A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this 1988 movie starring actor Jim Varney's oddball alter ego is short on both strong content and Christmas cheer, but his trademark slapstick humor will keep a range of ages entertained nonetheless. Young kids may be confused by the storyline, which centers on an aging Santa (who's not dressed in the traditional red, so as to blend in) seeking out his replacement for the job, so it likely will raise more questions about the St. Nick legend than it's worth. Older kids and tweens will have more patience for Ernest's particular brand of comedy, and they'll be able to recognize the heartening story surrounding a runaway's journey back home. This movie is a fun blast from the past for parents for whom Ernest is a recognizable face from their formative years, and they'll probably spot the blatant product placement (Coca-Cola, Nissan, Bic) more easily than will their kids because of their familiarity with the ads of the time.
What's the story?
ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS stars Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell, a well-meaning but mishap-prone cab driver who's in for a big surprise when he picks up Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) from the Orlando airport. Santa's in town to find a replacement for his job, and he's got his sights set on a local TV personality named Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark), but things don't go as planned when he offers him the position. One thing leads to another, and Santa lands in the slammer, so it falls on Ernest and a runaway teen named Harmony Starr (Noelle Parker) to break him out so he can persuade Joe to take over the position. Fate seems to be working against him as time ticks down to their Christmas Eve deadline, and it's tough to tell if there will be enough Christmas spirit left to set everything straight in time.
Is it any good?
There's no sex, violence, or language to speak of, which makes Ernest Saves Christmas a fairly safe, if not exactly heartwarming, option for families. Varney's simple-minded alter ego was a mainstay during the '80s and '90s, when Ernest entertained his fans in numerous movies, commercials, and a short-lived TV show. Your kids probably won't know who he is, but they might recognize his voice from the first two Toy Story movies, for which he provided the voice of Slinky Dog. Whether you love or hate his slapstick-style humor, rubbery facial expressions, and litany of misinterpreted quotes ("What we have here is a failure to accumulate"), it's impossible not to be struck by what's obviously lacking in this holiday comedy: iffy content.
What will stand out most to parents is the movie's unabashed brand placement that gives air time to deep-pocketed players like Coca-Cola (whose products Varney/Ernest promoted throughout his career), Nissan, Bic, and, briefly, Bud Light. It's not frequent enough to be distasteful, but there's no denying the movie's motivation in including them in such an unavoidable way.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about comedy. How have the style and tone of comedy changed over time? What kinds of topics are subject to humor now that weren't decades ago? Does this change reflect a more lenient cultural view on certain issues or something else?
Teens: Do you enjoy holiday movies in general? What are some of your favorites? Do you think this movie is attempting to teach a lesson, or is it meant solely for entertainment? Does entertainment always have to have a point?
Did you notice any advertising throughout this movie? Does it seem like the rules about promoting products in TV shows and movies has changed over the years? Should there be different guidelines for advertising in shows aimed at adults and those aimed at kids?
Themes & Topics
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