If you can remember what the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring message said …

If you can remember the social intricacies of the “triple dog dare” …

If you are still a connoisseur of soap bars …

If you like to say, “Oh, fuuuuuuuuudge,” …

… then you will love A Christmas Story Christmas (currently exclusive on HBO Max). But even if you don’t think the original A Christmas Story requires rewatching every holiday season, this true sequel has a charm of its own while pulling in just the right amount of nostalgia and references to the original. It’s like coming home again, with the joy and sometimes the heartaches and complications that ensue.

Ralphie (Peter Billingsley in an amazing return) has grown up, but he’s still a dreamer. He has taken a year off from an unnamed career to give himself space to see whether he can hack it as a professional writer. His two young children and his wife Sandy (Erinn Hayes) are looking forward to a Christmas with his parents when Ralphie gets a call that the Old Man has passed away. Not only will he need to find a way through that himself, but Ralphie feels the need to step into the Old Man’s shoes to provide his family with the kind of Christmases his father used to make for Ralphie and his brother Randy. And needless to say, Ralphie will find this homecoming awfully familiar, for some poignant and hilarious reasons.

Let’s not get too much into the gags and scenes of A Christmas Story Christmas, which would dampen some of the laughs — and there are plenty of those. Instead, take note of the smart structure of the film, in which Ralphie essentially assumes the role of narrator that Jean Shepherd took in the first film — when Shepherd (on whose stories the film was based) played the adult Ralphie looking back on his best Christmas through a gauzy haze of nostalgia. Billingsley even does a good job of imitating Shepherd in his narration, making that transition all but seamless. That works thematically as well, as this film is about Ralphie finding his own voice as a writer and finding his own footing as a father, coming to terms with the outsized and lovable father whom he idolized. Those converge in the end in a very touching way, although to say more would spoil the ending.

This provides A Christmas Story Christmas with an emotional weight that was missing in the first film, and rightfully so. The original film saw Christmas and the family through Shepherd’s eyes looking back at a child Ralphie, and it focused on the emotional tribulations of a ten-year-old — hilariously and memorably, of course. This film sees Christmas and family through the eyes of a 44-year-old Ralphie in the complicated present, as someone who loves his family and Christmas but realizes that it’s his turn to make some magic happen. And his gut worry that he’s not up to the task will resonate with every parent … as will the comic lengths Ralphie will go to succeed against all the odds.

Much of the charm comes from seeing nearly all of the surviving cast return for this film. Not everyone has managed a happy life; it’s a realistic portrayal of working-to-middle-class life in 1974, when the film is set. However, seeing the original cast members return to play their old roles allows us to experience that homecoming as if we grew up in the fictional town of 1940 Hohman, Indiana — which we did, in a way, through repeated viewings of A Christmas Story. The only exception to this is Melinda Dillon’s absence due to her retirement fifteen years ago, but Julie Hagerty replaces her ably and adds her own special qualities to the role as Mother Parker. We get to see even a return of Scut Farkus, and this time we even get to see a Bumpus, although only the latest generation and a few of their dogs.

Along the way, there are plenty of call-outs to the original; a few of these try just a little too hard, but most of them score. Ralphie is still a dreamer of elaborate fantasies, both ridiculously egotistical and dreadful. A dog dare is still in play. We get to see and hear the Old Man in a few fleeting flashback sequences. And somehow we know that the Parkers will find Christmas magic, although it won’t be in any way how they imagined it, and that may make it even more magical.

We are all coming home again in a sense in this film. In real life, the way many of us make that trip is not necessarily out of joy but of duty. The magic comes when we discover joy along the way. That is the clear theme of A Christmas Story Christmas, and why it is well worth watching. In fact, it might be a new tradition to watch the two movies back-to-back in continuous loop in the way we have with the original for the last couple of decades.

Using the Hot Air scale for films already on home theater platforms, A Christmas Story Christmas gets a 4:

  • 4 – Buy the film/subscribe to the service
  • 3 – Worth a rental price or pay-per-view
  • 2 – Wait for it to come on a TV channel you already get
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

A Christmas Story Christmas is rated PG, presumably for some mild comic violence and some mild language. There may have been a “fuuuuuudge” in there but not the actual granddaddy of all dirty words, as Ralphie put it in the first film, and no need to break out the Lifebuoy. The entire family can enjoy this film, in other words, and should.

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