Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Christmas 2018: December 8th

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (2014)

In September of 2012, a picture of a cat with a weird face was posted to Reddit. People thought this was hilarious and “Grumpy Cat,” a calico mix with dwarfism named Tartar Sauce, quickly became an internet phenomenon. It was a more innocent time. At first, it was pretty friggin' cute. Tartar Sauce's perpetual frown and withering glare, when paired with sardonic or grouchy phrases, made for an honest chuckle or two. The meme had the typical lifespan of these things, burning itself out in about a year. Grumpy Cat's guardians, however, cashed in as hard as they possibly could. In-between comics, TV appearances, commercials, and a crap ton of merchandise, Grumpy Cat was quickly earning its owners a six figure sum. The climax of this unquenchable avarice was “Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever,” a holiday movie that premiered on Lifetime in December 2014.

For a movie about a cat with a weird face, “Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever” has a surprisingly contrived plot. The eponymous feline resides in the mall's pet store. It's Christmas time but the shop is about to shut down. That is unless the owner can sell Jojo, a rare dog worth a million dollars. Meanwhile, twelve year old Chrystal deals with her loneliness by spending too much time at the mall. After a weird Santa gives her a magic coin, Chrystal wishes for a friend. This allows her to hear Grumpy Cat's grumpy thoughts, allowing them to communicate. That night, while attending an ugly Christmas sweater party with her recently divorced mom, Chrystal sneaks off to the mall to spend more time with the cantankerous kitty. That's when she stumbles upon a plot to dog-nap Jojo. Instead of just calling the cops, which she can't do for various dumb reasons, Chrystal and Grumpy Cat decide to foil the thieves themselves. Got all that?

Despite being a movie all about a cute critter, a blackened heart beats within “Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever.” This is a movie where a mall Santa audibly talks about how much he hates his life. Grumpy Cat frequently breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly. More than once, she refers to the movie as terrible, mocking the viewer for watching it. The film's cynical motivations are revealed half-way through when Grumpy Cat interrupts the story to shill the avalanche of bullshit with her face on it. There's also an extended, and weirdly graphic, fantasy scene that ends with the cuddly star of the show being euthanized. Despite basically being a kid's movie, there's also a joke about a little girl being molested.

Perhaps if “Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever” committed to this mean-spirited and hateful tone, becoming an anti-Christmas movie along the lines of “Bad Santa” or “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” this might've been excusable. Of course, a Lifetime movie inspired by an internet meme does not do that. In fact, the movie's tone is weirdly pulled between Grumpy Cat's bitterness and the sappiness you expect of a made-for-TV holiday movie. Chrystal's mom being divorced is treated as the biggest tragedy in her daughter's life. The film's B-plot revolves around Mom being romanced by a store elf. Grumpy Cat breaks character late in the film to tell Chrystal that she is loved, that she does have friends. Her evidence is not compelling, which isn't a joke. Naturally, the film has a faux-touching ending where the bad guys are punished, Chrystal adopts Grumpy, and Chrystal's mom gets a new boyfriend.

Director Tim Hill has made mostly theatrical film – several of which are also about small, annoying, talking animals – but this is exactly as flat looking as cable Christmas movies usually are. (Even the “Action League Now!” shorts Hill made looked better than this.) The film doesn't even have enough story to fill out its brief 90 minute run time. There are numerous fantasy sequences, recaps, and digressions that do nothing to advance the story. A dumb plot twist is the sole attempt to mix stuff up. The cast expends as much effort as everyone else did. Evan Todd and Isaac Haig give the worst performances as the annoying metalhead thieves. The film's sole ace-up-its-sleeve is Aubrey Plaza as the voice of Grumpy Cat. The sardonically voiced actress should've been perfect. Yet her delivery is apathetic. She does perhaps too good of a job of playing Grumpy Cat, as she sounds extremely bored. But who can blame her, with a script of this quality?

Plaza does get credit for the film's few laughs, when she tosses off some bizarre non-sequiturs. I hope they cut her a good sized check. I'm sure Tartar Sauce is a perfectly good cat. If you ever felt weird about her owner's exploiting her so much for commercial gain, “Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever” will make you feel even worst. About half of the movie is composed of the feline being raised up to the camera and wiggled around. (Stunt cats and crude puppets are employed for anything more complex than that.) Throughout the film, Grumpy Cat makes repeated references to sequels and further films. Instead of revitalizing the flatlining meme, “Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever” was the official sign that this shit was done for good. Watching the film is an exercise in tedium and irritation. [4/10]

A Trap for Santa Claus (1909)

Cinematic depictions of Santa Claus are almost as old as cinema itself. The first film about Santa was a 1897 short with the descriptive title of “Santa Claus Filling Stockings.” Over a dozen Kris Kringle-themed films followed in the early silent era. An notable example is 1909’s “A Trap for Santa Claus,” a one-reeler directed by cinematic pioneer D.W. Griffith. It follows the Rogers family. When father Arthur is laid off, he abandons his wife and two children. Shortly afterwards, Helen inherits a fortune from a dead aunt. On Christmas night, the kids set a trap for Santa. Instead, they capture their dad, who has returned to burglar their home.

The first half of this fifteen minute short is among the most miserablist Christmas movies I’ve ever seen. The family’s lot is described as “misery and want.” The mom cries a lot, the one kid has a broken arm, and the dad is a pathetic drunk. And that’s before he walks out on them. There are long scenes showing their slum-like home. The tonal transition in the second half, after the mom and kids become rich, could not be more jarring. How do we go from destitute ragamuffins and a deadbeat dad to youngsters whimsically preparing for Santa’s visit? If you’re D.W. Griffith in 1909, you just skip over anything between those extremes.

Though the second half has its own dissonance. “The Trap for Santa Claus” ends on a note that’s totally baffling from a modern perspective and was probably seen as unlikely even in the 1900s. After Arthur breaks into his wife’s home, for nothing but selfish reasons, Helen takes him back! The short ends with Dad dressed as Santa and everyone celebrating. Pretty sure, in real life, this story would’ve ended in the jailhouse. There is some decent Christmas ambiance in the second half, I’ll give the short that much. By the way, the copy I watched on YouTube is totally silent. Put in some Low and see what you can get out of this dreary bit of vintage cinema. [5/10]

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