movie looks and sounds fine, but there’s nothing remarkable about it in any way from that perspective.
4 thoughts on “The Old Man Would Be Proud – A Christmas Story Christmas (2022)”
It’s funny how certain holiday traditions work across the globe. Growing up with a healthy interest in American cinama, I know of the beloved holiday classics such as ‘A Christmas Story’ or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, but I have never seen ’em. They’re not holiday classics over here, in Belgium. I’d dare say few people have even heard of ‘A Christmas Story’ (whereas film fans do know ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’). The holiday classics in this neck of the woods are ‘Home Alone’, ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Ben-Hur’ (the latter more in the past, not a Christmas staple anymore today). In Sweden, for example, half the country tunes in every year to watch Donald Duck battle Chip ‘n Dale for nuts. In Poland, it’s ‘Home Alone’ too (Polish people have been known to riot on the streets if no channel is intending to air the movie).
Correction: I’d dare say few *Belgian people have even heard of ‘A Christmas Story’
I just watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ about a year and a half ago for the first time. I find it funny that it’s considered such a Christmas classic as the Christmas stuff seems to come right at the end of the movie. The bulk of the movie itself feels more like a movie about life’s struggles and triumphs etc. it was really enjoyable though.
I just watched ‘A Christmas Story’ in its entirety for the first time just about two weeks ago. I’ve been in a Christmasy mood lately and have been watching a lot of Christmas movies (not like me to watch Xmas holiday movies normally, I don’t know what’s gotten into me). I picked up the UHD for this one and Elf, Polar Express. I just watched the sequel the other night and really enjoyed it. I never laughed too hard or anything but there was something sweet about the whole affair.