A CHRISTMAS CAROL: My 4 Favorites

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Originally posted to Reel World Theology.

There is probably no more well-known Christmas story than Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. It’s a tale that it seems everyone has heard, and that everyone knows – its ubiquitous nature sometimes diluting the message of this “ghost story of Christmas.”

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge, while simply told, is fraught with symbolism. A large theme of the story is the true nature of charity, and giving from the heart.

The most compelling theme, however, is that it’s never too late to change one’s ways. In fact, it may be the reason this story is so synonymous with Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ spelled the beginning of man’s reconciliation with God. It’s the entire point of Christmas itself, or at least it’s supposed to be.

Given that the story is so universally understood, it seems that A Christmas Carol is a story that is ripe for film adaptation. Its imagery is imaginative. The story is compelling and, though it may start out grim, ends happily and engenders hope. Many renditions of this story have been made, going back to the early days of film itself.

I never get tired of viewing different interpretations of A Christmas Carol. It’s interesting to see how different storytellers approach the material. Some are better than others. Some present the themes better than others. Here are my four favorite incarnations.

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50 Years of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS

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Originally posted on Reel World Theology.

As you know from my recent review of The Peanuts Movie, I am very fond of the Peanuts universe. The Peanuts characters have a unique sense of honesty and sophistication, delivered in a very straightforward manner, that I have enjoyed since I was a child.

Through Charles Schulz’s brilliant comic strips, I laughed, learned and felt some very deep emotions. I sympathized with Charlie Brown’s struggles and insecurities. He taught me the good lessons of “keep on keeping on” and never giving up. Naturally, my love for the comics drew me toward the animated specials.

My favorite slice of the Peanuts media pie is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It is simply the greatest Christmas-themed television special of all time, period. Media today is dominated by material vying to become the next “Christmas classic” (even going so far as to preemptively label themselves as such), yet none of them can compare to the sincerity and simplicity of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Like most classics, A Charlie Brown Christmas did not set out to become one. In fact, all of the principal creative forces involved – a fairly successful cartoonist, an eccentric animator, and a documentary filmmaker – thought it was going to be a complete disaster. Even the TV network that aired the show didn’t believe in it. The overwhelmingly positive reactions astounded all of them.

A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired every year since its debut fifty years ago, and has become a cultural staple – touching the lives of millions of people across multiple generations. The creators reached something in everyone, something innate and fundamental. And none of them realized it at the time, except perhaps Charles Schulz himself.

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ROCKY Revisited: Showing Some Love for the Sequels

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Originally posted on Reel World Theology.

Since the Italian Stallion first appeared on screen in 1976, Rocky Balboa’s cinematic story has become a firm part of the pop culture, not just in America, but around the world. And the tropes have been emulated and parodied many times over the years in other films, television and other media. It seems that everyone knows that theme music, the training montage, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Rocky PosterLike all great films about sports, Rocky isn’t really about the sport, but about life itself. It’s about people, and how they relate to one another. It’s also a very touching love story, one of the best in all cinema as far as I’m concerned.

The Rocky formula is about to be revisited for a new generation with Ryan Coogler’s Creed. In this new film, Rocky is in the trainer/manager role, honing the skills of the illegitimate son of his late rival-turned-friend, Apollo Creed.

Though initially reluctant when I first heard about it, seeing the trailer for Creed won me over, as the grit and grime from the original Rocky is visually written all over this film. In fact, my anticipation prompted me to revisit the original Rocky and its five sequels. They are among my favorite films of all time. Yes, I used the plural.

SimpsonsThe sequels in particular have been fodder for comedians and pop culture critics for years, mainly jabbing at their purported overabundance. The Simpsons made a particularly funny gag, with Bart using the titles to quickly recall a school lesson about Roman numerals:

Rocky V plus Rocky II equals Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge!”

I may be in the minority, but each of the Rocky films serve a purpose. It is true that they’re not a good as the original, and parts of them may be unnecessary and overly sentimental, but they are good films overall.

Rocky is just one of those characters audiences love spending time with. At the very least, the sequels give us more insight into the kind of man Rocky is, as well as add layers to the relationships he maintains with the other characters.

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