Reviews

One Magic Christmas (1985)

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I am unclear as to whether this film was produced by Walt Disney Pictures or merely distributed by them. I’m just gonna assume that they did produce or at least co-produce the film.

There have been multiple Christmas-related projects from Disney over the years. Some are memorable classics while others…not so much. Which category does the Phillip Borsos-directed One Magic Christmas fall into? Read on to find out!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

The film takes place in the days leading up to Christmas. Everyone is having a festive time enjoying the snowy season and the Christmas spirit. Everyone that is, except for Ginny Grainger, played by Mary Steenburgen. She’s not so much a “Scrooge”-type character who hates Christmas, but she tends to look at it in a practical, realistic, sensible, magic-free way.

She works in a low-paying job as a cashier at the local grocery store and her husband, Jack, played by Gary Basaraba, has been unemployed for a while. They try hard to make ends meet so that they can provide for their children and especially give them a good Christmas. They have two young kids, Cal and Abbie, played by Robbie Magwood and Elisabeth Harnois, respectively. Their financial situation makes things hard for them though, especially since they have to vacate their house in a few days as it was a company-owned house from Jack’s company when he was still employed. Nevertheless, Jack promises a wonderful Christmas filled with gifts to Cal and Abbie while Ginny wants her kids to be happy with one or two gifts, max.

Honestly, I’m totally with her on this!

It’s not long before an angel, Gideon, played by Harry Dean Stanton, is assigned to make Ginny a “believer” or at least an “enjoyer” of Christmas again. He comes down to Earth and hangs around near their house assessing the situation. He even tries to befriend Cal and Abbie.

STRANGER DANGER!!!

Abbie is saddened to see that her mother isn’t as joyous as they are, so she writes a letter to Santa hoping he can help. She sneaks out of the house one night to post it in the mailbox, but is stopped by Gideon. He tells Abbie to have her mother post the letter instead because it would help her regain the Christmas spirit. He also divulges the fact that he’s a Christmas angel, a fact Abbie believes on the spot.

After Gideon has gone, Ginny finds Abbie outside reminding her that it’s dangerous to go out at night as well as to talk to strangers. Meanwhile, their financial troubles still plague Ginny and Jack. They take a walk together the following night.

“In your multitudes…”

She bumps into Gideon and is of course, a bit wary of him.

MORE STRANGER DANGER!!!

The next day is December 24th. Ginny goes into work while Jack drives the kids to the bank so he can withdraw some money. He tells the kids to wait in the car while he goes inside. Abbie exits the car and goes to the nearby grocery story to see her mom at work. This results in Ginny being fired and she then takes Abbie back to the car. After putting Abbie in the car, Ginny enters the bank to confront Jack, but a down-on-his-luck man named Harry Dickens, played by Wayne Robson, holds the bank up with his gun. Jack tries to dissuade the situation, but is shot dead as Harry runs out of the bank.

Ginny is shocked to witness her husband’s murder, yet somehow…portrays it very…”un-urgently”. I mean, maybe she’s portraying shock, but good golly, everything she does afterwards seems to have no level of gravity to it. She goes outside to see Harry take Jack’s car and drives away with the kids in the back seat. She then follows in another car, but again does so…”un-urgently”.

The police try to stop Harry, but he crashes and falls into a river below presumably killing both him and the kids. Ginny is shocked and saddened (again) as…”un-urgently” as she can portray and heads home to dwell upon having lost three of her beloved ones on Christmas Eve.

I guess this can be a poignant scene, but it’s already overshadowed by everything else that’s happened in the movie.

Fortunately, Gideon rescued the kids and the kids are soon reunited with their mother. She is so happy to see them, but has to relay the news to them that their father was killed. They’re sad about it, but seem to accept it quite readily. Maybe they’re just super young, but still? Abbie then gets the idea to see if Gideon can make their dad come alive again. She sneaks out of the house later that night to find Gideon, but he says he can’t do anything and instead suggests she talk to Santa Claus himself, played by Jan Rubeš.

He transports her to the North Pole where she meets Santa and sees his workshop. She explains her predicament and he gives her a letter written to him by her mom many years ago when she was a kid.

No postal code? How the heck did this get delivered?

He tells her to give her mother the letter and that may solve matters. Somehow Abbie returns home and her mother is happy to find her again (and probably wondering why she doesn’t childproof her front door). After she puts Abbie to sleep, she finds the letter in her jacket and recognizes it as the one she wrote to Santa when she was a kid.

Somehow this makes her gain the Christmas spirit and she goes out to post Abbie’s letter from the other night. After posting the letter, she sees Jack walking outside near her. Somehow or another time reversed to the previous night when they took a walk together and she gets to relive Christmas Eve all over again! She makes sure to make the most of it by spending time with her family, helping out Harry so he doesn’t stick up the bank, and even saying “Merry Christmas” to people.

And by “people”, I mean “us”!

And that was One Magic Christmas! And honestly, it’s kinda stupid. We’ve seen many Christmas movies before a la A Christmas Carol where the protagonist hates Christmas and needs to gain the Christmas spirit. But, Ginny’s character in this film didn’t really hate Christmas; she just looked at it from a practical point of view. I mean, is that really a moral failure of hers that needing amending? Even if so, it’s so slight a premise to build the entire movie upon.

And that’s another issue with the movie. It’s flimsy and unfocused. Is it trying to be dark with three characters’ deaths? Or is it trying to be lighthearted and a feel-good movie? And how the heck does Santa Claus play into this? And why so briefly?

Mary Steenburgen’s performance was good, but again, suffered from multiple instances of lacking urgency. I don’t know if that was due to direction or her own personal choice, but it definitely made the film suffer. Harry Dean Stanton wasn’t a bad performance either and Elisabeth Harnois was good for her age. Robbie Magwood wasn’t bad, but Gary Basaraba was incredibly forgettable and pretty much served the purpose of a McGuffin. In the end, this film isn’t magical whatsoever!

So, my final score for this film is 17/35 = 48.57% (F) !

The next review will be posted on December 7, 2020.

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