18 Dec 2023

Christmas entertainment - the 2023 vintage

From Widescreen, 11:38 am on 18 December 2023

Dan Slevin samples three out of the dozens of new Christmas entertainments that are new to streaming this holiday season. 

Eddie Murphy as ‘Chris Carver’ stars in CANDY CANE LANE Photo: CLAUDETTE BARIUS © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Photo: Claudette Barius

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to appear on Morning Report to talk about Christmas movie options and I mentioned that there were so many new Christmas movies being made for all the streamers and cable channels that no one could possibly keep up with them all. Indeed, the Hallmark Channel in the US plays nothing but Christmas romances, 24-hours a day, throughout December and many of those will be brand new productions. The interfaces of all those streamers, flooded with a mass of red and green thumbnails, all different but all, at the same time, identical.

So, if it’s not possible to check them all, I haven’t even tried. I’ve just chosen three that have landed on my radar in the past week.

Merry Little Batman (Prime Video)

© Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. MERRY LITTLE BATMAN and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © DC.  All rights reserved.

Photo: Prime Video

This is an animated family film set in the Batman universe but focusing Bruce Wayne’s nine-year-old son Damian (Yonas Kibreab). What do you mean, you didn’t think that Bruce Wayne had a son? You’ve clearly not been paying attention (to the comic books since 2006).

In the serious version, Damian is the son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul, making him Ra’s al Ghul’s grandson and giving him a complex set of relationships and motivations – superhero father or supervillain grandfather, what to do!?

None of that complexity is on offer here, we simply have a naughty little boy, desperate to grow up before his time and a single-parent superhero. When Bruce (voiced by Luke Wilson sounding disconcertingly like his brother Owen, as if Batman has just returned from a groovy surfing expedition) discovered he was going to be a parent, he did double-shifts to clean up Gotham and now there’s no crime left to fight.

Enticed out of retirement, Bruce flies off to Alaska on Christmas Eve, leaving Damian in the care of faithful old Alfred (James Cromwell). Damian sees an opportunity to don the cowl, and sends Alfred off on a wild goose chase leaving him the freedom of stately Wayne Manor where some dumb burglars get their comeuppance, like a Batmanified Home Alone.

It turns out the Joker (David Hornsby) is back and wants to get everyone back together for the holidays – his villainous mates, obviously, including Mr. Freeze, Bane and Poison Ivy as but also Batman because it’s no fun being bad unless someone good is trying to stop you.

There are cool 60s-derived character designs and some boisterous animation, a few gags there for the parents and a heart-warming message about the spirit of Christmas for the rest of the family.

Candy Cane Lane (Prime Video)

Eddie Murphy as ‘Chris Carver,’ Jillian Bell as ‘Pepper,’ and Madison Thomas as ‘Holly Carver’ star in CANDY CANE LANE Photo: CLAUDETTE BARIUS © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Photo: Claudette Barius

The key to standing out at Christmas is to have a bankable star and to get a little bit weird. Candy Cane Lane ticks both boxes with Eddie Murphy ii family-friendly mode in the lead and quite a few twists in the story that make you go, what now?

Murphy plays Chris Carver, a Christmas crafter who has hand carved his wooden decorations for years while failing to win the famous (in El Segundo)  “Candy Cane Lane” decoration competition.

Things get worse when he is laid off from his sales job the week before Christmas but the announcement of a huge increase in prize money for the contest spurs him into action. With the help of youngest daughter Holly, he finds a popup Christmas shop with decorations that appear to be too good to be true.

And so begins a convoluted quest story in which the Twelve Days of Christmas characters come to life and Chris has to find the five gold rings before Christmas Day or he will be turned into a Christmas ornament himself.

I told you there was some weirdness, and that’s what makes this film stand out. That and Murphy’s too-rarely-seen these days effortless screen charisma – even when he’s phoning it in, he’s phoning in gold – plus a likeable supporting cast and direction from the super-experienced Reginald Hudlin (Boomerang, House Party, and the recent documentary Sidney).

Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas (AppleTV+)

Still from the AppleTV+ Christmas entertainment, Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas

James Lance, Brendan Hunt, Billy Harris, Kola Bokinni, Hannah Waddingham, Phil Dunster, Luke Evans and Sam Ryder in "Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas," now streaming on Apple TV+. Photo: AppleTV+

Not, strictly speaking, a movie, this one is from the newly discovered Apple light entertainment division and is a throwback to the kind of comedy and music variety shows that were once a staple on Christmas Day.

Hannah Waddingham is a star of Britain’s West End who recently became an Emmy-winning TV performer thanks to her role as club owner Rebecca in Ted Lasso. In this short special she gets to show off her spectacular pipes, her sheer bliss at being able to do this for millions of viewers and her friends in showbusiness including the London Gay Men’s Chorus, film star Luke Evans, star of the musical Hamilton, Leslie Odom Jr. and, of course, all her mates from AFC Richmond.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable show, that in no way outstays its welcome – though if you are not familiar with Ted Lasso you might find that a lot of the jokes will go flying over your head. But if you’re not familiar with Ted Lasso, what are you doing here?

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