2 Movies 1 Moment Battle: Christmas Tree Comedy
Melissa’s Pick: Elf (2003)
Director: Jon Favreau Stars: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart
Summary: Buddy (Will Ferrell) the Elf (who is really a human raised by elves) has made the trip to New York City to meet his father (James Caan) who doesn’t know that he exists.
David’s Pick: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik Stars: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis
Summary: Clark Griswold wants to have the best family Christmas holiday ever but, as always, things go terribly wrong when he overdoes it on the decorations, his family doesn’t get along, his cousin Eddie unexpectedly shows up and he spends a Christmas bonus he doesn’t get.
Melissa’s Pick: Buddy Decorates the Tree
The Moment: Buddy’s enthusiasm for Christmas is undeniable and he is determined to make everything festive for the holidays. When his father finally acknowledges him as his son and invites him to come and stay with him while they sort everything out, Buddy decides to decorate the house for the holidays. He makes hundreds of snowflakes cut from paper to hang from the ceiling, he drapes strings of popcorn everywhere, and he carves and puts together a rocking horse from the wooden entertainment unit in the living room. When he goes to meet his new half-brother, Michael (Daniel Tay), at school one day, it is clear that Michael is a little hesitant about him. After an epic snowball fight, Michael decides that Buddy is alright by him and the two proceed to cut down a tree in Central Park to put up as their Christmas tree in their house. It’s way too tall for the living room but they shove it into the corner anyways, putting large scratches into the ceiling. Because it’s so big, to put decorations on it Buddy leaps from the couch onto the tree; he clings onto the branches and the whole tree comes crashing down with Buddy still holding on.
Why it’s the Winner: This scene is the best because it really hammers home the dedication that Buddy has for making Christmas the best time ever. He isn’t about to let any obstacle get in his way. When presented with the impossible task of decorating a twelve foot tall Christmas tree, he literally leaps at it without even a second thought. You or I might try and find a ladder or get a stool but Buddy doesn’t do anything in half measure. There’s a tall tree that needs decorations? Let’s jump into it headfirst. And so he does. His dedication to Christmas is so refreshing when compared to Clark’s mishaps which have left him almost crazed. Things that are arguably just as horrible (finding out that your father is on the Naughty List) have happened to Buddy but he still maintains his Christmas spirit. Nothing can deter him from loving Christmas.
David’s Pick: The Griswold’s Go Get a Tree
The Moment: Clark never does anything small and when it comes to getting the best Christmas tree ever, he doesn’t settle for something sold in a parking lot somewhere. He packs the family into the station wagon and drives them to the woods. He then leads them on a trek through the frozen tundra, his wife Ellen, daughter Audrey, and son Rusty. Clark explains that this is how their forefathers did it and that people who settle for scrawny, dead over-priced trees with no special meaning don’t understand the true Christmas spirit. After spending the afternoon trudging through thigh high snow in freezing temperatures, Clark finally sees the tree of his dreams, lit by a beam of light from the skies above, twinkling in the golden beam. He is overwhelmed and brings his family together as he praises the magnificent tree. Of course, as Rusty points out, he probably should have brought a saw.
Why it’s the Winner: Christmas tree moments in movies are typically one dimensional with either it falling down or in the background of a romantic interlude. Almost always they are in a house or being bought by some lose lonely person on a street corner. With Christmas Vacation, we sidestep all that and take it to nature, with Clark going bigger than he needs to. That’s the lovable thing about the Griswold’s. Even though they very nearly always end up in a mess, they stick together as a family, even if it means freezing together in middle of the woods. This moment is the clear winner because, first, the joke is perfectly set-up and totally unexpected with Russ asking about the saw, and two, they successful carry that joke one more step in the next scene as they drive away with the whole tree on their car. Clark is so wrapped up in the tradition of the thing, he doesn’t even consider tools. It’s funny, it’s timeless, and has depth beyond Buddy the Elf just jumping into a tree. This is about family and heart, not slapstick. (Plus: Continuity error-alert. Pay attention to Audrey who is wearing acid-washed jeans at the start of the clip but is in black leggings by the end).