A Christmas Story: Tin 'O Goodies Review

Of course. Santa. The big man. The head honcho. The connection.
Ha, my mother had slipped up this time.

-- Adult Ralphie, A Christmas Story

Opening up this A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector's Edition was a lot like tearing into a great present that you've received like clockwork year after year for the past few years, only with a few new bells and whistles for added value this time around. To commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Bob Clark's Christmas classic, Warner Bros. have built this nifty package that includes a set of cookie cutters, a Christmas Story-themed apron, and a thin hard-bound photo essay / cookbook all wedged into an attractive metal casing that resembles a vintage cookie tin. Oh, and it does come with a copy of A Christmas Story: Two-Disc Special Edition -- but it's the same edition that's been on the market for around five (5) years now, only with redesigned coverart, discart, and a slipcover to streamline the old design. Still, cracking into this tin-'o-goodies and watching the movie for the umpteenth-million time still made me wish that the seasons would pass just a little bit quicker.

A Christmas Story has become a staple in the routine of many families over the holidays, whether it's concentrated movie-watching from open eyes and ears or even as fluttering background music to people's own stories of Christmas. And why wouldn't it become a mainstay: it's a colorful film that's easy on the eyes, pleasant to the ears with carols and humorous dialogue, and so warm to the heart that it's sure to spark a little of the cheer in almost any scrooge. But some people don't see the reason in owning it on DVD because of its holiday limits, especially when it plays over-and-over-and-over on Christmas Day itself. My argument to that is simple: A Christmas Story should be one of those holiday films enjoyed throughout the season, from the 1st to the 31st, for its memorable scene-by-scene decor and iconic quotables that really get the festive spirits flowing. And, dare I say, it's a film that might even merit a showing or two in the less-festive seasons of the year.

Part of what makes this bundled adaptation of Jean Shepherd's short stories unique lies in its ability to equally be both dated and timeless. As it follows the life and times of grade school hooligan Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsly) as he trumps through the snowy Indiana suburbs with his puffy little brother brother Randy (Ian Petrella) and goober-ish friends Flick and Schwartz, it doesn't just transport the viewer back to the 1940's with Little Orphan Annie radio shows and mail order prize winnings -- it takes you into the mind of a young boy during this "important" time of the year. Christmas isn't just a time of the year where presents are asked for and left to Santa's whims, not in Ralphie's eyes; instead, it's a near-surgical chain of scheming and verbose implanted on his parents (Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon) that ranges from product placement in his mother's Look magazines to sly conniving in wearing down the old man's legendary stubbornness. At times, I wish I would've been that sneaky as a kid -- but, then again, I probably was.

Watching Ralphie yearn for his "Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two Hundred Shot Model Air Rifle" (read: fancy-pants BB gun) in A Christmas Story reflects a desire that we've all had at least once in our lives for something tangible, something fun. The voiceover from adult Ralphie that accessorizes our story transforms it into more of a memory of his childhood than as a portrait; maybe it's because of the interesting timelessness of it all -- an '80s film transporting back 40 years for its story, but then taken back to present time by narration from a man reminiscing who's probably in his 40s -- that we get so wrapped up, since it seems like it'll be accessible even twenty or thirty years down the line. It's a memory filled with childhood cursing followed by a bar of soap jammed in the mouth, as well as teacher trickery in the classroom via snaggletooth mouth trinkets and chattering wind-up teeth. Though kids these days aren't asking for the same toys and using the same tools to their bidding, it does remind us that timely change doesn't necessarily nix somewhat inherent instincts. Especially when Christmas is involved.

A Christmas Story succeeds because it stays vibrant, reminiscent, and funny all the way through Ralphie's distress -- something every family wishes for during the holidays. Jean Shepherd's screenplay, combined with untouchable performances from the entire Parker family amid an array of little interwoven mini-plots, builds a dynamic between all of them that can be sneaky and sharp-edged, but earnest and good-willed with the second turn. We can't help but laugh at Papa Parker's pronunciation at the word "fragile" as he cracks open his grand prize, then turn around and let out a bit more laughter as the image of the Red Ryder-eyed youngster strokes the leg of "electric sex" as his mother looks at it as nothing but a tacky lamp. Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin as the half-bickering, half-poking, all-loving married '40s couple get everything just right -- from mannerisms between the two to their parenting skills. They help the saga of the leg lamp become the stuff of legend, one that has etched into film history as a device of satisfaction, pride, lust, jealousy, and a housewife's scorn.

Sounds an awful lot like the struggle with the BB gun, doesn't it? Exactly. But that's not the only fun device within Shepherd's little interwoven stories that connects on a broader-themed scale. He also pokes fun at battling the neighborhood bully Scut Farkus (Zack Ward, TV's Titus), standing up to schoolyard dares amid childhood culture with the icy flagpole, as well as tinkering with early childhood disappointment with the transition-age Ralph. Jean Shepherd found a way to verbalize all these memories of childhood in lavish lyrical fashion, and it's both hilarious and surprisingly catalytic to our own memories -- especially within the spot-on portrayal of the ideal Christmas morning's radiant mood. It's the perfect nostalgic vehicle, as each gear interconnects and churns amid photography constructed the way you'd probably imagine Norman Rockwell illustrations to look in live-motion.

There's very little not to love about A Christmas Story, including a lot of material that doesn't stand out as those mainstream nuggets that Bob Clark's chunk of holiday gold has become renowned for. So much Americana comes crammed into this classic that it practically busts at the seams, which becomes its real not-so-secret weapon at tapping into its ageless audience. And, I must confess, A Christmas Story has been a long-standing favorite film of mine for quite some time now, as if my fawning adoration didn't leap from these words. On occasions I've teased about Bob Clark's "other" Christmas film being my favorite, the dreadfully tense Black Christmas; but, when the sarcasm subsides, it's all about A Christmas Story's faultless nature that stands like the crooked star atop the Parker's Christmas tree -- which is perfect enough.

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