'Twas the Night

Movie review by
Tracey Petherick, Common Sense Media
'Twas the Night Movie Poster Image
Made-for-TV Christmas caper is formulaic, unthreatening fun.
  • NR
  • 2001
  • 87 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The movie is intended to entertain rather than educate.

Positive Messages

The main takeaway is that being "naughty or nice" is never clear-cut, and that people shouldn't be labeled as "good" or "bad." Don't judge people without getting to know them first and that it's never too late to change. Good behavior is usually rewarded. The importance of sticking to your principles, thinking of others over yourself, and the importance of teamwork are also all encouraged. Materialism is ultimately rejected with the message that the best gift is being with the ones you love.

Positive Role Models

Danny is on Santa's naughty list but despite his habit of scamming people, he's actually kind and thoughtful. Kaitlin is clever and resourceful, dismissed by her brother as a "nerd" but able to use her inventive to help save the day. Uncle Nick is a crook, but despite the lying and stealing, deep down he has a heart and comes good in the end. There is stereotyping of Black and Latinx characters who are initially portrayed as thugs, graffitiing a wall, and challenging Santa to a fight. But ultimately they end up helping him out of a difficult spot.

Violence & Scariness

Character is tied up and blindfolded, but the drama is played for laughs. Several scenes include shouting and threats, but all have a slapstick tone. Characters challenge someone to a fight, but it doesn't materialize.

Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism

One prominent character is greedy and materialistic, stealing from wealthy people and revelling in the value of expensive things. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Champagne is being poured in a scene that is freeze-framed -- so no one actually drinks it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 'Twas the Night is an entertaining family-comedy Disney TV movie from 2001, with mild threat and some "naughty" characters who all get their comeuppance. Teenager Danny (Josh Zuckerman) exasperates his parents but is actually the gentlest of rebels, while his irresponsible Uncle Nick -- played by a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston -- is a con man with a heart. There is some lazy stereotyping with Black and Latinx characters initially portrayed as thugs, although they eventually come good. But with no sex or bad language and some positive messages around seeing the good in people, sticking to your principles, and appreciating the ones you love, this is festive fun for the whole family. Just bear in mind there are a few references to Santa Claus not being real.

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What's the story?

In 'TWAS THE NIGHT, Santa (Jefferson Mappin) crash lands his sleigh on the house of teenager Danny (Josh Zuckerman), knocking himself out in the process. Danny, together with his wayward uncle Nick (Bryan Cranston), realize they're going to have to deliver all the presents themselves, so set off across town using Santa's magic. However, as Nick starts to use this newfound magic for his own selfish means, Danny discovers Nick is less a lovable rogue and more an actual con artist. Danny is not only forced to question how he feels about his favorite uncle, but also how he’s going to make amends and help his siblings and Santa to save Christmas.

Is it any good?

This Disney Channel offering from 2001 draws on the tried and tested formula for a classic Christmas caper. Family tensions, petty crime, skepticism over the existence of Santa Claus, and a series of misadventures that place Christmas itself in jeopardy, are all present. There are a few ludicrous plot lines, and some dated special effects that will unintentionally raise a giggle, but overall it's decent, mischievous fun. 

Cranston, in the days when he was known as "the dad from Malcolm in the Middle," exercises his comedy chops as wayward Uncle Nick, the worn out con artist who's "on the naughty list for life." He inevitably learns his lesson -- this is Disney after all -- but not before a lot of lying, thieving, and generally irresponsible behavior. While 'Twas the Night can't compete with Christmas classics like Elf or even 2018's The Christmas Chronicles, it does have plenty of festive charm. And despite the sometimes unsavory behavior of naughty Nick, this Christmas caper will no doubt get the whole family in the holiday mood. When Santa uses tickling to overcome the baddies, you know you're in a pretty safe place.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what message 'Twas the Night is trying to tell. Why is it important that we don't label people as "good" or "bad?" Discuss the idea that being "naughty or nice" is never clear-cut.

  • Would you consider any of the characters in the movie good role models? Who can you relate to and why? Can you also see these characters' flaws?

  • Talk about Danny's relationship with Uncle Nick. Why do you think Danny looks up to him, even though Nick is selfish and irresponsible?

  • Many Christmas movies follow a similar formula, featuring family tensions, Santa skeptics, and the threat that Christmas won't happen. Why do you think this formula works, and which other movies have you seen with these elements?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love the holidays

Themes & Topics

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