Our family loves Christmas time. And like many families, we have our favorite holiday traditions. Among them is watching Christmas movies. Promptly starting the Friday after Thanksgiving, we kick off our Christmas movie watching season. Of course we have our favorites, from silly yuletide romps like “Elf” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacatiom” to perennial classics like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We adore them.
But we always save one of our very favorites to last. A movie we’ve seen too many times to count. One that’s infinitely quotable and hilarious from start to finish. One with so many terrific characters who you learn and love by name, and just as many endearing moments that make the movie memorable. I’m talking about Bob Clark’s delightful 1983 treasure, “A Christmas Story”. Loaded with charm, humor, heart, and tons of holiday cheer, “A Christmas Story” has only grown in popularity over the years. And now, nearly 40 years later, the movie is getting a proper follow-up.
My immediate reaction to the news of a sequel was “Gulp”. Is this something we really need? Do we really want them tinkering with something many of us love so much? As it turns out, “A Christmas Story Christmas” (not the easiest title to recite) is its own little treat. Is it as good as the 1983 film? Of course not, nowhere close. But that’s an unfair comparison. It’s not aiming to equal its predecessor. Instead, director and co-writer Clay Kaytis sets out to honor “A Christmas Story” by tapping into the characters, style, and tone which made that film great.
Without question “A Christmas Story Christmas” is made for fans of the original film, and you can tell it from the very start, as the old classic Warner Bros. logo fades away and we’re greeted by the familiar chimes of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas“. There’s the exact same opening credits fonts, and of course that signature narration (a different voice of course, but later it’ll make sense why). Fans will immediately recognize these callbacks, and there will be countless others in the forms of locations, lines of dialogue, and of course the characters. One of the biggest treats is seeing nearly all of the original cast return to their roles.
The story is set in December of 1973. When we last saw Ralphie Parker he was a bespectacled young boy from Hohman, Indiana who had just received the greatest Christmas gift he would ever receive – “an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle”. Years later, Ralph (a returning Peter Billingsley) lives in Chicago with his wife Sandy (Erinn Hayes), son Mark (River Drosche), and daughter Julie (Julianna Layne). He’s spent the last year writing what he believes is “the next great American novel”, but he’s set himself a deadline. He made a deal with Sandy that he has to be published by the end of the year or he would pack up his dream and re-enter the rat race.
Unfortunately things aren’t looking good for Ralph. He has sent his 2,000-page manuscript (yes, you read that right) to 16 publishers and 15 have said “no thanks”. But his writing takes a backseat after he gets a phone call no one wants to receive. It’s his mother who tells him his father (unforgettably played in the 1983 film by the late Darren McGavin) has passed away. Ralph is crushed. So he and his family load up in their ’66 Plymouth and head for Hohman. Upon arriving they’re greeted by the warm welcome of Ralph’s mom (Julie Hagerty, taking over for Melinda Dillon who retired from acting 15 years ago).
Ralphie expects to help his mother make funeral arrangements, but she has something else in mind. Reminding him how much his father loved Christmas, she decides to delay his funeral until after the holiday. She tasks Ralph with making sure this is the best Christmas ever – a most fitting way for them to honor his Old Man. Here’s the thing, he only has five days to pull it off. But ever the daydreamer, Ralph finds inspiration and is determined to give his family the kind of Christmas that would make his dad proud.
As the story scoots along we’re reintroduced to several familiar faces. Of course there’s Ralph’s kid brother Randy (Ian Petrella) who’s a traveling businessman and a bit of a flake. And who can forget his best buddies, Flick (Scott Schwartz), who now runs a bar passed down from his dad, and Schwartz (R.D. Robb), who still lives with his mom and spends most of his time running up its tab at Flick’s Tavern. We even get some moments with those pesky hillbilly neighbors the Bumpass family. So many other things bring fun memories gushing back, such as the familiar details of Ralph’s old Cleveland Street house and the “tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy” in the window at Higbie’s Department Store.
But what makes the movie more than a simple nostalgia trip is how it repeatedly returns to its emotional core. Namely, the loss of a beloved father and a son trying to cope. This really comes to light after Ralph’s mom asks him to write his father’s obituary. Yes, Kaytis and company unashamedly taps into what people love about “A Christmas Story”. But it also has a heart of its own. It makes for a truly enjoyable mix. And if people will avoid the temptation to needlessly compare the two, they’ll find this to be a pretty irresistible sequel and quite the “Christmas Story” companion piece. “A Christmas Story Christmas” premieres November 17th on HBO MAX.