Harry Dean Stanton in One Magic Christmas (1985)

Santa's Gift, a Christmas Angel

Admittedly I watch a lot of movies but just 48 hours after watching Disney's "One Magic Christmas" I was struggling to remember it. That is definitely not a good sign and whilst it doesn't mean that it's a bad movie it does suggest that it wasn't an especially good one. What is for certain is that the storyline to "One Magic Christmas" has been inspired by some much greater Christmas movies as it has an angel being sent to help out a troubled family and in particular the mother who has become a total Christmas sceptic. But "One Magic Christmas" is a weird movie as for three quarters we have a down beat tale of a town going through hard times and this mother finding no Christmas joy at all and then for the final quarter it becomes a magical fantasy which frankly feels out of place with the reality of the first half. In fact it makes "One Magic Christmas" a conflicted movie which for three quarters will have no appeal to a younger audience yet then delivers a childlike ending.

It's Christmas and despite having a husband and two young children Ginny Grainger (Mary Steenburgen - Did You Hear About the Morgans?) is not in the festive mood, in fact she dislikes Christmas. That is the reason why Santa decides to send Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton - Red Dawn), a Christmas Angel, to help Ginny rediscover the Christmas spirit. It's not an easy task for Gideon especially as the Grainger's are having a hard time with only her income coming in and they are not alone as the whole of their town, Bedford, are also suffering hard times making it a rather miserable place. But with a little help from Ginny's daughter Abbie (Elisabeth Harnois), Gideon has a plan to bring the spirit of Christmas back into their lives.

Mary Steenburgen in One Magic Christmas (1985)

It doesn't take long to work out where the inspiration for "One Magic Christmas" comes from, we have a town called Bedford and an angel called Gideon being sent to lift Ginny's flagging spirits, it's like a combination of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Bishop's Wife" although in this case the angel is strangely sent by Santa Claus! What follows on from there is basically an hour of set up as we learn that there are many in Bedford who are suffering hard times, forced to live on coupons and selling their possessions. And the hard times include the Grainger family with Ginny working in a job she dislikes and with her husband Jack who having been made redundant fear they will lose the family home. It's a very down beat first hour which only gets any magic whenever angel Gideon appears and usually intervenes in one thing or another such as a street ice hockey game.

Now ironically the down beat first hour is actually quite good, it may not be what you are expecting but the grip on reality and what hard times does to people is well worked. But then in one major twist the whole emphasis of "One Magic Christmas" changes when Ginny's daughter is taken by Gideon to see the real Santa as she has a very special Christmas wish. It all becomes very innocent and the sort of thing you expect from a children's Christmas movie but it doesn't fit in with the style of things which happened before. And it makes it all a bit too corny as a magical, Christmassy happy ever after ending slowly develops.

This switch to a child like ending is annoying as up to that point the acting had been pretty damn good. Mary Steenburgen as Ginny Grainger does a solid job of delivering that cynical, down beat aspect to her character and you get a sense that here is a woman who when the kids are asleep will be counting the pennies and working out what can be spent. It may be a very real and mundane sort of character but watching something which is real makes it more interesting. And whilst Gideon maybe an angel, Harry Dean Stanton does a brilliant job of making him a man of mystery rather than a comical figure. The way Gideon lurks in the background almost makes him ominous yet you also get a tiny amount of mischief maker about him which makes him friendly. Even the young children do a good job during the first half being cute yet not annoying but then that all changes for the worse during the final parts.

What this all boils down to is that "One Magic Christmas" is a conflicted movie which doesn't know its audience. It goes from being this realistic and down beat drama of a family going through hard times into this child like fantasy and the blend of the two just doesn't work, making it feel like two movies thrown together. And sadly that means that whilst Mary Steenburgen and Harry Dean Stanton deliver some good performances they are wasted when the story changes track forcing them to become almost cheesy.

Tags: Christmas Movies