THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–It didn’t happen this year, but there have been times when Hollywood depicted the true meaning of Christmas.
The 1977 Emmy-winning TV movie The Gathering starring Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton. Focusing on a dying man’s efforts to reunite his family, this film reinforces the importance of family and presents positive Christian images; included are a believable prayer, the Scripture reading of Jesus’ birth and a child’s christening.
The Fourth Wiseman.. From Gateway Films/Vision Video, starring Martin Sheen, Alan Arkin and cameos by the leads’ offspring and other well-known personalities. Based on the Henry Van Dyke tale, a good magi seeks the birthplace of Jesus, but because of his duty to others, is delayed in the desert for 33 years, only to see (from afar) the Savior as he is being crucified. He spent his life searching for the Messiah in order to give valuable treasures, but one by one he sells his priceless gifts to help the needy.
Prancer. Sam Elliott, Rebecca Harrell, Cloris Leachman. A precocious 8-year-old cares for a wounded reindeer she believes is one of Santa’s flying helpers. Not just another film promoting the existence of Santa Claus, its theme is about believing in things unseen. Contains positive lessons about faith, family love (although the father is a bit of a grump — a no-nonsense farmer frustrated with financial problems and single-parenting — but we see his love for the children by film’s end), spiritual healing and doing what you believe is right. And there’s a respectful church scene featuring the singing of “How Great Thou Art.”
Miracle on 34th Street. The 1994 version with Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson. A delight and a rarity, as it is one of the few worthwhile remakes. Full of laughter, poignancy and charm, it is noteworthy for containing both visual and verbal Christian metaphors and pointing out that Santa is a symbol. It briefly features a great visual: A cross lit in Christmas lights on the side of a building, centered in the screen with decorated trees outlining the tableau. What an image! It places the true meaning of the holiday at the center of the screen and the story. There’s even a Thanksgiving prayer — when is the last time you saw that in a Hollywood production? Although Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood have nothing to worry about, this newest “Miracle” is a delight. (The scene where Santa communicates with a little deaf girl is worth the rental price.)
A Charlie Brown Christmas. A perfect animated tale by Charles Schultz with the “Peanuts” gang searching for the true meaning of Christmas. Great dialogue, charismatic voice performances and an award-winning jazzy score by Vince Guaraldi. One of the cartoonist’s beloved creations quotes from the gospel of Luke, proclaiming the Christ-child as the Messiah.
It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey wishes he had never been born. When the angel Clarence grants him that wish, George is able to see what life would have been like for his relatives and friends had he not been around. While no one calls upon the name of Jesus, it is full of Christian symbolism. It reinforces the truism that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of others.
Also of note:
The Little Drummer Boy. An animated children’s fable about a bitter orphan transformed after seeing the Christ child. Lesson: Hatred is wrong. Ends with “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The Greatest Adventure — The Nativity.Hanna/Barbera. Animated.
The Night Before Christmas: And Best-Loved Yuletide Carols. Rabbit Ears Productions. Meryl Streep reads classic Christmas Eve tales with moving renditions of Christmas carols by George Winston, The Edwin Hawkins Singers and Christ Church Cathedral Choir set to breathtaking illustrations.
Three Godfathers — Western/parable. John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey Jr. portray three outlaws who come across a dying woman and her newborn baby. The symbolism between the Christ child and this new foundling has a redemptive effect on the three bandits. Sincere performances, beautiful cinematography and the skillful direction of John Ford highlight this insightful western.
Cotton Patch Gospel. A musical comedy/drama placing the Gospel of Matthew in modern-day Georgia, with Jesus being born in Gainesville. Funny, moving, inspirational, with lively music by the late Harry Chapin. Although not a traditional holiday-themed entry, it puts the spotlight on the life of the one born on Christmas day. Ask your Christian bookstore to order it from Bridgestone Production Group.
Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For more information about his service, go to www.moviereporter.com.