The Journal Gazette
Monday, November 30, 2020 1:00 am

Netflix looks back at iconic holiday movies

George Dickie | Zap2it

Film buffs who have a soft spot for Christmas movies will find “The Holiday Movies That Made Us” to be unadulterated catnip.

Produced by the same team behind “The Movies That Made Us” and “The Toys That Made Us,” the two-episode documentary series that begins streaming on Netflix on Tuesday, takes a behind-the-scenes look back at the making of two iconic seasonal entries: “Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) and “Elf” (2003).

In each case, archival footage and interviews with key players bring forth some surprising facts, such as that with both films their respective studios took a chance with relatively inexperienced production teams and, in the case of “Nightmare,” Disney stuck with it after initial poor box office numbers.

That it eventually morphed into a hit, series executive producer Brian Volk-Weiss attributes to a “superpower” that he says only Disney possesses.

“That superpower is taking movies that may not click with the audience the weekend it comes out or the month that it comes out, but really they will films into becoming successes,” he says. “You know, in between 'Snow White' and 'Dumbo,' all those movies failed. And you might be shocked to hear but those movies were 'Bambi' (and) 'Cinderella.' Like it really is one of the company's amazing things is that they can will these films into successes, which is exactly what happened with 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.' ”

By contrast, the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”-inspired “Elf” was an out-of-the-gate hit. Though set in New York, it spent only a fraction of its filming schedule there while doing the bulk in an abandoned asylum in Vancouver. The Will Ferrell-starring production also had surprisingly complicated scenes and a notoriously difficult co-star in “Godfather” actor James Caan, who insisted he be addressed as “Jimmy the Dream” by fellow cast and crew.

“My God! The stories we got about James Caan and just him kind of being a recovering angry guy,” Volk-Weiss says, “and not only that but being self-aware of it. In all the episodes we've done, that's one of my favorite things that we found because it was just so funny to me how open he was about it.”

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