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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Christmas Story has become a must-see holiday classic. Its 1940s setting offers an appealing sense of nostalgia, and it really gets what it means to be a kid at Christmas. That said, both kids and adults 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 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 dated stereotypes about Asian people and their pronunciation of English.
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What's the story?
A CHRISTMAS STORY is about Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a 9-year-old boy in 1930s/'40s 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 nasty bully, 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 lady'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 which will seem bizarre to kids today. But what is really engaging is his feel for the timeless details of childhood. Today's kids may not have Ralphie's exquisitely calibrated system of dares and double-dog dares, but they will have some equivalent that is just as thoroughly understood and immutable in their own schoolyard community. And they will have a bully to deal with, something sent away for with box-tops to haunt the mailbox for, a sibling to be annoyed by, an essay 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 Christmas present to hope for beyond all reason.
A Christmas Story is a nice antidote to all those Christmas television specials 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. Their reaction, seeing it not as a disappointment but as a delightful and funny adventure to enjoy remembering in future Christmases, is a lesson for all families.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bullies in A Christmas Story: What makes people act like bullies? What makes people befriend bullies? How will the bully's life change after Ralphie fights him?
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?
Did you notice any 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/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: December 5, 2019
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