Once upon a time “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” ruled the holiday season.
The two films represented an older generation of storytelling, but each spoke to modern audiences all the same.
Then along came Buddy.
The 2003 comedy “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell as a misplaced North Pole dweller, hit the jackpot with a $175 box office haul. That was just the beginning. The subsequent years found “Elf” fanatics making it an essential part of their holiday festivities.
Hollywood has been attempting to recreate that seasonal magic ever since … with pitiful results. Does anyone think kids will be clamoring to re-watch “A Bad Moms Christmas” in 2027?
Here are four critical reasons why Hollywood can’t seem to duplicate that “Elf” success:
PG … What’s PG?
Comedy writers can’t make us laugh without conjuring bodily fluids, naked torsos and F-bombs. The current comedy craze is to go hard R-rated or else. The results? Clunkers like “Rough Night” and “Baywatch” contributed to this year’s lousy box office results.
Something similar is happening with Christmas movies. Think “A Bad Moms Christmas,” “The Night Before,” “Bad Santa 2” and “Office Christmas Party.” There’s certainly room for a more mature Christmas story or even one that breaks all the rules. In some circles, the original “Bad Santa” is a yuletide staple.
Yet pushing the R envelope not only excludes kids and grandparents but often trips up the storytellers. Who needs “clever” when you can go gross and grab a cheap laugh?
Sappy Doesn’t Sell (Or So They Think)
“Elf’s” final act is unabashedly sweet and sentimental. Mawkish even. And it works. That was perfectly acceptable in 2003. Today? It’s all about gritty, edgy anti-heroes on screens big and small.
So dabbling in sticky sentiment doesn’t come so easily for modern storytellers. Just imagine how a remake of “A Christmas Story” would go today. Now that’s a chilling thought.
Too Many Cooks
It took just one person, David Berenbaum, to write “Elf.” That’s not usually how big Hollywood movies work. It’s often a gaggle of screenwriters, script doctors and others tinkering until the screenplay is ready.
Having one writer results in a singular vision, for better or worse. A gaggle of scribes, conversely, suggests trying to reach multiple movie-going quadrants. That rarely brings out the best in the film.
The Reason for the Season
What makes Christmas such a wonderful time of the year? Sure, the seasonal music helps. So do the gifts awaiting us under the tree.
The holiday’s spiritual side cannot be overlooked. It’s why the emotional highlight of “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas” remains Linus’s “Jesus Christ the Lord” speech.
Mainstream Hollywood movies are reticent to fully embrace faith, so spiritual sequences have a tougher time of making the final cut.