My Festive Favourite: It's a Wonderful Life or Elf?
Marie-Louise Muir is torn between the two, so lets her kids decide
The Christmas movie. Sentimental, snow filled, saccharine. But who can resist it at this time of year? For me there are just two films, which also have the added value of out of season watch-ability: It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf.
Cue Jimmy Stewart as the good-hearted George Bailey. Crippled by impending financial disaster for his loans company in small town Bedford Falls, he contemplates suicide, as the idea of possible jail time, he feels, would be far worse for his wife and children than his own death. Life isn’t so wonderful. Then an angel in training called Clarence drops in on George and reveals what life would have been like if he had never existed.
Meanwhile Buddy the Elf, clutching a snow globe with the Empire State Building inside, is heading for New York looking for his real dad. Having sneaked into Santa’s sack years earlier as a baby in the orphanage, he has been raised by Papa Elf in the North Pole. However, as the years pass and Buddy grows to human height, towering over his fellow elves, his difference can’t be ignored any longer.
As George Bailey is shown a life without him in it, and Buddy travels from the frozen North to downtown New York to a life he never thought existed, the Christmas heart of both stories starts beating. Clarence (memorably played by Henry Travers) guides George to a better place. 'You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?'
In Elf, Santa (played convincingly by Edward Asner) swoops down on Central Park in his sleigh to show the world and the waiting television crews that he does exist and prove Buddy right. Of course there is a Santa! Didn’t Buddy suss out the fake Santa in the toy department store - 'You’re sitting on a throne of lies!'
Both movies acknowledge the idea of the world as a dark place. Both show a world ruled by commercial forces, uncaring of the individual and Buddy and George share a good-hearted naivety of the possibility of a better place. The message is redemption, the thing being redeemed Christmas itself!
I remember sobbing as George, having seen his life flash before him in A Christmas Carol kind of way, hugs his wife and children at the end of It's a Wonderful Life. It also paves the way for the family moment in the film’s last scene, as George's daughter says her teacher told her that 'every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings', leaving George to look skywards and acknowledge his guardian angel, 'Attaboy, Clarence'. A similar family moment can be seen at the end of Elf, when Buddy and his family return to the North Pole to see Papa or Grandpapa Elf.
Buddy and George are Everyman figures, struggling to make the world live up to their expectations. In the end they succeed, and we get our Christmas wrapped up with a big bow. Now which one to watch? If my two wee girls have anything to do with it, it’s Elf in the DVD player. It’s A Wonderful Life will have to wait until later!