Christmas is such a fun, wonderful, warm-spirited, cosy and nice time of the year that it really needs to be celebrated at least twice, right?
Right! So, Christmas in July is increasingly a festive thing, and while it’s not as big a deal as the main event in December, it’s still something worth marking with restaurants here in Oz offering special dinners, people staging get-togethers at suitably decorated homes and trees going up!
Speaking of trees, and yes, it was a smooth segue, thank you, my Christmas in July is up and it’s got some new ornaments up on it, ones ostensibly bought for later in the year but which are so cool or fun that I simply can’t wait to display them now!
And so, I have …
Produced by Hanna-Barbera, which was, and which remains my favourite animation house – sorry Disney and Warner Bros., I love you but not as much H-B – The Flintstones ran for an impressive six years from 1960-1966. It was so, says Wikipedia, “the first animated series to hold a prime-time slot on television”, and it followed the lives of Fred and Wilma Flintstone, their pets Dino and Baby Puss (the latter occupying a special place in the theme song),and later daughter Pebbles, and also their neighbour Barney and Betty Rubbles, son Bamm-Bamm and their pet Hoppy. Billed as “the modern Stone Age family … From the town of Bedrock”, The Flintstones was a lot of fun to watch, a mix of the domestic sitcoms I knew so well and the animation I loved and while some of the jokes sailed over my head as a kid, it’s become even richer to watch as time’s gone on and I come to understand how well-written to show was, and until The Simpsons passed it in 1977, it was the longest-running animation show on TV.
A relatively recent addition to my list of beloved animated feature films, Encanto was described by me in my review last December as “a film which while it may not be perfect, does a great deal to counter the idea that grief is forever and there is no coming back from the finality of the end, doing so in songs that are richly meaningful, characters that are compellingly and likably alive, and a story that lightly warms the heart while delivering some emotional knockout blows that last beyond the colourful and memorable final act.” Full of vibrant music, zingy humour, fulsomely well-realised characters and an engaging story with high stakes, Encanto is Disney at its finest, with the songs by the legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda add so much vitality and musical colour to a film already rich in both. The ornament features Mirabel who, as the sole non-gifted member of a family rich in gifts such as super strength or the gift of healing, is the beating heart of a film which ends happily but not without a lot of pain being explored in the meantime, all against the beautiful backdrop of fairytale Colombia.
While the very well-received sequel Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt as the magical British nanny is a joy, nothing really compares to the vivacious infectiousness of 1964’s Mary Poppins, based on the books by Australian P. L. Travers, and featuring Julie Andrews as the eponymous nanny, and music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. It is a film that simultaneously dwells in a very world pain of solid buildings, dissatisfying careers and the grief and loss of losing a wife and mother while also taking everyone involved, and thankfully the audience along with it, on a gorgeously escapist journey to rebirth and healing, one which, as this ornament winningly displays, dancing penguins and a chimney sweep, Bert, played by Dick Van Dyke. Combining animation and live action, which is where the penguins come in, Mary Poppins reassures us that while grief and pain feel eternal and follow a long and harrowing path, that they too will pass and when it they do, life will come alive again and you will realise that more awaits than simply losing someone very precious (which to be honest at the time of the loss, feels so complete and all consuming that you wonder if anything good can ever happen again; so the film’s lesson, delivered with a spoonful of sugar, is a necessarily important one).
Along with a great many people, I first fell in love with the incomparable Robin Williams when he landed on Earth, and in our loungerooms, in the US sitcom Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982. While he had earlier appeared in an episode of Happy Days (“My Favorite Orkan”, screened in February 1978 and inspired by the just-released Star Wars film which became “A New Hope”), it was in this Boulder, Colorado-set show, in which Mork first roomed with Mindy, played by Pam Dawber, before they fell in love, that everyone came to truly appreciate what an extraordinary talent Williams was. He could be manically funny, whimsically sweet and vulnerably heartfelt, all of these aspects of his character delivered with such genuine sincerity and emotional impact that it elevated Mork and Mindy from just another sitcom to something amusingly special and making it such a favourite of mine that buying the ornament was a no-brainer.
My dad died on 3 June 2016 with little to no warning – he was in the hospital and ill but seemed to be recovering – and when he did the tradition I had of watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation seemed to die with him. But as the haze of grief shifted slightly towards the beginning of December, I began to realise that (a) I need to keep watching it with my boyfriend and keep the tradition well and truly alive, and (b) begin buying all the Hallmark ornaments I could so my tree, the December or July one, could keep this most silly but heartfelt of Christmas films alive. It’s a curiously unsettling thing when life goes on without the one you love, and especially so when you reach something like Christmas to which the person was so integral, and at first, you don’t know how you’re going reshape it so it’s something you can enjoy untainted again. But somehow you do, and for me, it’s by making sure that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation gets watched every year and that the ornaments dot the tree so this most wonderful traditions can endure long after the person with whom you began it has gone. (The ornament buy the way refers to the fact that Clark’s (Chevy Chase) senile aunt Bethany, played by Mae Questel, brings a present to the family Christmas gathering in which she has mistakenly wrapped her cat who, understandably, tries very hard to escape.)