For personal reasons, I don’t support telling children that Santa (or the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny) is real.* On the other hand, a good story, whether based on historical narrative or cultural mythology, is a good story. By the time kids are in the ‘middle grades’ years they are generally aware that Santa is not an actual person, elves are not real, and there is no magical workshop based at the North Pole. This doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy a good Christmas movie. In fact, it may be just what they need to help them transition from childhood belief to their new understanding of the role that the Santa mythology plays in the holiday.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) – If for no other reason than the brilliant language, enhanced by the narration of the magnificent Boris Karloff, this is an essential choice. And be very clear, I am speaking of the original animated version, not the Jim Carrey headlined, nightmarish abomination from 2000. Sorry, I have strong feelings about this. Not that I have anything against Jim Carrey. Scratch that, I have a lot against Jim Carrey, but all is forgiven due to his inspired performance in The Truman Show. Regardless, this classic version of Dr. Seuss, in which he had a large hand, is worth enjoying on an annual basis.
Scrooged (1988) – As an unrepentant fan of Bill Murray, I have to recommend this movie. It’s a creative take on Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, and features some truly classic performances. My favorite performance is Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present (your tween might recognize her as the wife of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride.) For those of us who were teens and tweens during this time period, it’s also a pretty good composite of what life (or at least popular culture) had to offer when we were their age. Also, it’s PG-13, so use your judgement for when your tween is ready.
The Santa Clause (1994) – Oh, Tim Allen, you really lucked out with this one. For anyone who has fallen into what seems like a perpetual state of relationship disrepair with your tween, this is a useful choice. It’s also my favorite visually imagined version of Santa’s workshop. With some of the best performances being delivered by the children in the film (special shoutout to teenaged David Krumholtz), this is a great version of the ‘reluctant hero’ story. Bring tissues.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – A truly faithful interpretation of the Dickens classic, this is the version I recommend to anyone who is trying to help their tween understand just what is going on in Language Arts class. Is it just my school, or do schools everywhere try to teach play format with this? Gonzo is an inspired choice as narrator, with Kermit and Miss Piggy falling naturally into the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit, all of our favorite characters from the muppets canon get their 5 minutes in this delightful performance. And, of course, Michael Caine makes the perfect Scrooge – believably unsympathetic to start, but growing more and more relatable as the story progresses. Also, One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas.
Elf (2003) – Where would I be without this movie? I turn it on every year when the winter doldrums strike. It seems almost inconceivable that Will Ferrell will be able to make it through the entire story without breaking character, but he does it every time. No other adult attempting to portray childlike innocence can hold a candle to this performance (“son of a nutcracker!”) Packed with small performances by big name actors, this is the perfect choice to share with any tween who has lost the magic of Christmas.
Regardless of what you celebrate at this time of year, if you celebrate anything at all, the break we all get from school, work, etc., is the perfect time to share a favorite movie with a favorite tween or two. Happy viewing and a restful season to all.
*Statement is not intended to pass judgement, your mileage may vary, you do you, etc.