Christmas, or Jul as we call it here, is a time for giving, for receiving, for good food and good company, for peace among men, and for Christmas specials – films or televised features about or otherwise made for this festive holiday season. Here are a few of the ones I watched this past Jul which I hadn’t previously seen.
Joyeux Noël, which is French for “Merry Christmas”. Not the most original title for a Christmas film. While its director is French, there’s also a fair amount of German and English spoken throughout the film; I’m not sure if any one language is spoken substantially more than any of the other two. The film is about the Christmas truce during the first world war, in which the soldiers of all three waring sides – France, Germany, and Great Britain – decided to call a truce and celebrate Christmas together. This was done spontaneously, without any orders or plans, and it much annoyed the higher-ups within each of the countries – soldiers aren’t supposed to decide to suddenly stop shooting each other to sing Christmas carols! Arguably one of the most beautiful events in mankind’s history.
The film was good. It had great music, it looked good, and it was an enjoyable experience. It was perhaps a bit melodramatic, a bit too in-your-face with its message at the end, the characters were maybe a bit one-dimensional, and it seems to simplify the actual historical event and go for cinematicness rather than historical accuracy. For example, the movie makes it out to be one special event that took place at this one place at this one time, but our friend Wikipedia (see link above) informs us that a Christmas truce happened between other soldiers elsewhere as well, and that it happened two years in a row. And were any of the characters in the film based on real life people? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t. Still, it’s an entertaining, at times moving film, based around an actual historical event.
Den Første Snøen, or The First Snow Of Winter as it’s called in its original English (or Irish, to be more precise) version. I’d briefly seen clips of this on TV, and when I saw it on sale for 60 NOK I figured I’d pick it up. It seemed like it could be a heartwarming piece of media, perfect for Jul. I was also pleased that this version had both Norwegian and English audio, which was a selling point for me. The story is about a duck who’s been left behind by his family as they flew south, and who has to manage to survive through winter on his own. Sounds like a great premise, ripe for drama. But then, after he’s spent what seems like only a day, tops two days, on his own, the snow has melted and his family has returned! Wait, what?
A good premise that fails to deliver. I think it could’ve worked well as a TV-series, following in the footsteps of such other great animal epics as The Animals Of Farthing Wood and Ginga Nagareboshi Gin, but instead turns into a fairly forgetful feature which is over before it’s really had the chance to start.
Also, I had expected it to last approximately 60 minutes, as advertised on the back cover of the DVD, but it only lasted approximately 30 minutes. That really surprised me. I’m guessing what they did was to count the running time of the English dub and the Norwegian dub combined. Which is the first time I’ve ever seen done. The back of the cover also outright lies about what subtitles are available; they advertise that it has subtitles in four different languages, but it actually has no subtitles at all. Another slight mix-up on the back is the logo they use to illustrate that the DVD has 2.0 sound, as they instead use the logo used for 5.1 sound; see both logos here. This is probably the most messed up back cover of a DVD I’ve seen yet: it stretches the truth, it outright lies, and it mixes things up.
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. One of the lesser known Jim Henson productions, based on a children’s book by the same name. Emmet is a young otter trying to make ends meet together with his mother, having a rough time after his father died. They get by by both doing odd jobs for the other town folks. Then, they learn of a local talent competition where first prize is fifty dollars cash. Wanting to surprise the other with a fancy gift for Christmas, they enter the competition separately, hoping to win. It features several original songs by musician Paul Williams, who also did the songs for The Muppet Movie and the other Jim Henson Juletide feature, The Muppet Christmas Carol.
This was a surprisingly dreary feature, what with Emmet and his mother living in poverty and the deceased father often referenced. It also felt surprisingly un-Christmassy considering it has Christmas right in its name, with a generally bleak colour scheme and no bright Christmas decorations to be seen anywhere. (Though admittedly, none of the three features referenced here are the most typical Christmas specials, and the colour schemes are pretty bleak through all of them.) But it was very good. You felt for the characters, and they seemed believable, not to mention being genuinely good and caring folks. The songs were also good, though a few of them sort of blended together. But particularly one got stuck in my mind.
After doing some research on the film, I’ve learned that the version of this feature that’s being sold is an edited version. In the original un-edited version, Kermit T. Frog of The Muppets served as a narrator. From what I could gather, Disney owns the rights to Kermit as a character, and the feature was being released by another company, so due to rights issues Kermit had to be removed from the released product. But it also appears that some other scenes have seen some minor edits, some lines removed, which I’m not quite sure why; presumably to make it more kiddie friendly? It’s a real shame though, tampering with an old finished feature like this. The version I saw was unfortunately the edited one.