George Bailey chucking a snowball at Mr. Potter's office. Kris Kringle holding court at Macy's. Der Bingle and Danny Kaye lip-syncing "Sisters." The Grinch and Max dangling off Mt. Krumpet. Rudolph and friends among the Misfit Toys. Charlie Brown and his little charity-case tree. Poor Flick's tongue, frozen to the flagpole.
For many Americans--those of us who've grown up since the advent of TV--these moments are more a part of the holiday season than spiced hot cider or caroling. But familiarity can breed boredom. No one disputes that these are classic movies and shows, but what if you want something heartwarming and festive that you haven't seen a hundred times, or that you haven't seen in many years?
Here are some road-less-taken holiday videos -- the underappreciated, the too-often-forgotten, the just plain odd:
The Muppet Christmas Carol: Relative to its quality, this may be the most underappreciated Christmas movie in many years. Combining the sweet melodies and lyrics of Paul Williams, the bottomless invention of the Muppets and the brilliantly non-campy performance of Michael Caine as Scrooge, it's a genuinely funny, genuinely touching original. While we're on the subject of the Muppets: a friend of mine makes an annual ritual of the neglected Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, a delightful down-home Muppet musical from 1977.
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol: How many years since you've seen this gentle, eccentric take on the tale? Even if it's been decades, you may find that the catchy tunes, by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (the team that brought us "Funny Girl"!), come back to you—I was able to sing right along with "We're Despicable." My mother-in-law loved this show, especially the young Scrooge’s poignant song “I’m All Alone in the World.”
The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus: This stop-motion animated special from 1985 is an adaptation of a book by L. Frank Baum. It's like a Christmas show for Wiccans, or maybe Wagnerians: A group of forest Immortals meet to decide whether Santa should be admitted to the club. It's available on DVD, paired with 1977's Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. (Careful with that one—tear-jerker alert!).
The Gathering: It's not for kids, but this 1977 TV movie, with Ed Asner as a husband and father trying to reconnect with his family on what he knows will be his last earthly Christmas, has a lovely wistful atmosphere and fine, understated acting. Long unavailable on DVD, it came out in 2006, with its sequel The Gathering Part II thrown in.
Saturday Night Live – Christmas: Don't overlook this inexpensive 90-minute compendium of holiday sketches from SNL. You may be surprised at how many of them qualify as classic--Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song," Jon Lovitz saving Christmas as Hanukkah Harry, Alec Baldwin's notorious visit to "Delicious Dish." The DVD dates from 2003, however; it may be time for a second volume.