Okay before you go nuts and say a sequel to this Christmas classic is sacrilege did you know there are seven movies about this family? So it's not like this is some sort of thing that no one should touch. In fact many were done before Christmas Story, and no one really complained about the others. Then again I guess since the titles of the other films weren't “A Christmas Story” no one really noticed... So I am sure the title will get people in a huff. For those of you that did not know of the other films, I will give you a little run down…
1976 - The Phantom of the Open Hearth - Ralph is attending the prom. Yes, the TV films were all about a teenage Ralphie. This one also gives us the original film versions of the leg lamp story and the Orpheum dish-night fiasco, and the amusing build-it-yourself house story. It's my least favorite of the Ralphie films to watch though, because it's a bit depressing and probably the hardest to acquire a good copy of today, but still very enjoyable. Never released officially on VHS or disc. Ralph is played by David Elliot here, and the Old Man by the wonderful James Broderick. Mom is played by Barbara Bolton.
1982 - The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters - Matt Dillon plays Ralph in this one! It's probably my favorite of the Ralphie movies outside of "A Christmas Story". In it, Ralph goes on a disastrous blind date, marches in the 4th of July parade with his school band, and gets tangled up with Schwartz in a picnic race against their buddy, Flick. Meanwhile, Mom takes up a washrag chain-letter, neighborhood drunk Ludlow Kissel surprises everyone with a firework from hell, and the Old Man puts on a fireworks display to thrill the masses. It's a must-see on every 4th of July, along with 1776, The Patriot, and ID4. Great fun! James Broderick and Barbara Bolton return in this one. A wonderful, heartwarming holiday film. Sadly, another that's still only available under the table.
1983 - The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski - Another delightful one here. Teenage Ralph finds his first serious love in his new Polish neighbor, Josephine, but at her family's big Thanksgiving celebration he learns how serious a few dates can be with some families, and it's escape now or wind-up like his pal, the former high-school basketball star thrust too soon into adulthood. This one also explores the Old Man's bad habit of buying used cars and Randy's turn at playing a turkey in a school play. Good movie to watch on a Thanksgiving evening or anytime, but, again, not available officially on VHS or DVD. Ralph is well played by Peter Kowanko here, with George Coe as the Old Man and Barbara Bolton returning as Mom. Katherine Kamhi plays Josephine Cosnowski.
1983 - A Christmas Story - I'm sure you know this one. Ralph, 10 years old and played to perfection by a bespectacled Peter Billingsley, is on a holiday quest to insure himself the gift of a Red Ryder BB gun. A perfect movie for the ages and a bonafide Christmas classic! The Old Man is also played to perfection here by Kolchak himself, Darren McGavin, likewise Mom played to what should have earned an Oscar by Melinda Dillon. This film is easily available in any format I know of, and currently running for 24 full hours annually on one of those cable networks that starts with a T. At some point, inspired by this film, my family gave up the virtual repeats of Holiday dinner on Christmas Day to instead go out to a local take out Chinese. We never looked back!!
1988 - Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss - The Parker family returned to TV in this one, as we see a barely teenage Ralph, played well by a young Jerry O'Connell of "Sliders" fame, getting his working papers and his miserable first job. In addition, the family dog, little Fuzzhead, runs away. The bulk of the story, however, is the family's maniacal road-trip to their favorite fishing haven, Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. Another great cast brings another great Ralphie tale to life with the delightful Dorothy Lyman of "Mama's Family" as Mom and James Sikking nicely portraying the Old Man and feeling quite a bit like McGavin's version without it seeming intentional or forced. Available only on VHS so far. I believe Disney holds this one, so I wish they'd quit sitting on it!
1994 - My Summer Story - The Old Man is played here by Charles Grodin. Some folks say he seems to be trying to be Darren McGavin. Personally, I only got that feeling a wee bit when he sounded like he was trying to talk like him in a couple parts. Mostly, he seemed to be playing it on his own and he's enjoyable in the role most of the time. Mary Steenburgen was well cast as Mom, and Kieran Culkin plays Ralph well enough, but Peter Billingsley is a tough act to follow. The only returning cast member, aside from Jean Shepherd narrating as Adult Ralph, is Tedde Moore as Ralph's teacher, Miss Shields. This one was made for the big screen, originally titled "It Runs in the Family". I don't recall it ever actually going to theaters, at least not in my area. Probably had a limited release. The title was wisely changed to "My Summer Story", and the fact that another MGM release is titled "It Runs in the Family" likely causes some confusion at times for folks looking for this film. "My Summer Story" has been released on both VHS and DVD.
While there is much to be cynical about in this 30 years in the making sequel, namely the reuse of bits from the original, there is also a great deal of charm and goodwill built up onscreen. I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this follow-up. We find Ralph on the verge of turning 16, yearning for his driver’s license and the attention of the school beauty queen. No longer is he interested in Red Rider BB guns or boyish pursuits, it is Ralph’s younger brother, that now harbors a fascination with another screen icon, Buck Rodgers. Just as in the original, there are a number a black and white fantasy sequences, in which Ralphie envisions himself performing a handsome hero. Although this time it is in the aid of rescuing his crush and not his mom… After a series of hijinks in the early goings, Ralphie inadvertently causes damage to a car for sale in a lot. The owner of the lot, forces the young man to come up with the $85 dollar replacement fee by Christmas Eve. Spinning Ralph into hysterics over the thought that his father will not finance the mishap. So he does the responsible thing and gets a part-time seasonal job gift-wrapping packages at the local department store.
All the actors in the film have a somewhat thankless task in recreating iconic roles from a film that has been combed over for three decades. Having said that, each does a good job in owning their character. Daniel Stern is a nice replacement for the incomparable Darren McGavin as The Old Man. Sure Peter Billingsley is the epitome of fool-hearted gestures during the Yuletide season, but Braeden Lemasters has a nice touch for light physical comedy. Director Brian Levant is no stranger to family films or Christmas themed movies having helmed, The Flintstones and Jingle all the Way to name a few. Let me be upfront this isn’t a new ‘classic’, it is nowhere as magical as the original, but it’s not the travesty that was “Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.” It’s even better than the 1982 original “Santa Claus: The Movie” Or the many other Christmas sequels… I don’t see this as one you will be dusting off to watch every Holiday season. But it is nice to at least have Ralphie come spend a some extra time with you this Christmas.
Director: Brian Levant
Stars: Daniel Stern, Braeden Lemasters, and Stacey Travis
You can get your copy at Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and Netflix.