Disney’s recent bid to purchase 21st Century Fox has peaked my interest in learning more about the company and in particular, the film library Disney plans to acquire. This is the first in our “Getting to Know You” series of articles on Fox through which we will explore Disney’s latest acquisition, named after a Rodgers & Hammerstein song from The King and I which Fox brought to the big screen in 1956. With Christmas just around the corner, we look at the holiday films that could become part of the Disney family.
Miracle on 34th Street
First produced in 1947, Miracle on 34th Street was released to theaters in June and the marketing campaign downplayed the fact that it was a Christmas film featuring Santa Claus as a main character. Maureen O’Hara (The Parent Trap) and Natalie Wood star as mother and daughter, with O’Hara’s character managing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. When the actor playing Santa proves too drunk to participate, a stranger off the street played by Edmund Gwenn fills in and becomes the department store’s Santa. But when the gentleman claims to be the real Santa, he is arrested and will have to prove his real identity in court.
Miracle on 34th Street was a surprise hit and even earned a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. Edmund Gwenn won Best Supporting Actor that year and the film became an instant perennial holiday classic. The story was adapted as a stage musical by Meredith Wilson called Here’s Love in 1963, and TV productions were produced by Fox in 1955 and NBC in 1959, that version starring Ed Wynn (Babes in Toyland) as Kris Kringle. Fox made another TV production in 1973 for CBS starring Sebastian Cabot (The Jungle Book) and Roddy McDowell (That Darn Cat).
A second theatrical adaptation was produced in 1994 by John Hughes. Richard Attenborough played Kris Kringle with Elizabeth Perkins (Finding Nemo) and Mara Wilson (Balloon Farm) portraying the mother/daughter duo. Macy’s declined to be involved this time around and the fictitious Cole’s department store was created to replace it. However, this would not be John Hughes most iconic Christmas film, a title that belongs to…
Written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting), Home Alone was released in 1990 and far surpassed expectations, becoming a cultural phenomenon and defining family films for the rest of the decade. It made Macaulay Culkin an overnight household name and launched a child star career the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the early days of 20th Century Fox with Shirley Temple.
The film finds 8-year-old Kevin McCallister left behind when his large family goes on a Christmas vacation to Paris. While on his own, a duo of robbers played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern find their plans to rob the neighborhood thwarted by the boy, who sets elaborate traps designed to stop them. But in the end, he learns that no matter how mad your family makes you, there’s no substitute for them.
Almost immediately, Fox green lit a sequel that found Kevin accompanying his family to their airport, but boarding the wrong flight to New York City. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was another huge hit, introduced a hit 1990’s toy, the Talk Boy, and featured a pigeon woman who was created to pay homage to the bird woman from Disney’s Mary Poppins.
Fox attempted to make a franchise out of Home Alone with a third entry starring Alex D. Linz (Max Keeble’s Big Move), moving away from the McCallisters and starring a new family and different group of burglers. John Hughes wrote the screenplay, but Chris Columbus did not return. The fourth Home Alone film returned to Kevin McCallister, a made-for-television production with an all new cast that premiered on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney and even featured the Disney name above the title, despite the fact that it was made by Fox Television. The fifth film debuted on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas in in 2012. If I were to predict a franchise for Disney to reboot post-acquisition, it would be this one.
Die Hard is the Christmas film that macho men claim as their favorite, although I would argue that it lacks the core elements of a Christmas film and could have otherwise taken place on any other night of the year. Bruce Willis (Disney’s The Kid) was known primarily as a television actor, mostly in comedy, and seemed an unlikely casting choice in 1988. The film launched his career as a Hollywood leading man and action hero and lead to four other films in the franchise.
The original finds NYPD Detective John McClain in L.A. to reconcile with his wife. At her company’s Christmas party, a group of terrorists lead by Alan Rickman (Alice in Wonderland) hijack the corporation and McClain is the only one who can stop them. Released in July, the film was an instant blockbuster and almost immediately lead to a sequel.
In Die Hard 2, which also takes place on Christmas Eve, McClain is waiting for his wife’s plane to land when terrorists take over the air traffic control system. A third sequel in 1995, Die Hard with a Vengence, moved away from the Christmas setting. The franchise was revived in 2007 with Live Free or Die Hard and in 2012 with A Good Day to Die Hard.
Jingle All the Way
Produced by Chris Columbus, Arnold Schwarzenegger and comedian Sinbad (First Kid) were teamed up against the odds in a holiday film called Jingle All the Way. Jake Lloyd (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) is Schwarzenegger’s son, who is constantly let down by his busy father. But not this Christmas, where his father has promised that he will get him the Turbo Man action figure. The only problem is, it’s sold out everywhere.
Columbus originally wanted Joe Pesci from Home Alone to play Sinbad’s role, but the studio felt he was too short next to Schwarzenegger (which didn’t stop Universal from casting Danny DeVito as his brother a decade earlier with Twins). The film inspired a direct-to-video sequel in 2014 starring Larry the Cable Guy (Cars).
Deck the Halls
In 2006, Matthew Broderick (The Lion King) and Danny DeVito (Hercules) competed against each other in Deck the Halls. DeVito, new neighbor on the block, discovers that his is the only house on the street that can’t be seen from satellite images, so he adds a ridiculous number of lights to his house so it can be seen from space. Broderick, who was known as the neighborhood’s Christmas king, feels the need to compete and things quickly get out of hand. Deck the Halls was a reunion for Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth, who starred together in Disney’s TV remake of The Music Man.
The Family Stone
The Family Stone assembled an all star cast to tell a beautiful story about family and togetherness. Sarah Jessica Parker (Flight of the Navigator) brings her sister, Claire Daines (My So-Called Life) to her fiancé’s house for Christmas. Diane Keaton (The Father of the Bride) and Craig T. Nelson (The Incredibles) play her potential in-laws, with Luke Wilson (Around the World in 80 Days) and Rachel McAdams (Doctor Strange) as their other kids. When SJP’s fiancé falls for Daines and Keaton refuses to hand over the family ring that should go to his bride, the holidays get ten times more stressful.
Olive, the Other Reindeer
Based on a children’s book of the same name, Olive, The Other Reindeer is an hour-long TV special produced by Matt Groening of The Simpsons fame and Drew Barrymore (Beverly Hills Chihuahua), who voices the main character. Olive is a dog who misunderstands when Santa announces that Blitzen won’t be able to fly this year and that he hopes “All of the other reindeer” will be able to make the trip. Assuming that she is the “Other reindeer,” she travels to the North Pole in hopes that she can save Christmas, but ends up battling a bitter mailman who despises Santa.
Bonus – The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music is not a Christmas movie per se, but the song “My Favorite Things” features imagery synonymous with this time of year and is a standard on many holiday albums. ABC has the broadcast rights to the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic film starring Julie Andrews and they air it annually in December. This year, it aired on December 17th as part of the expanded 25 Days of Christmas, which is primarily on Freeform but with select programming on ABC and Disney Channel. The network pitted it against the Fox network’s broadcast of A Christmas Story: Live (which is produced by Warner Bros., meaning Disney will not own it as part of the deal). In 2015, The Sound of Music celebrated its 50th anniversary with an ABC News Diane Sawyer special that brought Julie Andrews back to Vienna where parts of the film were shot.
Someday, all of these titles could join the Disney cannon of Christmas films, further bolstering Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas lineup. While the broadcast rights to many of these films have at one time participated in that annual tradition, they could become a guarantee in the future along with Disney titles like The Santa Clause and its sequels, The Muppets Christmas Carol, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.