It’s been thirteen very long years since Will Ferrell donned green tights for Elf. The 2003 comedy quickly became a holiday institution. And for very good reason.
It’s funny, endearing, and timeless. Remember Buddy’s four food groups? How he took on one very stewed Santa? What about that angry elf, played by a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage?
Best of all? Elf was clean enough for everyone to cheer thanks to its PG rating.
But Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make sweet, North Pole-approved Christmas movies. The movie industry can’t get enough of mature-minded content, and that approach extends to the holiday season. Few new Christmas films are appropriate for kids who still believe in Ol’ St. Nick.
Consider this year’s sparkly offerings: First, we’re about to get that Bad Santa sequel that’s been threatened for some time. Billy Bob Thornton is up to his old, R-rated tricks again, at least if the trailer is any indication (the movie poster features a passed-out drunk Thornton dressed as Santa). The original film became a cult hit, but it’s one that you’ll have to order the kids out of the room before turning on.
And then there’s Office Christmas Party, another potentially outrageous spin on the year’s biggest holiday. The December 9 release is currently unrated, but Common Sense Media shares this summary about the content: “Expect wild behavior, sex, partying in racy holiday comedy.”
Last year left us with another hard-R rated Christmas present: The Night Before followed three old friends as they embarked on one last hedonistic holiday before adulthood. Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in the intermittently funny movie that failed to draw a big crowd.
Before that, the 2011 comedy A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas delivered. . . well, nothing much worth seeing, if you’ve watched any other movies in the Harold and Kumar franchise.
Hollywood tried to create more family-friendly films in the immediate post-Elf era, but the task evidently proved easier said than done. The 2007 dud Fred Claus was PG-rated, but its mediocre storytelling made it a holiday footnote. And the less said about the 2006 stink bomb Deck the Halls, starring Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick, the better. The same goes for Tim Allen’s Christmas with the Kranks.
The current theatrical release Almost Christmas comes closer to the traditional mark. It’s just PG-13, so it might be appropriate for wise pre-teens and their older siblings. Danny Glover stars as a patriarch who asks Santa for one simple gift—that his children gather ‘round for the holiday without tearing each other apart. But the focus is on family dysfunction, not togetherness, which isn’t what most people are looking for in a holiday movie.
Let’s face it. Hollywood loves dark and dreary tales and anti-heroes. And it’s easier to create bawdy yuletide stories than tales that unabashedly pluck our heartstrings. Mocking Santa Claus is a snap. Conjuring what makes the jolly guy integral to our experience of Christmas? Good luck.
Yet Elf did just that. And there hasn’t been a movie to replicate the feat since.
The Hallmark Channel and other streaming and cable outlets have tried to fill the gap. Movies like The Nine Lives of Christmas and Christmas Under Wraps capture the innocence of the season. They typically feature lesser known stars and budgets far smaller than the average studio feature, and yet home-viewing audiences adore them.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Bad Santa or raucous holiday romps. Adults need entertainment and a well-crafted, R-rated Christmas comedy can provide some harmless fun. But it’s a shame that Hollywood seems intent on turning out only R-rated holiday movies rather than striving to create a new Christmas classic. In the meantime, let’s follow Buddy the Elf’s advice: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Second best? Watching a movie like Elf or A Christmas Story with your loved ones.