A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that One Magic Christmas, while ultimately a story of the importance of believing in the Christmas spirit, has many scenes that could be difficult for younger and more sensitive viewers. During a bank robbery, a father is shot and killed, and, in a later scene, the mother sits down her two children to explain to them that their father has passed away and will not be coming home. Also, these two children are kidnapped by the bank robber, who takes them on an extended car chase culminating in the vehicle spinning out of control, falling off a bridge, and causing the kids to nearly drown. These intense scenes are intended to make a mother who has lost all faith and love for Christmas believe again. Although it's doubtful that "believe in Christmas again, and nobody gets hurt!" was the intended message of the movie, this is the overall takeaway. Families looking for a cheerier holiday experience should look elsewhere.
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What's the story?
Ginny Grainger (Mary Steenburgen) no longer has a trace of Christmas spirit, and with good reason: Her boss at the grocery store is an overbearing jerk, her husband lost his job last summer and can't find work anywhere, and they're being kicked out of their house by the end of the month. Through an angel named Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton), Ginny learns that it could be much worse, especially when you don't believe in the spirit of Christmas. When her Christmas spirit vanishes after one-too-many difficulties, the Christmas lights in the neighborhood shut off, her husband is shot while at the bank by an impoverished man Ginny had ignored at the gas station, and the man kidnaps her two children and nearly drowns them after driving them off a bridge in trying to get away from the police. But if Ginny can somehow learn to believe in Christmas, and to believe that she is the master of her fate, she can learn that simple goodness, kindness, and consideration go a long way to avert the evils of the world.
Is it any good?
Families looking for lighthearted holiday fare should definitely look elsewhere. With a story somewhat similar to It's a Wonderful Life, ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS makes the low points even lower, as Mary Steenburgen's character must endure the shooting death of her husband by a bank robber, her children being kidnapped and nearly killed by the bank robber, and then telling her kids that their father has died. This is all because she didn't give the future bank robber any money in an earlier scene at a gas station when he tried to sell his beat-up car to the mechanic.
Although this movie does its best to show the many difficulties families and individuals who are struggling financially face during the holidays, the dark moments are too dark, and the ending is a bit too neat and tidy, even by Hollywood standards.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Christmas movies. What similarities and differences do you see between this and other Christmas movies?
How are the financial difficulties the Graingers face presented in the movie? How accurately does this reflect the realities of working families who have fallen on trying financial times during the holiday season?
In what ways did the movie seem dated? How would you remake it?
- In theaters: November 25, 1985
- On DVD or streaming: September 7, 2004
- Cast: Arthur Hill, Harry Dean Stanton, Mary Steenburgen
- Director: Phillip Borsos
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Holidays
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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