Watching Christmas movies is a separate tradition. Every family has their favourites, whether it’s an animated classic from long ago or a more contemporary take on holiday cheer.
Learn about some of the fascinating stories behind the stories so that you can watch your old favourites with new eyes.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is now a cosy holiday classic, but some people involved in its production expected it to bomb with audiences. The 1965 film was produced as a TV special with financial support from Coca-Cola, but it was completed in just a few weeks to meet broadcast deadlines.
Several iconic aspects of the film, such as the simple animation and one-of-a-kind jazz score by pianist Vince Guaraldi, were unusual at the time. “I think we’ve ruined Charlie Brown,” director Bill Melendez reportedly said.
All those worries had been for naught. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was an instant hit, and everything that producers feared would make it too strange were the very things that made it beloved.
The 1954 film “White Christmas” is brimming with behind-the-scenes lore, particularly regarding the music. The most well-known fact is that Vera-Ellen, who played Judy Haynes, did not sing. (Her dancing, on the other hand, was a different story.) Judy’s voice was provided by singer Trudy Stevens.
Irving Berlin, the legendary songwriter who wrote hundreds of hits, including “God Bless America,” wrote all of the songs in “White Christmas.” “White Christmas,” one of his most famous songs, was first heard in the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.”
The song “Snow,” which is sung by the four stars of “White Christmas” as they travel to Vermont, was originally titled “Free” and was written for a musical called “Call Me Madam.” It had a completely different set of lyrics, which Berlin changed to fit the holiday feel of the film.
Do you understand “Seussian Latin?” The term refers to author Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, and his extensive collection of made-up words. Producers wanted the musical feel of a Christmas special for the 1966 animated classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but didn’t want to include elements that seemed out of sync with Seuss’ fantastical world.
As a result, the Christmas songs in Whoville were written in Seussian style. After the special aired, viewers wrote in to request translations. Unfortunately, “Fahoo fores, dahoo dores” has no meaning. Using “bingle balls and whofoo fluff” to decorate the tree? Simply use your imagination.
‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ had a female voice, but she was not given credit at first.
Rudolph may have appeared in the 1964 TV special as a cute little boy reindeer, but he was brought to life by Canadian voice actress Billie Mae Richards. Because it was cheaper to record audio for the special in Canada, the majority of the voice cast for this stop-motion classic was actually Canadian. However, Richards is listed as Billy Richards in the film’s original credits.
That wasn’t by chance; she was given that name on purpose to conceal her gender. She once said that her own grandchildren wouldn’t believe it if she told them she could do Rudolph’s voice – but she could prove it by doing the voice on the spot.
Michael Caine had a great time playing one of the only humans in 1992’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” However, being a giant among puppets has its drawbacks. The bottom of the sets were made up of pits to accommodate Muppet puppeteers. Caine and his fellow humans had to walk on boards above the puppeteers, similar to an advanced version of “the floor is lava.” (Perhaps the floor is people.)
Set designers also used forced perspective to keep everything in proportion, which is a common set trick used at many theme parks. They also gave Caine a nice nod: one of the street signs reads “Micklewhite’s,” which is Caine’s real last name.
All movie magic is not high-tech. When “It’s a Wonderful Life” was made in the 1940s, movie crews typically used painted cornflakes as snow. They were melt-proof, but they were also a little… crunchy. Frank Capra, the film’s director, chose a quieter blend for his winter scenes: ivory soap flakes, chipped ice, and Foamite, a compound used in fire extinguishers. If you look closely at the scene with Clarence and George in the river, you can see some tell-tale soap suds floating by, according to the “It’s a Wonderful Life” museum.
Watch the 1983 comedy “Trading Places” with your ears perked up. The classical music heard in the opening scene and throughout the film is from Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro.” Classical music and Christmas movies go together like milk and cookies (“Ode to Joy” and “Die Hard,” anyone?) Elmer Bernstein, who composed the film’s score, was especially astute in including this piece.
“The Marriage of Figaro” is a comedy of errors in which a servant tries to outwit his pompous, wealthy employer, similar to how Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places” get revenge on two scheming executives.