Our Ten’s List: Misguided Christmas Sequels.
Not every Christmas classic deserves a second serving. Here we pick over ten misguided sequels to Yuletide classics that got stuck in the chimney.
Christmas is a holiday that piles up sequels like snow in a blizzard. The need for cable TV to have something to endlessly repeat means even the most mildly successful or well-regarded holiday film will spawn a litter of follow-ups. Some go on to create delightful second or third efforts. Most wind up getting passed along the off-hours on TBS like a fruitcake nobody wanted.* Here we collect ten sequels to classic holiday films that were destined to disappoint on Christmas morning.
*I realize the above references to network TV mean this article is pretty much instantly dated. Just substitute “crappy Adam Sandler comedy on Netflix” for “network holiday special” in your imagination if you’ve never been subject to the joys of cable television on Christmas. The effect is pretty much the same: bulk fodder you barely watch out of the corner of your eye when company is over.
Ten Most Misguided Christmas Sequels.
10. Home Alone (all the sequels except Lost in New York).
The third film, Home Alone 3, ditches Macauly Kulkin, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s main characters, does not revolve around Christmas, and pretty much flogs the tired concept of booby traps versus burglars to death. Or should I say booby traps versus hit-men, because the antagonists in this flick are hired assassins. Seems a bit dark for a gag comedy, but what do I know? It did brisk business at the box office after all. It was even called the best of the series by Roger Ebert, so you can go ahead and write off film criticism as a science right there.
The fourth film, Home Alone: Taking Back the House, uses the original characters but recasts them…horrendously. The two putz who play the burglars “act” in only the most generous sense of the term, and the new kid who plays Kevin may as well be a muppet. The film does have the good sense to return to a Christmas setting, but muddies the waters with a divorce drama that falls flat. Overall, the film was a desperation play to keep the Home Alone dollars rolling in, which in any sane world would have killed the franchise.
It’s not a sane world, so we of course got Home Alone 5: the Holiday Heist. The title is a ploy to ensure this canker sore of a film got air-time during the holidays, as the film is really a haunted house flick with Home Alone trappings added to it. It was originally titled “Home Alone: Alone in the Dark”, so you get the idea. About the only redeeming feature to this dud was Malcolm McDowell slumming it up for a paycheck as the dirty art dealer financing the burglars. For a film franchise that dominated Christmas for a decade, this wet fart of a final offering was a lump of coal in viewers’ stockings.
9. Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.
Father Time calls on Father Christmas to help him find Baby New Year. The tiny tyke, named Happy, who is supposed to take over for the next year ran away because everyone made fun of his big ears. Sensing a kindred spirit, Rudolph volunteers and sets out with a gaggle of time-themed helpers to find Happy and make sure the clock turns over to January 1st.
Rankin/Bass holiday specials after their heyday were odd beasts. The quality of the visuals and stop-motion improved, and the models themselves were cuter and better formed. All of the technical elements are polished to a high shine (pretty much literally) but the story itself is a bit of a let down. Essentially, Shiny New Year is just the island of misfit toys blown up into a full special. We get wacky but mostly forgettable companions and the same old message of accepting being different…although it’s not exactly handled well. Everywhere Happy goes, he gets laughed at, even by Rudolph and company! The conclusion even hinges on it, as the villain seeking to prevent New Years is foiled because he can’t stop laughing at Happy’s ears.
With forgettable characters and no memorable songs to compete with the original, it’s no surprise that Rudolph’s Shiny New Year never became the holiday staple that the original Animagic classic became.
8. Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas.
Now returned to human form, the servants of Beast’s castle celebrate Christmas by telling the story of the previous holiday, when the prince was still cursed and the servants were still enchanted furniture. It was Belle’s first winter in the castle, and she attempted to create an atmosphere of warmth and cheer. Unbeknownst to her, an enchanted servant in the form of a Gothic pipe organ prefers the current state of affairs and tries to make sure that Beast and Belle never find happiness together.
Where to begin? On a surface level, the animation is inferior to the original, but not so much that kids would mind. The addition of standard holiday tunes fill out the roster of ho-hum songs; there’s no hit like “Be Our Guest”, but they’re serviceable if forgettable. The real issue is the completely tacked-on, cash-in nature of the story.
We know exactly where the story goes as this episode is sandwiched somewhere in the middle of the first film. The stakes are non-existent and much of the action is a listless retread of the first film. Belle does something nice for Beast, he reacts churlishly, Belle despairs of ever being nice to him again, the servants intervene, rinse and repeat. The new characters are tacky, and the villain can’t hold a candle to Gaston. Existentially, it makes the first film worse – where are all of these characters when they return to human form at the end of the original? Did Beast smash them all between this film and the original? It’s a mess! Disney sequels generally range from pointless to sacrilegious: Enchanted Christmas manages to be both.
7. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.
Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is stressing out about inviting his in-laws up to the North Pole for the holidays, as they think he’s a Canadian toy maker and not the actual Santa Claus. Jack Frost (Martin Short) uses this opportunity to trick St. Nick into renouncing his position, thereby securing the position (and the holiday rights) for himself. Transported to a world in which he was never the jolly old elf, Scott finds that he reverted to his selfish old ways and ruined things for his loved ones. He decides to figure out a way to void the “Escape Clause” and get back his job spreading holiday cheer from the demented Jack Frost.
The first two films were a bit smarmy, but largely charming. The third film lacks such charm as it becomes a three-ring circus led by Martin Short chewing every ounce of scenery he can sink his teeth into. The “don’t be selfish on Christmas” theme falls flat because we’ve already seen it twice. Tim Allen’s character renounces his role in an unselfish move to save his family, thereby making it feel like a cheat when when the film chastises him for it. Overall, the third outing for this franchise is a bland cookie that somebody foolishly tried to jazz up with electric blue frosting in the form of Martin Short.
6. The Little Drummer Boy, Book II.
After playing for the newborn Jesus, the little drummer boy agrees to help the wise-men proclaim his birth far and wide. To accomplish this, they propose using blessed silver bells. Unfortunately, a group of greedy Roman soldiers have stolen the bells in order to sell them. It’s up to the little drummer boy to change their hearts and get the bells back.
Once again, this Animagic special is identical or superior to the original in terms of looks, but inferior in most other ways. It’s a made up fabrication of a story, so lacks the charm of seeing a classic brought to life. As much as they grind “Little Drummer Boy” into your ears during the holidays, I doubt that he’s got the kind of following Rudolph had to justify a sequel. The events feels like an afterthought, a gimmick to tie a few more famous holiday standards like “Do You Hear What I Hear?” into the Rankin/Bass catalogue. The only real life this project has is blown into it by famous comedic gasbag Zero Mostel, who hams it up gloriously as the Roman commander. Otherwise, this sequel is thin gruel compared to the already fairly skimpy original.
5. Jingle All the Way 2
4. Bad Santa 2.
Willie Sokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is back to square one twelve years after reforming his ways. Drunk, sex addicted, and bitter during the holidays, he decides to end it all. Before he can go through with it, he is visited by the kid he helped save all those Christmases ago and receives a package from his old criminal partner Marcus full of cash, with promises of an even bigger score. The catch is that the new heist comes courtesy of Sunny Sokes (Kathy Bates) Willie’s abusive mother. It’s home for the holidays for Willie as he tries one last time to get rich or get drunk trying.
The makers of the surprise cult favorite, Bad Santa, decide to dig up its corpse a decade later and see if it had any money left in the pockets of the Santa suit. The gross humor in the first helped to make the “rotten loser sees the light on Christmas” trope stand out, and there were some genuinely touching moments in between all of the misanthropy. The second film is just the straight misanthropy, no holiday cheer chaser. Having the convert go back to being a scumbag and repeat all of his mistakes (pretty much verbatim) deflates any chance you might cheer for Willie a second time. Bad Santa goes back to the well for its material, forgetting that it threw up in the well while drunk.
3. Frosty and Rudolph’s Christmas in July.
It turns out that an evil, icy wizard was behind the blizzard that made Rudolph’s first flight possible. He was trying to prevent Santa from making his rounds so that he could regain control of the North Pole, but the red nose (now explained as a blessing bestowed upon Rudolph at birth for just such an occasion) thwarted that scheme. To get rid of the meddling reindeer, the wizard tricks Rudolph and Frosty into helping an old friend on the Fourth of July, thereby removing them from the protection of the North Pole.
The other Rankin/Bass sequels on the list were rather pointless, but not actively bad. This feature is actively bad. It adds a George Lucas-level of epic mumbo jumbo to the familiar story of Rudolph’s origin. The ice wizard story feels like a bad translation from another country’s fairy tales pulled off by people who don’t speak the original or target languages. On top of the inane story, it also squanders any joy you may have had in a reunion with Rudolph and Frosty by taking them completely out of their element. No Christmas tunes, no toys or decorations, and no snow really put the kibosh on a Christmas special. Come to think of it, why the hell is Frosty even in this picture, besides the obvious appeal to nostalgia? He’s not exactly an ideal companion to pull off an adventure in the middle of summer.
Perhaps the vein of Christmas ore had petered out and Rankin/Bass had to search for other holidays to exploit. If so, we already have seen how poorly they handled Easter and Halloween. At least those attempts didn’t mangle their existing properties. Despite having two iconic stars in Rudolph and Frosty, this project was doomed like a snowman in July from the get-go.
2. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.
Cousin Eddie (the loony eyed remains of Randy Quaid) is fired before Christmas and replaced by a monkey. As severance, he is given a cruise in the South Pacific with his backward family and a few relatives (shoehorning one Griswold into the story so it’s not a complete mockery of the franchise.) Along the way the boat is shipwrecked and the obnoxious brood must get along on a deserted isle while trying to celebrate the holidays.
This is another harebrained sequel like Bad Santa that waited a decade to drop like hailstones on the heads of franchise fans. Whereas Bad Santa 2 just joylessly retreads the first film’s material, this sequel jettisons everything recognizable (and enjoyable) about the first Christmas Vacation. No Chevy Chase or Beverly D’Angelo, no real Griswolds, and no zany family reunion. Quaid’s character and his family were always just a punchline in the main Vacation series, fodder for the beleaguered Griswolds to throw their hands up in dismay over. Why this film, and the nearly as atrocious Vegas Vacation, decided to focus on them is a mystery. I guess Randy Quaid was the only original cast member without the sense or dignity to avoid making these films.
1. A Christmas Story 2
Now a teenager, Ralphie has grown out of BB guns and wants a cool car. Unfortunately, his first test drive wrecks the car of his dreams. The dealer threatens to tell the police, and even worse, Ralphie’s grumpy father (Daniel Stern) if he can’t pay for the damages by Christmas. Desperate to avoid the displeasure of the old man, Ralphie and his friends get a series of menial jobs to try to pay off the dealer.
Why? Why even? The first film had become not just famous but infamous by the time this dud came out in 2012. Everyone has gone from loving the original, to loathing it, to loving it again in a case of Stockholm Syndrome caused by cable TV playing the hell out of it. There is also a hilarious spiritual sequel, Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss, and a decently entertaining proper sequel in 1994’s My Summer Story. Hell, Ollie Hopnoodle basically has the same plot as described above, just without Christmas and with much more humor.
This belated follow-up was not based on the folksy writings of Jean Shepherd, and didn’t feature him narrating like the other three films. In the absence of his wry perspective, the story veers from a cheap knock-off to utter drivel. Daniel Stern seems game but almost painfully aware that the script has been picked clean of humor like the roast from the original. It is almost bad enough to make you flee back to the holiday glow of the first film…but forty some-odd years of 24-hour marathons have set the bar for that feat higher than even this spoiled fruitcake can manage.