We grade a sleigh full of new holiday DVDs
In gathering round the rear-projection hearth for holiday DVDs, it's natural to settle for the perennials. But most of us hardly mist up at the end of ''Toys'' anymore, and who hasn't memorized every last heartwarming zinger from ''Black Christmas''?
Lo! Yuletide reinforcements have arrived. If the yearly in-law onslaught has you wondering whether Tolstoy was right about all unhappy families being different, consider the dysfunctional universalities of ''Christmas With the Simpsons'' (unrated, 92 mins., 1989-2001, Fox) and disabuse yourself of the belief that yours is the only dad who spends Christmas Eve at the dog track. Five entries offer grist for a good family ''best Christmas episode ever'' argument -- which your resident Nelson will derail by wondering why the Xmas-themed ''Marge Be Not Proud'' isn't included too.
Tom and Jerry made only one Christmas cartoon, and, curiously, it's not on ''Tom and Jerry: Paws for a Holiday'' (unrated, 47 mins., 1954-66, Warner), which, false advertising aside, focuses on icebound shorts. It's still paws-itively worthwhile, if you're not one of the dawgs who dis latter-day Chuck Jones. There's almost a Christmas theme to ''Snowbody Loves Me,'' when Tom sneaks down the chimney and, eyebrows flaring, presages Jones' TV Grinch.
If ''A Christmas Wish'' (unrated, 88 mins., 1950, Fox) is missing from your Maltin guide, that's because, till Fox put it in the video witness protection program, it was called ''The Great Rupert,'' for the stop-motion squirrel who sets the whimsy in gear. Jimmy Durante benefits from said rodent's money laundering in a poky but charming comedy -- Capra-corn with the darkness expunged.
There's nothing misleading about ''The Santa Clause 2'' (G, 104 mins., 2002, Disney), other than the commentary track's ''yes, Virginia'' insistence that the characters are portraying themselves, on location at Santa's workshop. All that polar magnetism must've fried the filmmakers' brains, because the strictly-for-tots North Pole sequences are completely devoid of magic. But an adult-friendly scene where a debearded Tim Allen livens up a faculty party is as touching as anything in ''It's a Wonderful Life'' (honest to Claus).
Speaking of touched, watch ''A Lawrence Welk Family Christmas'' (unrated, 80 mins., 1995, Welk Music Group) -- a Branson, Mo., cast reunion -- and tell me the Lennon Sisters' ability to grin maniacally through a five-minute number is something any unpossessed person could pull off. Less scarily, ''Ray Charles Celebrates a Gospel Christmas With the Voices of Jubilation!'' (unrated, 90 mins., 2003, Ventura) blends spirituals and holiday hokum, resulting in incongruities like a gospel rendition of ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'' And finally, alcohol and religiosity mix in ''Happy Holidays With Bing and Frank'' (unrated, 90 mins., 1957, Hart Sharp), with the pair trading bar-side carols as if inspired by spiked eggnog to linger on the High Society set. You could do worse than to take a swig. ''Simpsons'': B+ ''Jerry'': B ''Wish'': B ''Clause'': B- ''Welk'': C ''Charles'': B- ''Frank'': B+