Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Movie Critique: The Christmas Tree

Written: January 19th, 2014
The Christmas Tree
Year: 1991 | Aspect Ratio: TV 1.33:1 | Flamarion Ferreira Films | 42 Minutes

This is my first movie review, so it may be hit and miss.  If I decide to create a new movie review, I'll try to do better.  But, until that time comes, this is my test movie review.
I know that it's been a month since Christmas had passed, and that it's very late to review this, but screw it; I wanted to give it an attempt after having just seen it.  They were not lying when they said... well, before I continue let me just say something.
When the Nostalgia Critic hinted that he was going to be reviewing "the worst Christmas special of all time" back in December, I was clueless as to what it would possibly be; if only because there are tons of Christmas-related movies out there and it could've been any of them.  But when Christmas Eve finally arrived, little did I realize it would be an animated one: a 1991 made-for-TV movie (if you can classify anything under 60 minutes as a movie, that is) called The Christmas Tree.  And from the clips that he showcased and everything that was wrong with it, I just had to see it firsthand, which I did eventually.  And, oh my God, what a trainwreck!  XD  He was right, not one thing that was in it was done properly; everything was done wrong.  I never even heard of it prior to his review, but he also stated that some people considered it to be so bad it's good.  And... let me start from the beginning.  Holy crap, was this movie awful!
This movie was done by a group called Flamarion Ferreira Films, which I'm not very familiar with (it must be a foreign company, judging by the animation, which I'll get to soon).  Okay, so try to bear with me as I tell this movie's story.  This movie is narrated from time to time, centering on an orphanage with kids who are unhappy and miserable as they live under the rule of the ruthless Miss Mavilda (who's basically the Miss Hannigan from Annie, in the way that she mistreats orphan children, times a hundred).  The orphans only have one friend so to speak, and that is a tall tree nearby the building which they christen Mrs. Hopewell.  All that changes once a young woman named Judy comes into town with her two children.  She and her family just moved in there, and because the father has to work elsewhere, that leaves Judy and her children to stay at Miss Mavilda's orphanage.  However, the children have to abide by the old witch's rules as they stay there.  Judy gets acquainted with the tree Mrs. Hopewell, sets up a playground for the children, and they are happy with her.  She also shares about Christmas to the orphaned children.  Miss Mavilda is not keen on Judy's kindness, so she wants to get rid of her (and eventually the tree itself).  Oh, I forgot to mention; every once in awhile the city's mayor arrives at the place and gives the owner, Miss Mavilda, two bags of unspecified money as she fools him into thinking that she's taking good care of the children, when she's not, for she gambles with the money she's given.  =<  Got all that, so far?  I'm not even done yet!
Now, the story doesn't sound too bad, from the way I worded it; but if you got to see its overall execution, then you'd find yourself flabbergasted.  Yeah!  ...  It's that awkward!  Whatever intentions these filmmakers had, I'm sure they were decent (that is, up until the hastily thrown in "moral" at the end), but it ultimately ended up bad.  I mean really bad.  ={  Miss Mavilda is such an over the top witch!  She undresses the children with "new clothes" as soon as the mayor leaves (but not after having seen them), in their undies; she gambles pretty much every night betting the money that she was given (as she gloats that the children won't get anything new that night); she tries to give the dog (there's a dog, by the way) to the pound since the children aren't allowed to feed him; she plots to have Judy framed as a thief in order to get her fired, like she did with her previous one (your guess is as good as mine); she vehemently orders Judy to not let the children play outside after having lost the money one time, thereby preventing them from getting clothing and stuff that benefit the children; she fires her assistant with an insane screeching noise that almost sounds like microphone mugging; and when her plan is starting to fail, she grabs the chainsaw and tries to cut down Mrs. Hopewell herself.  Miss Mavilda is one of those characters that is not nice for the sake of not being nice, for the plot; up until the final moment of the movie which I'm highly unconvinced about.  Nostalgia Critic pointed out that she may have a double personality disorder, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case because there is one scene when she finishes a sentence only to abruptly start a new one half a second later (i.e. "Come, children!  You're coming with me--Another thing!")  Who did the voice clip editing for this special?
The animation is so... I don't want to say it's the worst animation you'll find in a DTV movie, but the way it's presented is a little cheap, so it comes close.  Look, I understand that TV movies don't have as high a budget as theatrical and Hollywood movies, but done with the right push you can have well-done DTV animation (I'm not saying make it spectacular, but have something at least be presentable).  A couple examples that come to mind for me are, as far as '90s movies go, Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas, and Opus n' Bill: A Wish for Wings that Work.  I bring up the latter 'cause for something that was around twenty-plus minutes long, it's amazing how much good animation there was despite it being worked on a very small budget (I plan on talking about it one of these days, it's really good); another reason I bring it up is because it was done in 1991, the year I was born,... which was also when The Chirstmas Tree came out.  I cannot even fathom the fact that it's a '90s movie, and if you didn't know any better while watching it, you would think that it something that was made during the '60s or '70s, back when animated programs didn't have much of a budget to work with.  Tell me, does poor color quality, limited animation, and stock scenery and animation sound like a movie the '90s would make?  Does it??
To even discuss the animation would require a lot of effort.  While there is motion and a tiny fraction of fluidity, there are times when the animation skips, does not look polished at all, and few moments where you could see the dust left on a layer.  A lot of the time the words are synced with lip movement, but I couldn't help but spot a few moments when words were spoken when lips were closed (or spoken at an incorrect time).  And as I said before, there is lots of repeat animation, particularly whenever characters are speaking; and as someone who was born in the early '90s, it just makes me feel embarrassed to watch something of exceptionally low quality (especially since DTV animation would keep evolving as the years progress).  This was a step backwards, readers, a gigantic step backwards.  Several of the motions during animation go either steady or slow, there is no rhyme or reason to this.  The facial expressions stand out, for they look a little weird to me; the children's especially, who look like ragamuffin dolls.  I'm under the impression that the animators wanted to make them look charming, but ultimately they look a little creepy (I'm more referring to that one scene where Lilly and Pappy, Judy's children, meet the orphans for the first time, and after the five stare at them for several seconds they start to grow large smiles that are as wide as their faces, while their eyes slightly close up).  Oh yeah, truly, I'm endeared by that.  >~<  *shudders*  God, this movie is bad!

And if you think it ends there, it doesn't, for now I'm going to cover the voice acting.  And a lot of it is so unconvincing that it's hard to get yourself invested in it because of that.  Ray, Judy's husband, sounds so monotone and lifeless in the two scenes that he's in that you can't help but wonder if there could've been any effort put in there.  I also liken Ray's voice role to cardboard acting, in the way it sounds unconvincing and emotionless.  Dammit, people, I thought everyone finally got past this cardboard acting crap!  Stop that!  There is no flow and rhythm throughout the actors' roles, especially the ones that we're supposed to hate or root for.  Miss Mavilda is over the top, and as I said before there is a voice clip that is almost close to overlapping another, and when she fires Judy her voice screeches almost as if she's shouting at the top of her lungs, "You're FIRED!!!!!"  Considering the overall voice acting quality, it can be startling.  But the worst part is the children, and I don't want to poke fun of child actors, I don't, but the truth is that they're not good.  The children (save for one) are voiced by actual children, but whenever they speak it sounds like they didn't go through any vocal training whatsoever.  Another thought that comes to mind is how they got past tryouts (if they even did that).  Let me state one example of failed voice acting.

So, Pappy and Lilly are searching for the North Pole to make a wish to Santa to prevent Miss Mavilda from cutting down the tree, as they're being transported by Licorish, the dog.  They reach the North Pole (which makes me wonder what continent this movie takes place in), but they run into trouble as a cheaply drawn and animated bear chases after them.  Lilly falls down a cliff and hangs on to the snow, asking that her brother help her; even though she's hanging on for her life she doesn't express emotion as she says it.  She falls down, "crying out" her brother's name, again with little emotion.  Afterwards, Pappy searches for her sister as he calls her name as if he were bored, "Lilly".  C'mon, even some of the worst of child actors at least put some effort into their performances... well, except that obnoxious kid during the middle of Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger.  He grated on my nerves.
This movie is just so awkward in more ways than one, I can't believe it's real.  There is a scene where it constantly cuts to and from Judy telling the orphans about Christmas and Miss Mavilda playing her latest game of poker; you barely have time to process it.  The orphanage being run by a cruel person is such a cliché, and there are times when some scenes play that do not have one exposition shot to make it polished.  For example, when the mayor asks Miss Mavilda where Judy is, the next scene instantly has her there.  Out of nowhere!  And then near the end Pappy tells her that he saw Lilly fall down a cliff, and then she turns around and instantaneously sees her husband nearby.  Your guess is as good as mine as to how he materialized all of a sudden onto the scene.  Miss Mavilda is intent on cutting down Mrs. Hopewell with the saw herself once she sees that her henchman won't do it, and she is so determined to do it that nothing will get in her way.  {=|  Just as she is about to cut her down, she's struck down by lightning.  ...  I am not even freaking kidding; she's zapped by lightning... which came from Santa.............. um, Happy Holidays?
Oh, but here's the kicker: Miss Mavilda survives the blast, and she's reinstated as Judy's assistant (the latter of which will now run the orphanage).  After all the terrible stuff that she did, she's still getting off scot-free?  There is no consequence whatsoever!  Oh, my God, tell this isn't real!  Oh, now for the "moral"!  Are you ready for this, readers?  Brace yourselves now!  Okay: "You always win when you're good!"  =/  What?  What??  What does winning because you're good have anything to do with Christmas?  What... being consumed lots of shrooms to even bring up something that is so irrelevant and overgeneralized?  ...  What the hell, movie???  The Christmas Tree knows nothing about being a decent holiday special, so they had to throw in something that had nothing to do with anything!  Holy crap, this movie was awful.
Okay, so what does that make The Christmas Tree, then?  You could say that the people involved had the hearts in the right place and had good intentions, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from the lack of effort seen here.  I think it's a testament as to how not to make a Christmas movie, to say the least.  As the Critic stated in his review, "even the worst of Christmas specials at least try to put in some effort in making something dedicated to that special day [Christmas], feeling that they owe it to themselves to create something for a beautiful time of year".  This special did not succeed at that.  So, yeah, it's bad: with bad acting, bad animation, and bad story.  And while it is a bad movie, I can't say that I hated it.  Sure, it did pretty much everything wrong, and that in a weird sort of way made it enjoyably bad.  As I said earlier, I heard that it's sometimes lauded as a "so bad it's good" kind of movie, and for the most part it is; well, except the moral.  That was halfhearted at most.
Do I recommend it?  Well, that is something that depends on your mood.  It's not a movie you watch for high quality, but if you're really curious to see how bad it is, go right ahead.  I should warn you that if you are going to watch it, then do so with discretion, because the amount of bad you'll find is exponential.  I saw some comments online that say that they stopped during the middle of the movie and that they could not take it anymore, which should say a lot about the movie's overall shoddy quality; and while I can't say I stopped watching the movie (I kept on going until the end), I will concede there were moments when I thought "Oh, my God, this is so stupid, I can't believe it's real!"  If you're a bad movie enthusiast, The Christmas Tree is a movie you might get into; but if you're not into bad movies, then don't even watch it.  It's bad, horrendously bad; and by sitting through the movie you would be having to put up with all the awkward moments (and there are plenty).  If you're looking for a good Christmas movie, then I advise that you look elsewhere.  ={  It's not the worst animated special I've seen, but as far as Christmas is concerned, it's really bad.  You've been warned.
( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )
The Christmas Tree is the property of Flamarion Ferreira Films
Screengrab from watching the movie on YouTube via WaffleIronArchives' video
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Take care.

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