Here are 7 family-friendly alternatives to the major Christmas movie classics

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Dec. 21 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) in "Arthur Christmas," an animated film produced by Aardman Animations for Sony Pictures Animation.

Aardman Animations, Sony Pictures

For most families, Christmas is a time of staunchly observed traditions, and that includes movies. Classic films like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” can be as integral to the holiday season as eggnog and Bing Crosby.

But there are plenty of other wonderful Christmas-themed movies that sometimes get left out in the cold.

So if you’re looking for something different to watch with your family this holiday season — or if you’re just trying to program your own Christmas Eve movie marathon — here are seven films to consider:

“Nativity!” — Bilbo Baggins himself, Martin Freeman, stars in this 2009 British comedy as Mr. Maddens, a failed actor-turned-teacher tasked with directing his school’s annual nativity play. Things begin to spin out of control for Mr. Maddens, though, when a lie about Hollywood coming to film his production goes public and quickly becomes the talk of the town.

In a lot of ways, “Nativity!” feels like a more kid-friendly, holiday-themed “School of Rock,” but it’s hard not to enjoy Freeman’s performance opposite his pint-sized co-stars. Just watch out for some cheesy songs toward the end.

“The Nativity Story” — Right before she hit it big directing the first installment in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” franchise in 2008 and last year’s “Red Riding Hood,” Catherine Hardwicke made this little gem of a film with nary a werewolf or love triangle in sight.

Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) as Mary, Oscar Isaac (“The Bourne Legacy”) as Joseph and Ciarán Hinds (“John Carter”) as King Herod, “The Nativity Story” is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the account found in the Four Gospels.

Families trying to keep the religious aspect of the Christmas season in mind will appreciate this as a visual companion to the biblical story of Mary and Joseph.

“Arthur Christmas” — Despite its impressive 91-percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “Arthur Christmas” didn’t exactly light up the box office when it came out last year.

But this clever holiday romp deserves to be a family classic.

Made by Aardman Animations, the studio behind “Wallace and Gromit” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” “Arthur Christmas” follows Santa Claus’ younger son (voiced by James McAvoy) as he desperately tries to deliver one last present to a little girl in Cornwall before Christmas morning.

Just like the main character, this movie is bursting at the seams with holiday cheer. A perfect film to watch with a mug of hot cocoa or any other Christmassy treat.

“We’re No Angels” — In this unexpectedly charming movie from 1955, Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov play three escaped convicts — a swindler, a murderer and a safecracker.

Looking for a place to hide out at Christmastime, the criminals chance upon the down-on-their-luck Ducotel family. Instead of robbing them blind or worse, the three men decide to use their unique skill sets to bring about a Christmas miracle. In the process, they begin to have a change of heart themselves.

At times, the humor might be a little dark for some viewers, but fans of classic movies will appreciate the witty dialogue — not to mention the opportunity to see Bogart brandishing a machete while dressed in a pink frilly apron.

“Miracle on 34th Street” — Although the 1947 original starring Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood is an undisputed holiday classic, this 1994 remake, which was produced by John Hughes (“The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles”), is a fantastic update that might actually be a better option for younger audiences.

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