DVD Article

Tapes of Cheer

Videos for the season -- Our recommendations for the holidays, such as ''The First Christmas'' and ''Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special''

Videos for the season

Videotapes celebrating Christmas approach the holiday from as many different angles as families do. Some tapes are serious, some lighthearted. Several focus on the religious aspects of Christmas, while others consider its universal meaning. Many retell well-known children's stories or offer medleys of seasonal songs. Just as in Santa's bag, there's something for everyone — everyone nice, that is...

Miracle at Moreaux
Loretta Swit, who played nurse ''Hot Lips'' Houlihan on the television version of M*A*S*H, stars as a different sort of angel of mercy in this superb WonderWorks production. She plays Sister Gabrielle, a nun supervising a Catholic school in occupied France in December 1943. Sister Gabrielle and her charges have their faith tested when three Jewish children seek refuge in the abbey. Jonathan Goldsmith's stirring score accents a host of compelling performances. A

Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect
Christmas trees aren't perfect, as the title says, but neither is this production, an animated parable about a tree willing to sacrifice its perfect shape to shelter animals. The queen's castle and snowfalls are beautifully rendered, but the people have less charisma than a Douglas fir. It's enough to make you pine. C

The Christmas That Almost Wasn't
Poor Rossano Brazzi. Even he can't make this some enchanted evening. The film's too long, by at least half, and it has a dark look and weird sound reminiscent of a spaghetti Western (it was filmed with the actors speaking Italian, with English dubbed in). No matter where people are on camera, they sound as if they're in a studio, gathered around one microphone. The actors' lips are frequently out of synch with their voices too. The worst part is that this is a good story. Brazzi's character, Phineas T. Prune, threatens to ruin Santa's big day. Paul Tripp, the author of the story, stars as Sam Whipple, who helps Santa out of his jam (or in this case, his lasagna). B-

The First Christmas
Angela Lansbury and Cyril Ritchard transform this simple story into a poignant tale of love's healing power. Lansbury, as Sister Teresa, sings delightfully and radiates warmth as she tells the story of Lucas, a blind shepherd rescued by nuns. Ritchard lends his resonant voice to Father Thomas, a gruff but kind- hearted cleric. The players are carved figures animated by time-lapse filming. A

Barney & The Backyard Gang: Waiting for Santa
Barney, a lovable talking dinosaur, takes six young friends to the North Pole so one of them can make sure Santa has his new address. Barney and his pals sing familiar carols and songs, some with cute new lyrics. The children exude a relaxed, natural charm. Tell your kids to watch for the flying sleigh so they can see the dino soar. A

Christmas Stories
Outstanding artistry all around — vocal, visual, and instrumental — make these four stories memorable. Ernest Troost's music adds an air of enchantment to an animated version of Morris's Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells. Morris, a rabbit, opens his present and finds he can get into it — and disappear! (Do you know any children not intrigued by the prospect of vanishing?) An old juggler magically regains his skill before a religious image in Tomie dePaola's charmingly animated ''The Clown of God.'' The St. Paul Choir School of Cambridge, Mass., sounds positively angelic singing ''The Little Drummer Boy,'' the basis for the third story, illustrated by a series of evocative drawings by Ezra Jack Keats. The final story is a jazzy rendition of ''The Twelve Days of Christmas,'' set against whimsical illustrations by Robert Broomfield. Jennifer Brown gives the song a spritely reading. A

Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special
Ooooh, Christmasy! Pee-wee and his buddies — Globey, Pterri, Conky, and Chairry, among others — are on hand for this frenetic, funny show that squeezes in a message about giving. Many celebrities (including Dinah Shore, Little Richard, and Cher) stop by, some of them bearing leaden fruitcakes. Pee-wee's only mistake is answering the door when Grace Jones arrives. She's wearing a tasteless gray breastplate that's more breast than plate. B+

Originally posted Dec 21, 1990 Published in issue #45 Dec 21, 1990 Order article reprints