The Christmas Star
Here's a made-for-TV, Disney Sunday movie that went completely under the radar, at least from my perspective. It was released in '86, but it's definitely not a title I remember from my childhood. I honestly wonder if anyone else I know would. I mean, this one doesn't even have a critical Tomatometer rating. But could this be a hidden, potential Christmas classic that needs a bit more word of mouth?
The film introduces us to a two-time felon named Horace McNickle (Ed Asner). While serving time, he manages to escape, during a prison visit, dressed as Santa Claus. He gets out way too easily, and it's ridiculous, but I couldn't help but laugh at how simple it was.
McNickle manages to find a hiding spot in a nearby neighborhood. Here, he is befriended by two naive siblings, Billy (Nicolas Van Burek) and Trudy (Vicki Wauchope) Jameson, who believe that he's the real Santa Claus. McNickle takes advantage of his situation to help him hide his counterfeit money. But as the crimes continue, this hardened Santa ends up learning a thing or two about the nature of the spirit of Christmas by overhearing conversations while in hiding, and relating to these children.
This one has been pretty much disposed of and forgotten, perhaps because it has a particular darkness to it. Its characters aren't altogether likable either. But for some reason, Ed Asner's character balances things out pretty well. He's by far the best part of this movie. Even though he's a con artist, and criminal, he's somehow likable, and comes across as an overall nice guy at heart. He doesn't do anything to harm these kids, really, and he doesn't take any magic away from Santa for these kids either. In fact, he's kind of convincing in his advice and how he talks to kids. Not so much as a jolly old Santa, but as a father figure... even if he is using them for a con job.
The only real problem I have with this one is that it doesn't seme to know what it wants to be. There are parts of it that get pretty dark, and might speak to grown-ups a bit more. But then it's counter-balanced with the cutesiness of Trudy's character, which it seems to rely heavy on, to keep it innocent. There are some moments that are great, but some are just a bit much on the sugar scale. Although I will say, this is not as cutesy as 'Noelle'! This could, I daresay, still pass as a good family viewing title, as long as you don't mind the quality of a made-for-TV movie.
While it's been lost for a long time, it can actually currently be found on Disney Plus, and might be a neat one for people to visit if they want something different to watch for Christmas. It's pretty low-quality, but what else can one expect from a TV-movie from 1986? There's just not a whole lot to complain, or boast about here. For me, it's just nice that it feels very different than what we're used to. It's almost like a children's version of 'Bad Santa'.
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