Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story has gone from an obscure 1980s cult classic to a
stalwart of cable marathons and quotable moments in the thirty-nine years since
it premiered. Despite two feature film sequels, a half dozen made-for-television
movies featuring the Parker family, and much despised live broadcast musical
special, nothing has lived up to the nostalgia and wholesomeness of the
original. With HBO Max serving as the perfect platform for such a sequel,
Ralphie Parker is back for the first direct sequel to the 1983 original. A
Christmas Story Christmas, featuring the return of Peter Billingsley as Ralphie
and many of the first movie’s cast, is a nice and family-friendly follow-up that
echoes the tone and feel of Bob Clark’s beloved movie for a worthy sequel that
doesn’t reinvent or upstage the first.
Set in 1973, three decades after the original, A Christmas Story Christmas finds
now adult Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley) coming to terms with his writing
career not taking off. Giving himself until Christmas to publish his novel or
return to a regular job, Ralph learns that his father, The Old Man (played by
the late Darren McGavin), has passed away. Leaving Chicago with his wife Sandy (Erinn
Hayes) and children Mark (River Drosche) and Julie (Julianna Layne), Ralph
returns to his childhood home in Indiana to celebrate Christmas with his mother
(Julie Hagerty). Tasked with trying to make it the best Christmas ever to honor
his dad, Ralph must contend with writing the perfect obituary, stolen gifts, and
countless shenanigans with his friends Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D.
Robb) as well as the memory of how his dad made it all seem so effortless.
Clocking in at just under one hundred minutes, A Christmas Story Christmas
follows the format and style of the 1983 film very closely, right down to the
familiar musical score and daydreams from Ralphie’s point of view. Taking over
as narrator from Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story Christmas is an original
screenplay inspired by the author’s writings. Still, it comes from a story
crafted by Billingsley and Nick Schenk. Director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds
Movie) emulates Bob Clark’s style with vignettes and retro visuals to evoke the
1970s, similar to how the first film looked straight out of the 1940s.
Billingsley steps back into playing Ralph as if no time has passed but updates
his approach to celebrating the holidays as a quest to honor his late father.
Along the way, he learns a lot about what it takes to wrangle everything from
shopping, cooking, decorating, and more while never losing the heart of what the
holiday season is all about.
Like the first film, there is a lot going on, much of which is not directly
connected to Christmas at all. In the week leading up to December 25th, with The
Old Man’s funeral on hold until after the holiday, this movie hits similar
moments from the original, including a busted car, the long wait for Santa, the
neighboring Bumpus clan, a couple of bullies, and the daily challenges of being
around family. Replacing the school scenes are those set with Ralph and his
adult friends at Flick’s bar. Seeing the trio as adults is nice, still with the
childish side of their personalities coming through wrinkles and facial hair.
All three actors feel like they never lost touch with playing these roles, but
Billingsley’s authentic performance as Ralph echoes the most. My second favorite
has to be Zach Ward as Scut Farkas, the villain in the first movie, whose
inclusion here is a fitting way to connect the two films.
Produced by Billingsley alongside longtime production partner Vince Vaughn, A
Christmas Story Christmas spends a lot more time reflecting on the death of The
Old Man than I expected from a movie that follows a film that was so light and
positive. Thankfully, this sequel never wallows in grief but celebrates life in
the face of great loss. They also do not rely too heavily on flashbacks to
scenes from the first movie, but it feels right when they do. The biggest
problem with this movie is that nothing really happens as it is more of a
glimpse into the life of these characters and doesn’t have quite the same drive
as Ralphie’s wish for a Red Ryder BB Gun. Still, shifting the focus to Ralph
trying to succeed as a writer does have a satisfying feel, as the ending here
dovetails with the original movie.
The ending is the strongest section of A Christmas Story Christmas, as Ralphie’s
much-procrastinated task of writing his father’s obituary creates an effective,
full-circle connection between Shepherd’s work, the most heartfelt moments of A
Christmas Story and the best parts of this sequel. It feels like the writers
were working backwards to the outcome, and they stick the landing very well.
Will it earn a spot on the heavy rotation holiday list going forward? Maybe not,
but it will certainly be worth going back for a visit every few holiday seasons.