Cookie-Cutter Cinema

We’ve collected a pretty good stack of Christmas movie DVD’s over the years but most are one-time-watch forgettable. Yet no Christmas celebration is complete without sitting down to “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947’s original). Add in a televised version of “A Christmas Carol” (hopefully 1938’s original) and you’d swear all of the best Christmas movies were made before 1950. Of course, the Hallmark Channel would respectfully disagree. Love ’em or hate ’em, Hallmark’s been baking their cookie-cut Christmas movies for over twenty years.

Unlike most companies, even a global pandemic doesn’t slow down Hallmark.  I just checked my Hallmark app (yes, they have an app) and another forty Christmas originals are coming out of Hallmark’s holiday oven this year.  The first of these (“Jingle Bell Bride”) premiered on October 24th, so if you didn’t find the Christmas spirit before Halloween you’re already way behind.  Drop everything and grab the TV remote – you’ve got movies to watch!  Fresh cookies await: twelve of Hallmark’s 2020 offerings haven’t made their debut yet.

In life before electronic media Hallmark was the, well… hallmark of the greeting-card industry.  You bought a Hallmark card “when you cared enough to send the very best”.  You went to their “Gold Crown” stores to purchase wrapping paper, stationery, Christmas ornaments, and picture frames.  In brick-and-mortar days Hallmark seemed like anything but a media empire.  So they kind of snuck up on us with their bonanza of Christmas movies, didn’t they?

We should’ve seen this coming.  Hallmark quietly sponsored a couple of radio-based storytelling programs in the 1940’s.  Then they jumped into in-house productions with their “Hallmark Hall of Fame” (HHF) series.  You never knew when an HHF movie would pop up on TV but it must’ve been fairly often.  HHF is considered the longest-running prime-time series in the history of television.  For the record HHF movies were better than Hallmark Christmas movies.  Way better.  Maybe that’s because Hallmark Christmas movies run a budget of about a million dollars.  That’s not very much, even for a made-for-TV movie.

Admit it, you’ve watched a Hallmark Christmas movie.  You might’ve even enjoyed it.  But once you stood back and gained perspective you realized Hallmark Christmas movies are really bad.  They’re the very definition of schmaltz.  The acting is God-awful.  The outfits are dusted off from last year’s Hallmark movies.  The piled-up snow looks a little too perfectly placed around porches and lampposts.  The sets are nameless little towns in western Canada with same-looking Main Streets.

Then there’s the storylines. Dear Lord.  Every Hallmark Christmas movie is the same sugary-sweet cutout cookie baked at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  The lead finds herself in a Christmas-related predicament.  She conveniently crosses paths with “him”.  He unwittingly steps in to help with her predicament.  They find themselves on screen together the rest of the movie (read: flirt).  Then – but not until the last two minutes of the movie – they figure out they’ve fallen in love.  Quick kiss.  Holiday smiles.  Roll credits.

Even the actresses look alike.  That’s because they’re all the same actress.  Well, almost.  A dozen women grace Hallmark’s pantheon of “Queens of Christmas”.  If you recognize Rachel Boston, Candace Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Danica McKellar, Alicia Witt, or a few others, you know the Queens.  Perhaps you’ve seen them on Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” (an hour of Christmas commercials movie previews).  Perhaps you’ve heard them pushing their movies on Sirius XM’s “Hallmark Channel Radio”.

Why stop at Christmas?  Hallmark Channels want to be considered your “year-round destination for celebrations”.  Accordingly you’ll also find their themed movies around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Day, and – lest they feel like left-out seasons – the beginning of spring, summer, and fall.  You can even bask in “Christmas in July” if you missed some of the previous year’s premieres (but why would you?)

Hallmark is a much brighter bulb than any of the actors you see here.  There must be a ton of profit in schmaltz; otherwise why would Lifetime, Netflix, Disney, and Apple also jump into Christmas movies?  Gonna be hard to catch Hallmark: their productions can be found on four television channels, three apps, and that Sirius XM radio station.

Counting 2020, Hallmark has produced and aired over 250 Christmas movies.  Talk about a marathon: it would take you twenty days to watch them all (after which you’d be surgically removed from your couch).  Not me.  I’ll stick with George Bailey in Bedford Falls, Kris Kringle at Macy’s, and Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghosts.  Real actors, real stories, and genuine Christmas spirit.  No cookie cutters.

Some content sourced from the 11/17/2019 Wall Street Journal article, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Netflix and Disney Battle Hallmark for Christmas Viewers”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

10 thoughts on “Cookie-Cutter Cinema

  1. I had no idea that Hallmark had so many movies – wow! I think Hallmark is re-inventing itself for monies lost by traditional cards since many people use e-greetings or make their own cards, uploading pics to somewhere like Shutterfly or other photo sites. My mom and I went to the annual ornament preview weekend every July for years. The store was decked out with Christmas decor, music was Christmas carols, Santa and Mrs. Claus mingled and we tasted cookies and cocoa. Always fun and festive. I’ve never seen a lot of the old-time movies … I’m an oddity and I don’t have cable TV nor antenna TV currently … one day, maybe when I’m retired, I will catch up on the classics. I have, however, seen all the kids’ specials and Andy Williams and Perry Como back in the day.

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  2. Andy Williams, now there’s an immortal Christmas memory. My parents loved his variety shows (so we watched them too) and he always had a Christmas special. Love hearing his voice on Christmas carols every year.

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    1. We have a few radio stations that go to all Christmas music after Halloween. They play a lot of the old songs, but some newer songs I’ve never heard of . If I hear an Andy Williams tune, it makes me feel just like you did … like I was sitting on the couch watching the shows with my parents, every year.

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  3. I watched a Hallmark Christmas movie once….and once was enough…..bad acting, predictable script and fake snow. In defense I was putting up Christmas decorations and it came on after the news, so I was sort of half-watching it. Small towns in Ontario are sometimes the setting of these movies too, as I see the writeups in the paper when they are putting on the Christmas glitz in the shops on the main street, usually in the summer as who would film in Canada in winter! My friend and I had great fun plotting out one of these once, and then recently I read a review of a newly released Christmas comedy – a parody about Hallmark Christmas movies and realized that someone had stole d our idea! In spite of googling, I can’t find the name of i, but it sounded funny.

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  4. The demand for Hallmark’s movies fascinates me, as if better quality entertainment doesn’t exist. But from a business perspective who can blame them? As long as people watch they’re making $$$. I would enjoy that parody on their Christmas movies. So much material to work with!

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  5. Oh yeah. I have experienced maybe 2 or 3 in my life when I was making maximum effort to be a good husband. They are like McDonald’s hamburgers, only instead of filling you up with something completely not memorable, you fill two hours in the same way.

    I am completely with you on the best movie choices, but will break the 1950 rule by adding Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas (1954, I think).

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  6. No question White Christmas belongs on the short list of best Christmas movies. I watched it again only a couple of years ago. It wasn’t just the acting in those days but also the singing and dancing. Crosby, Kaye, Clooney – some of the best we’ve ever had in Hollywood.

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