A Christmas Story
Wonderful antidote to cutesy holiday tales; some swearing.
Based on 60 reviews
Based on 91 reviews
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A Christmas Story
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Christmas Story has become a perennial holiday favorite. Its 1940s setting offers an appealing sense of nostalgia for those who grew up in middle-class, Midwestern homes. And it really gets what a kid in that setting felt at Christmas -- main character Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) has to practice self-control to earn his dream gift. That said, both kid and adult characters use and discuss strong language ("ass," "son of a bitch"), and one famous scene involves young Ralphie using the "F" word (though viewers hear the word "fudge"). Afterward, he's punished for swearing by having his mouth washed out with soap. Ralphie is also bullied and eventually beats up his nemesis, then cries afterward. One child sticks his tongue on a flagpole on a dare and needs the fire department to unstick him. A scene set in a Chinese restaurant includes racist stereotypes about Asian people, and Black characters are only robbers or in the background of the story.
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What's the Story?
A CHRISTMAS STORY is about Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a 9-year-old boy in 1940s Indiana whose entire life is consumed with his one wish: to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. He also has to deal with a seemingly endless wait for his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, a boy who's bullying him, and an overworked department-store Santa. His father (Darren McGavin) seems preoccupied with the neighbors' dogs (he hates them), a huge lamp in the shape of a woman's fishnet-stocking-clad leg that he won, the family's furnace, and the Christmas turkey. His mother seems preoccupied with getting his brother to eat and getting the leg lamp out of the house, but both parents manage to come through for a chaotic but very merry Christmas.
Is It Any Good?
Part of the appeal of this movie, based on the memoirs of humorist Jean Shepard (who narrates), is the authenticity of the period detail. Much of Ralphie's world may seem bizarre to kids today, especially if they're from different racial/ethnic, religious, or economic backgrounds, but Shepard's feel for the timeless details of childhood emotions and growing pains is genuinely engaging. Today's kids may not have Ralphie's exquisitely calibrated system of dares and double-dog dares, but they will have some equivalent that's just as thoroughly understood and immutable in their own community. And many will have to deal with bullying, an annoying sibling, an assignment to dream of impressing the teacher with, the adult world to try to figure out, and, most of all, some magic dream of the ultimate gift to hope for beyond all reason.
A Christmas Story is a nice antidote to all those Christmas movies with perfectly harmonized carols and perfectly wrapped gifts. Because people tend to get so obsessive about every single detail at Christmas, the last scene of this movie, when the family's Christmas dinner is exactly the opposite of what they had planned, is especially sweet (other than the racist portrayal of Asian people, that is). Their reaction, seeing it not as a disappointment but as a delightful activity to enjoy remembering in future Christmases, is a lesson for all families.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about bullying in A Christmas Story: What makes people bully others? What makes people befriend people who bully?
Why is it hard for Ralphie to talk to his parents about what he wants for Christmas?
Why is Ralphie so disappointed by the decoder? Do products get advertised during your favorite shows? Does it sometimes catch you by surprise like it did Ralphie?
How do the characters in A Christmas Story demonstrate self-control? Why is this an important character strength?
Did you notice any racial or gender stereotypes in the movie? Why do you think things that were once considered socially acceptable (or funny) can later turn into things that feel awkward or wrong?
- In theaters: November 18, 1983
- On DVD or streaming: October 7, 2009
- Cast: Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Peter Billingsley
- Director: Bob Clark
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Holidays
- Character Strengths: Self-control
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
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The Peanuts gang in a classic Christmas special.
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For kids who love holidays
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