For many, the best part of Christmas is watching the same beloved holiday movies again and again. Now we’re paying tribute to our favorites by breaking down everything that makes them annual must-watches. In this Classic Christmas Movie Breakdown we’re looking at the story of a young boy who is told he can’t have the gift of his dreams, A Christmas Story.
Most famous Christmas movies rail against the commercialization of the season. But that’s what makes A Christmas Story so different. It’s entirely about young Ralphie’s desire to get his dream present, a Red Rifle BB gun. That’s exactly why the movie has endured. It’s about the innocence and wonder of experiencing Christmas as a child. While we like to think the holiday is meaningful for all the reasons that have nothing to do with getting stuff, the day never means more than when you’re a kid on Christmas morning, opening a present.
So let’s take aim at what makes this movie worthy of its annual Christmas Day marathon.
Does Santa appear? Is he real?
He’s not real, but we do see him in arguably the most famous movie visit to Santa ever. Everything about this scene is horrifying. What store manager thought it was a good idea to put an impatient Santa—aided by the world’s surliest elves in garish costumes—-at the top of a giant mountain where he sends scared kids down a huge slide into an unseen abyss? You can appreciate some low-paid workers being frustrated at the end of a long day after dealing with hundreds of screaming kids. But this mall Santa, with his bellowing, unpleasant “ho ho ho,” crushes Ralphie’s dream of getting his Red Ryder BB gun. Then pushes him down the slide with a boot to the head.
Do any magical creatures talk?
No. The closest we get is the leg lamp.
Are there any religious components?
No again. The film has to be one of the most secular Christmas movies ever made, unless of course you worship tacky lamps like the Old Man.
How lovable is the main character?
It’s hard not to notice Ralphie is kind of a terrible friend. He abandons Flick when his tongue gets stuck to the pole because “the bell rang;” he lies and says he heard the word “fudge” from Schwartz (which leads to Schwartz’s mom almost murdering him); and he doesn’t stand up to Farkus when he’s picking on others. But for the most part Ralphie is great. He’s really funny (make sure to focus on him when the Old Man sets up the leg lamp). He’s also creative, imaginative, and smart.
Mostly he’s just a harmless little kid who desperately hopes to get the one thing he wants. We can all relate to that.
How evil is the villain?
The movie has a few minor ones, like the neighborhood Bully and coonskin cap enthusiast Farkus. As is his toadie Dill. Ralph’s teacher doesn’t cover herself in glory either. She gives him a C+ on his paper without any corrections or feedback; just the note “P.S. You’ll shoot your eye out.” Is that why he got a mediocre grade? Because she didn’t like his choice of gift? If so that’s indefensible.
But the real villain here is far less tangible, as the movie presents a classic case of “the man” keeping you down. Ralphie faces off against his mother, teacher, department store Santa, and everyone else who doesn’t want him to get his Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. The struggle is real!
How sincere or cynical is the movie about Christmas?
The movie is not overly sentimental. It shows lots of crappy things about being a kid. Like being bullied, getting in trouble with your parents, and learning how disappointing life can be. (“Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Ugh.)
While that horrible Santa and everyone telling Ralphie about the dangers of the BB gun are a bummer though, ultimately the movie proves to be a sucker for Christmas, Mainly about how amazing the whole holiday season can be for kids.
Does anyone sing? Is there a big group sing along?
Not really. The opening scene includes a choir on a sidewalk. And Ralphie, his brother Randy, and their mom butcher “Jingle Bells” on the car ride home from buying their tree. The most notable singing comes at the end. The family goes to the Chinese restaurant after the neighbor’s dogs eat their turkey. There the restaurant’s serving staff gamely does their best to sing some carols. It’s really earnest and kind of sweet, but this definitely would not have been included in the movie if it were made now.
What are the biggest Christmas themes?
Technically “desire/want” is one, but since that’s not presented in a negative light like in most Christmas movies it probably shouldn’t count. The theme of family certainly does though. It’s not overt, and it doesn’t say anything all that new or different, but at the core of the movie is the Parker family and their love for one another. It ties into the main plot. Ralphie’s mom covers for him after his expletive-laden beatdown of Farkus. And if she hadn’t, the Old Man probably wouldn’t have purchased the BB gun for him.
Without that payoff this would be a very depressing movie about why being a kid is the worst.
Most memorable quote?
“You’ll shoot your eye out” is one of the most memorable Christmas movie quotes ever. It perfectly encapsulates the frustration of being a kid. Although in fairness, everyone was absolutely correct. Ralphie almost does that on his very first shot. Imagine if he didn’t wear glasses?
This movie would not have its own Christmas Day marathon if Ralph had 20/20 vision.
We’re going to be lame and call it a tie between Flick getting his tongue stuck on the pole (seriously, Schwartz broke dare protocols, not cool) and Ralph’s visit to Santa. Every kid who lives in a cold-weather place has tested the validity of the frozen tongue myth (not a myth!). And even beyond knowing how unsettling a visit with Santa can be, we all know what it’s like to get flustered after carefully planning what we were going to say for weeks.
The part where Santa kicks him in the head is less relatable.
Most emotional moment?
For anyone who ever desperately wanted one specific gift on Christmas morning, it’s impossible not to get a little verklempt when, after all the presents have been opened, the Old Man tells Ralphie he sees one more hidden over in the corner.
There’s no feeling like the one you experience as a kid when you get exactly what you want. And that’s why we relive it over and over again every December 25 with A Christmas Story.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.
Images: Turner Broadcasting