Hollywood ushers in the season of winter and the festival of Christmas with a bit of pomp and style each year, as one studio or the other tries to capture the festive mood of the audience and treat them to a fun-filled Christmas-y movie. In the recent years, there has been an animation treat added to it. On a regular basis, I must add. As the animation industry has been growing by leaps and bounds lately, a movie that has something to do with Christmas releasing in November or December of the year feels to be a norm of sorts. And why not? Christmas has a magical touch to it, a warmth despite the cold, the happy face of Santa Claus being the poster boy for mirth and fun in this time of the year. It has many tales associated with it, fables of the old. It is but obvious that the same deserves to get painted in many different shades and is presented to one and all as an animated film, which can add to the festivities in a way that a live-action film cannot.
So in 2009, Disney released one of the best animated Christmas-themed movies of recent times, titled A Christmas Carol. The film used motion capture style of animation, something director Robert Zemeckis had used previously in his films The Polar Express (another Christmas related film of 2004) and Beowulf (2007). Based on the classic story written by Charles Dickens way back in 1840’s, A Christmas Carol had the right ingredient to begin with. It is the tale of a bitter old moneylender of London called Ebenezer Scrooge who is self-absorbed, remorseless and cares not for any Christmas spirit. As the story progresses, he meets up with three ghosts, Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who take him to the past, present and future, showing him where he went wrong, and what awaits him in the future. The movie has its sentimental moments, quite a few in fact, that touch your heart as they touch the heart of Scrooge. The things that make his heart melt and warm up to the joys of Christmas, are the very same ones which would make anyone watching this film love to appreciate the goodness of things around. It is the kind of film that would leave you with a spring in your step, a smile on your face, and a surge of joy in your heart. Jim Carrey stole the show, playing the miserable Scrooge and all the three Ghosts too, wonderfully varying his voice to create separate personalities altogether. Gary Oldman and Colin Firth too gave their voices, amongst a host of other good voice actors. A Christmas Carol is the kind of film that could be seen before the arrival of Christmas any year, especially if you needed a reminder of celebrating this occasion with an infectious joy, for the festival deserves nothing less.
In 2010, Disney provided the audience with a fantasy film again, but left aside the Christmas part. Tangled released in November 2010 and was another success story for Disney but the year did not really hold any animation flick dealing with the Winter / Christmas theme. It was in November 2011, when another true Christmas-spirit filled animated film hit the theatres, Arthur Christmas. Not many would have expected much from the film, as the trailers had made the animation look modest, and Sony Pictures Animation is not in the same league as Disney or DreamWorks Animation when it comes to this genre. Well, the movie did surprise! Directed by debutant Sarah Smith, Arthur Christmas turned out to be a delightful package, with its underdog novel story about the younger son (Arthur) of the current Santa Claus who believes in something that others had forgotten, that no child should go without a gift on Christmas. As one child lands up in such a position, Arthur goes on a mission along with his grandfather, who was the former Santa, and a helpful elf, to ensure that the gift is delivered before sunrise. This is a film from the point of view of Santa Claus’ family, and it connects with the heart in all the right ways, through its colourful animation and humorous approach while not deviating from the central idea of the movie. Arthur Christmas has some endearing characters; apart from Arthur himself, there is Grand Santa and Bryony, the enthusiastic elf, and the reindeers. Through the course of the movie, many people grow and change, all for the better, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you and me too learn a lesson or two.
Last year, DreamWorks Animation tried its hand in this department with Rise of the Guardians. This wasn’t a typical Christmas film as such, but it did have the characters of Santa Claus and Jack Frost (the spirit of winter) along with some more mythical ones, which made it a movie of the winters. It released in the USA in November 2012, and probably would have hoped to capture the audience who were getting in the Christmas groove. Rise of the Guardians narrates the story of the Guardians who protect the children of the planet and are handed a tough task when the Boogeyman makes an appearance. When Jack Frost is chosen as the latest Guardian much against the dismay of the existing Guardians, things start getting heated up, and eventually it becomes a race against time for Jack to save the fate of the young ones from the evil of the Boogeyman. The animation here is quite rich and stylish, and no wonder it led to quite a big budget for an animation flick. Rise of the Guardians is about how Jack Frost discovers more of himself, rather than anything else, as he learns to become a capable and responsible Guardian. There are some heart-warming scenes in this one too, especially as the climax of the film approaches, and the story teaches us about having belief, in oneself and in others. Rise of the Guardians is a good animation film in itself, a nice warm way to spend 90-odd minutes, but it is not really one for the Christmas party. While there is the winter backdrop throughout the course of the film, it does not make much effort to capture the magical feel of winter or the Christmas spirit. It may be enjoyable the first time, but unlike the first two movies, this one is not something you would plan to watch each winter. Rise of the Guardians did not manage much on the box-office to justify its big budget, and this turned out to be a Christmas worth forgetting for some employees at DreamWorks Animation.
In 2013, the animation industry is bringing in winter again with some fun and magic. And Disney is taking up the reins once more. Disney’s Frozen releases in the coming weekend in North America and the initial promos do have a feel-good theme surrounding it. This is the story of a girl Anna, who undertakes a journey with a rugged mountain man and his loyal reindeer, to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. There is also a snowman, some trolls, and lots of ice and snow in this one. There is an enthusiastic feel of a Disney-like adventure to it, and enough magical elements to savour. While there is no Christmas theme attached to this movie, it seems an apt film to ring in the cold winters with warmth and jubilation. Being directed by Chris Buck (who has been in the animation department for long, and has handled directing duties previously too) and Jennifer Lee (directorial debut), Frozen is the last big named animation film to release this year. In a year which has particularly seen many ups and downs for the animation industry, one hopes that this high budget film can bring in much needed joy and happiness as we step into the month of Christmas soon!