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Chris Hicks: ‘Arthur Christmas’ leads holiday videos available in stores now

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 8:24 a.m. MDT

Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) in Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) in "Arthur Christmas." (Sony)

A number of readers have been asking about “Arthur Christmas,” which opened in theaters last Thanksgiving but didn’t follow the usual pattern of landing on home video a few months later. That’s because the distributor knew it was more likely to sell big during the following year’s holiday season. So here it is, along with a Blu-ray upgrade of a Disney favorite and a pair of locally produced holiday films, among many others aimed at families.

“Arthur Christmas” (Columbia, 2011, PG, $30.99, featurettes). This animated feature comes from the folks at the British Aardman Studios (the Wallace & Gromit films, “Chicken Run,” “Pirates! Band of Misfits”), and it suggests that “Santa” is more a family-run military-style operation than a singular, magic, jolly old elf.

The frantic prelude sets up the high-tech means by which Santa manages to visit every home on the planet, then, thankfully, calms down for the story of misfit youngest son Arthur, who, of course, will ultimately have to save the day.

The storyline isn’t all that far afield from a number of other films that have come up with their own comic interpretations of the Santa legend. But, of course, it’s all in the telling, and this one is funny and clever enough to gloss over its few miscalculations, with a nonstop string of sight gags and quips, along with the modern requisite snarky one-liners. (Also on two-disc Blu-ray, $40.99, and three-disc 3D, $55.99.)

“The Muppet Christmas Carol: 20th Anniversary” (Disney/Blu-ray + Digital, 1992, G, two discs, $26.50, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers, trailers). This delightful, tune-filled umpteenth reinterpretation of Dickens’ classic is a lot of fun in its own right but it also gets a tremendous boost from Michael Caine as Scrooge. He’s terrific, playing it straight to all the Muppet madness swirling around him. And, as you might expect, this Blu-ray edition looks fabulous. (Also on DVD, $19.99.)

“Christmas Oranges” (Covenant, 2012, PG, $19.99). Locally filmed adaptation of the popular book has Edward Herrmann as a Scrooge-like character running an orphanage with an iron fist, and he’s the main draw for this sentimental yarn. The central plot has a young girl looking forward to a holiday visit from Herrmann’s brother (Bruce Newbold) as he brings oranges to the impoverished youngsters. Simplistic but easy-to-take family fare.

“12 Dogs of Christmas: Great Puppy Rescue” (Sony, 2012, PG, $22.99, featurettes). Former Utahn Kieth Merrill wrote and directed this locally filmed sequel to his “12 Dogs of Christmas,” set during the Depression, as now-teenage Emma puts on a holiday show to literally save the farm.

“12 Days of Christmas” (Lifetime, 2005-08, 12 discs, $39.95, 12 movies). This box set of holiday-themed TV movies is aimed directly at fans of the Lifetime Channel, those who enjoy syrupy but uplifting tales of love and redemption during the Christmas season. The films are: “The Road to Christmas,” “Recipe for a Perfect Christmas,” “Home By Christmas,” “A Christmas Wedding,” “Holiday Switch,” “A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride,” “Under the Mistletoe,” “Holiday Wishes,” “Christmas in Paradise,” “Deck the Halls,” “His & Her Christmas” and “Will You Merry Me?” Stars include Linda Hamilton, Wendy Malick, Christine Baranski and Jennifer Grey.

“Rankin/Bass TV Holiday Favorites Collection” (Warner Archive, 1976-81, $18.95, four cartoons). These beloved TV specials are animated holiday treats: “The Little Drummer Boy, Book II,” with voices by Greer Garson and Zero Mostel; “Pinocchio’s Christmas,” Alan King; “The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold,” Art Carney; and best of all, Walter Matthau as “The Stingiest Man in Town,” a “Christmas Carol” adaptation. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)

“Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 2009/2011, two discs, $20, two animated shorts, comic featurettes). The two “Prep & Landing” TV specials are packaged here along with bonus animation. The title characters are elves paving the way each Christmas for Santa. A source of inspiration for “Arthur Christmas,” perhaps? (Also on DVD, $19.99.)

“Planes, Trains & Automobiles” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1987; R for language; $22.98, deleted scene, featurettes). I know, it’s not Christmas, it’s Thanksgiving. But it’s a holiday movie nonetheless. Harried businessman Steve Martin is caught in a blizzard while trying to get home for Thanksgiving when he finds himself tethered to an overbearing lout (John Candy). Some funny moments, some sweet moments and some misfires in this holiday comedy.

“An American Christmas Carol” (Shout! 1979, $29.99. featurette). If you can accept Henry Winkler in old-age makeup, you’ll probably enjoy this reinterpretation of the Dickens tale set in New England during the Depression. (Also on Blu-ray, same price.)

“The Christmas Pageant” (Vivendi, 2011, $14.93). Melissa Gilbert stars as a blackballed Broadway director who is forced to take a job with a small-town pageant, and the expected life changes eventually come in this Hallmark Channel TV movie. Edward Herrmann co-stars.

“Annie Claus Is Coming to Town” (Vivendi, 2011, $14.93). Maria Thayer plays the title character, Santa’s daughter, leaving the North Pole for sunny California, spreading holiday cheer along the way. A Hallmark Channel TV movie.

“Christmas Miracle” (Vivendi, 2012, $14.93, deleted scenes, featurette; 4x6 Thomas Kinkade print). Eight strangers are stranded over Christmas in an abandoned church where they learn tolerance and discover the holiday spirit.

“A Princess For Christmas” (Lionsgate, 2011, $14.98, featurette). This variation on “Cinderella” has a woman who is caring for her young niece and nephew invited to Europe for Christmas with a distant uncle (Roger Moore).

“The Adventures of Bailey: Christmas Hero” (eOne, 2012, $14.98). Bailey, the mischievous Golden Retriever puppy of this live-action video series, contrives a plot to ensure he receives his presents from Santa, which, of course, backfires.

“Chilly Christmas” (Anchor Bay, 2012, $19.98). This live-action effort has a family pooch named Chilly disrupting Christmas for a California couple. C. Thomas Howell and Tom Arnold head the cast.

“The Swan Princess Christmas” (Sony, 2012, PG, $9.99, featurette, read-along, music videos). This fourth in the “Swan Princess” animated-feature series has Princess Odette, Prince Derek and woodland friends battling Rothbart, who is bent on destroying the holiday.

“Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics Collection” (Warner Archive, 1972-93, $17.95, three cartoons). These animated TV specials are not quite up there with the Rankin/Bass set: “A Christmas Story” is the weakest, about a dog and a mouse delivering a child’s letter to Santa. “Casper’s First Christmas” has the gimmick of Casper joining other Hanna-Barbera characters Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, etc. Best is “The Town Santa Forgot,” with Dick Van Dyke narrating an amusing yarn about a greedy boy’s lengthy Christmas list backfiring. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)

“SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!” (Nickelodeon/Paramount, 2012, $14.99, featurettes, downloadable songs). Holiday special has the gang getting sick on Plankton’s fruitcake. John Goodman voices Santa.

“Chuggington: Icy Escapades” (Anchor Bay, 2012, $14.98, six episodes, bonus episode). Cartoon trains are stuck in the snow and ice in this cute and amusing British kids series.

“Saban’s Power Rangers Samurai: Christmas Together, Friends Forever” (Lionsgate, 2012, $14.98, three episodes). Holiday episodes of the superhero series.

“Gummibar: The Yummy Gummy Search for Santa” (Lionsgate, 2012, $14.98, music videos). Animated spinoff of YouTube “Gummy Bear Song” has Gummibar and friends trying to rescue Santa.

E-MAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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