Buttons: A Christmas Tale

Movie review by
Stephanie Myers, Common Sense Media
Buttons: A Christmas Tale Movie Poster Image
Holiday-themed musical is both gloomy and heartwarming.
  • PG
  • 2018
  • 115 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Intended primarily to entertain, rather than educate, but has lessons about generosity and hope.

Positive Messages

Always believe and have hope that things will get better. We're never alone; there's always someone looking out for us. No matter what's happening in our lives, we can still be kind and generous to others and show compassion.

Positive Role Models

Though the main character goes through misfortune, she's still extremely generous and giving. When she's out in the cold and down to her last bit of food, she gives it away. She also gives away her scarf even though she's very cold. Another character does what she can to cheer a little girl up, reading her a story and giving her hot chocolate. A nun takes in an orphan and makes sure she gets medical care and then prays that the girl finds a good home. 

Violence & Scariness

Children who work in a mill get yelled at and don't get enough to eat or drink. While in the mill, the main character is shoved and made fun of and has one of her toys snatched away by another little girl. The main character's father is killed in a shipwreck. The main character is chased and grabbed by someone who's trying to force her to return back to the mill. 

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Buttons: A Christmas Tale is a musical holiday drama that stars Angela LansburyDick Van DykeIoan Gruffudd, and others. It deals with children becoming orphans, which could worry young/sensitive kids. While there's no sex, swearing, or substance use, there are some potentially distressing plot elements. The main character's father is killed in a fatal shipwreck, and she's chased and falls through ice; it looks like she might die. She's yelled at and made fun of by other girls, as well as grabbed and tried to be returned to work at a mill. People are shown out in the cold needing food and warm clothes. The film shows how, no matter your age or financial position, you can still end up facing tragedy and heartache. It suggests that miracles and magic are similar and can coexist. Characters pray and talk to angels, which is in keeping with the movie's messages about believing and having hope even when it looks like everything isn't going your way. It argues that everyone has a guardian angel who will watch over them, but you must believe. 

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What's the story?

In BUTTONS: A CHRISTMAS TALE, guardian angel Rose (Angela Lansbury) goes to visit an orphan named Emily (Noelle E. Parker) who's sick in the hospital. Rose reads her a story about about a little girl named Annabelle, aka Buttons (Alivia Clark). Her loving parents pray to God to send an angel to watch over Annabelle when she has scarlet fever as an infant. Her guardian angel (Dick Van Dyke) appears from time to time when Annabelle is sad and unhappy, and she grows up believing in angels, miracles, fairy tales, and all things magical. When Annabelle is 10, she and her mother learn that her father (Ioan Gruffudd), a ship captain, has been lost at sea and is presumed dead. After that, Annabelle no longer believes in magic -- or hope of any kind. Annabelle's now-impoverished mother is forced by her resentful stepsister to work in a textile mill to make ends meet. The harsh conditions there lead to her death, leaving Annabelle an orphan. Forced to work in the mill by her aunt, Annabelle is treated cruelly by the other girls and soon escapes to try to make it on her own. She finds herself alone, hungry, and cold at Christmas time. Annabelle's guardian angel is still nearby, but she doesn't recognize him. With the mill boss out to find her, Annabelle must keep running. Ultimately, the only place she can turn to for safety is the church, and she must decide whether she'll start believing again. 

Is it any good?

This tearjerker of a holiday film is pretty gloomy, but it does have some sweet moments. It's a bit of a cross between any Dickens novel, the Cinderella fairy tale, and Annie. The title of the film -- Buttons: A Christmas Tale -- is a bit of a misnomer, as Annabelle is only called Buttons once in the film and then never referred to that way again. And although a good portion of the film is not set during Christmas, its overall message of belief, hope, and guardian angels makes it somewhat Christmassy.

Parts of the film are a bit predictable, but there are also a few unexpected surprises. And the sad/depressing parts are somewhat counterbalanced by heartwarming scenes, including the movie's musical numbers. Sure, they're a little cheesy at times, but they have a decent message. Bottom line? Keep your tissues handy, but thanks to the cheerier moments and the all-star cast, this may make a nice addition to your holiday viewing collection.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Buttons: A Christmas Tale explores the relationship between people, belief, and prayer. What is the film saying about belief? How does believing (or not believing) in magic/miracles change the characters' outlook? Do you consider this a faith-based film?

  • The film talks about magic, miracles, and fairy tales. Is there a distinction between them? How does the film go about showing these things?

  • Who do you think the film's target audience is? How can you tell?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love holidays and musicals

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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