In the annals of mainstream Christmas movies there are always two that seem to stick out in the minds of many among the worst holiday films of the last 18 years, “Deck the Halls” and “Christmas with the Kranks”. Both are considered generic slapstick comedies that fail to capture the true meaning of the holidays in any creative way. One focuses on a battle between neighbors around the holidays and the other focuses on a couple trying to skip Christmas while fending of the peer pressure for neighbors to celebrate the holiday so in some ways they are comparable. While I will be spending time this month exploring the best in Christmas movies I wanted to start off the season on a more cynical note while having a bit of fun in the process by comparing these two films in a battle of bad Christmas movies to see which is better and, in effect, which is the worst of the two. Whether you love them as guilty pleasures or revile them like many others it’s time to find out which movie is the better (and worse) holiday flick. This is “Deck the Halls” versus “Christmas with the Kranks”.
This battle will be like no other I’ve done before in the short life of this feature. Instead of comparing two relatively decent or good movies I’m comparing two films that most people find horrible and if they do like them it’s more out of irony than actual quality. While there will be a winner it’s possible this is the first time the LOSER will be more prominent as this is more of a fight to see who is the worse of the two. “Deck the Halls” and “Christmas with the Kranks” were released two years apart, in 2006 and 2004 respectively, and both have been slammed by critics with “Deck the Halls” currently at 6% on Rotten Tomatoes and “Christmas with the Kranks” at 5%. Having seen both of these movies almost yearly by now if for no other purpose than background noise I can admit they have their own charm when you put on the escapism goggles and don’t think about them too much, but in the end it’s hard to argue that either of these movies are real gems of the Christmas movie genre. That said, I chose five categories to compare these films. I’ll be comparing the main characters and how they’re portrayed, the main conflict in the film which both pit neighbors against neighbors, the overall comedic affect since both are considered comedy movies, the central message the movie is trying to get across, and finally of course how well these movies capture the spirit of Christmas overall. Which of these movies do you think is better or which one do you love to hate more? Let me know in the comments below.
Let the battle BEGIN!!!!!
ROUND 1: The Main Characters
“Deck the Halls” and “Christmas with the Kranks” both feature big names posing as on-screen couples during the Christmas season although “Deck the Halls” has a larger main cast. Still each film depends on it’s leading families to drive home the story. Which performances and characters stand out the most? Let’s take a look.
“Deck the Halls” features Mathew Broderick as a “Christmas expert” named Steve who comes into conflict with Danny DeVito’s car salesman Buddy Hall. When Buddy decides to try and light up his home with Christmas lights so it can be seen from space Steve becomes irritated and a war of neighbors commences. Steve’s wife Kelly is played by Kristin David and Buddy’s wife Tia is played by Kristin Chenoweth. Huh, two Kristin’s both playing wives of the leads. Just noticed that as I was typing. Anyways I digress. I actually kind of enjoy the family dynamics of these two households as exaggerated and unbelievable as they are to an extent. The relationships are kind of charming and I at least WANT to like these people despite their flaws. Of course Buddy and Steve take center stage and neither are great men but they’re not bad either. They get caught up in their own obsessions of the holidays and that leads them into conflict with not only each other but their spouses as well. Overall, I think Broderick and DeVito play well off of each other as kind of a mismatched couple kind of dynamic. These characters don’t redefine any clichés or really bend and boundaries but they do have redeemable qualities and legitimate flaws that play into the story and make them memorable enough for me to stand out in the end.
With “Christmas with the Kranks” however nobody seems redeemable other than the daughter and her fiancé who get minimal screen time. The Kranks, Luther and Nora, are played by Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis and honestly despite how much I love these two actors they’re both unbearable in this movie. Luther feels like a Grinch type even before he decides to boycott Christmas and Nora comes off as either a whiny child or a controlling and somewhat abusive wife depending on the situation. Clearly the goal was to make us hate these people because of their boycotting of Christmas but that goal worked out a little too well stripping the characters of pretty much any redeemable quality. That same issue applies to the rest of the cast too with most of the neighbors and side characters all feeling like just genuinely bad and selfish people. Not only did I not find one person in this film that I cared about in the least I found myself never wanting to spend time with them again, on the screen or otherwise, and by the time the credits rolled I thankfully forgot them all. So when comparing the two casts, even if just limiting it to the main characters, the choice here is clear. While “Deck the Halls” may not rewrite the book on cliched Christmas characters is does offer us more redeemable and enjoyable people to spend and hour and a half with than “Christmas with the Kranks” even tries to do. The winner of round one is “Deck the Halls”.
SCORE: “Deck the Halls” – 1 “Christmas With the Kranks” – 0
ROUND 2: THE CONFLICT
I chose this for round two because realistically these films do focus on similar conflicts, neighbors versus neighbors. One focuses on that fight in the literal sense whereas the other pits a couple against their entire neighborhood when they decide they want to skip the holiday. Both are the key factors to much of the comedy that ensues and both try to build up to revelations the writers thought would help inspire those special holiday feels. So which conflict produced the most memorable plot? Let’s break it down!
“Deck the Halls” is much more directly focused on the neighbor versus neighbor conflict with the film’s plot revolving around the two main male characters butting heads. With that in mind the plot feels focused and it plays into the comedy in classic fashion as two men try to one-up each other not realizing the consequences of their own selfish battle. A lot of movies have focused on this kind of showdown and “Deck the Halls” is not exactly the BEST film to take that approach but what makes it interesting is the differing ideals between the two men that build on that conflict. Steve is a Christmas obsessed perfectionist doing everything by the book to try and capture the perfect holiday where as Buddy is more chaotic yet both are self-centered in their motivations. This makes the conflict work in my eyes even if many movies before and sense have done it better. Of course like most films of this kind the movie eventually comes around to see the neighbors become friends instead of enemies and the way this is done is nice and touching even if it is again just another cliché. Once again “Deck the Halls” doesn’t cover any new ground but it does just enough to get by.
With “Christmas with the Kranks” the battle between neighbors is actually on a larger scale with an entire neighborhood taking on the Kranks instead of just one person. When the Kranks decide to boycott Christmas they receive tremendous backlash from their community which not only annoys the Kranks but turns to borderline abuse with people standing outside their house demanding conformity to neighborhood traditions. While “Deck the Halls” offers a more classic conflict between neighbors I have to be honest, “Christmas with the Kranks” gives us a much more interesting situation where not only is nobody really the good guy (let’s face it everyone here is a jerk when you think about it) but the ideals of either side are actually flawed. Now I don’t believe for a second this was on purpose. Obviously, we’ll talk about the message of the film later and how this all plays into that. But even if it’s by a skewed interpretation “Christmas with the Kranks” can be seen as commentary on the lunacy of the holiday from several different angles and not just one extreme or another. But is this enough to make it a more enjoyable conflict than “Deck the Halls”?
Well yes and no. “Deck the Halls” is a much more entertaining conflict to be sure but in an odd, cynical and likely completely unintentional way “Christmas with the Kranks” offers up a conflict that’s more believable and reflective of the realities of how people probably would act to an open Christmas boycott even 14 years after its release. It might not be as fun, hell I’d call it downright depressing at times, but “Christmas with the Kranks” takes this round purely based on the subtext of the conflict alone.
SCORE: “Deck the Halls” – 1 “Christmas With the Kranks” – 1
ROUND 3: THE COMEDY
Both movies are considered Christmas comedies and both depend on cheap slapstick to get the job done. From comical mishaps and misunderstandings to pranks, revenge plots and quirky character personalities both films attempt to do the most with as little as possible depending on cliches and overused jokes to get the job done, but which movie does it better? Let’s find out.
With “Deck the Halls” again it’s a classic neighbor versus neighbor scenario where Steve and Buddy try to one up each other and even occasionally prank each other to win out. This includes sabotage and even an ice-skating race which all are actually pretty entertaining even if they’re terribly uninspired. However you also have strange attempts at humor like Buddy trying to warm up Steve as they both sit together naked that don’t go over as well. The cast does possess a certain charm, even the usually dry and uninteresting Matthew Broderick, that allows the jokes to land in the moment but they’re forgotten as quickly as you chuckled. Most of all though “Deck the Halls” works because of its ability to blend its more powerful themes with the comedy making you laugh in one moment and feel more nostalgic or heartbroken in the next. Now all of this is done in the most overdone and cliché manner possible but hey for the sake of this battle it works especially if you go into it not expecting a whole lot and if you go into either of these movies expecting much you’re going to be disappointed anyway. In the end “Deck the Halls” is amusing and pays off as a cheap comedy that tries too hard at some points and maybe not as hard as it should at others.
The competition on the other hand BARELY tries. “Christmas with the Kranks” does bring a chuckle now and then, but let’s face it everything in this movie is a carbon copy rehash of much better jokes from much better movies. It’s actually amazing how hard it is to determine if “Christmas with the Kranks” is trying too hard or not hard enough and it is always one extreme or the other. Either the jokes miss completely or they’re so far out of left field that they’re more shocking than funny. The little bits that do get a laugh are few and far between and you’ll be lucky if those laughs are more than a quick exhale out of your nose. To many that would STILL be giving too much credit. “Christmas with the Kranks” is more mean spirited than entertaining and more awkward than amusing. I mean the movie tries to make jokes of a frozen cat, Tim Allen falling from a roof and a priest seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in a bathing suit in the mall. Does any of this REALLY amuse you? If it does it’s probably because it’s familiar generic comedy more than anything else. Sure “Deck the Halls” doesn’t land every joke, but even at it’s worst it’s much more amusing and creative than anything “Christmas with the Kranks” has to offer. The point and the lead go to “Deck the Halls”
SCORE: “Deck the Halls” – 2 “Christmas With the Kranks” – 1
ROUND 4: THE MESSAGE
For this round I’m, looking at the main message of the movie and not necessarily the Christmas aspects of the film. Both movies try to instill some kind of value in the audience. Both films actually focus on the significance of tradition and community during the holidays and while neither do this spectacularly which one does it better? Let’s see.
With “Deck the Halls” the message comes down to the importance of family and spontaneity when it comes to the holidays. The two main characters, Steve and Buddy, are different people but they each suffer from obsession that make them flawed. Buddy finds too much value in being recognized by everyone but his family and Steve wants to keep Christmas perfect by scheduling everything right down to the traditions, removing any space for something fresh to liven up the holiday. Both learn lessons by the end of the film. Buddy realizes that the most important people he should care about are his daughters and his wife and that acknowledgement from the heart is more important that popularity in the public eye. Steve realizes being “Mr. Christmas” isn’t about traditions, it’s about the spirit of the holiday and that not everything can be scheduled or perfect. Sometimes it’s the simple moments, like his memory of eating French fries with his father on Christmas Day, that make traditions last and keep the holiday alive. It might be a rocky road to get to the moral core of this movie but once you do you find what I feel are the most memorable aspects of “Deck the Halls”, the themes of family and how sometimes the best memories are the ones you don’t expect to make in the first place, it might put a smile on your face you didn’t expect.
With “Christmas with the Kranks” its moral is actually its WORST aspect. I can’t stress enough how mean spirited this movie is. The entire plot revolves around conformity during the holidays and while I gave the movie credit earlier for being open to interpretation as a criticism of the obsession of the holiday I don’t feel that was the intent. To me I feel like the intent was to shame anyone who wants to do Christmas differently and thus the movie is telling viewers if you don’t follow suit then you deserve to be shamed for it. This movie has an opportunity to redeem itself when the Kranks finally decide to celebrate Christmas again, but instead of the community helping them right away they actually continue to shame the Kranks (the Boy Scouts sell them a naked tree at a ridiculous price to spite them for example) and only help when they feel like their demands have been met. Then the film has the gall to try and guilt trip Tim Allen’s Luther Krank into thanking the community for helping them. This whole film is about conformity and shaming those who don’t do Christmas like everyone else. That would be a noble message if done right, maybe in a more cynical light. I could very well work as a commentary film AGAINST the Christmas obsession. Instead “Christmas with the Kranks” is literally a movie meant to tell people they HAVE to do Christmas the right way and not their own way.
It’s obvious that as cheesy as “Deck the Halls” is it has a much better message and not only earns this point but takes the battle one round early. We still have one more round to go though and that is one of the most important ones in this challenge. Point goes to “Deck the Halls”.
SCORE: “Deck the Halls” – 3 “Christmas With the Kranks” – 1
ROUND 5: CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
Being Christmas movies both of these films had the responsibility of capturing the spirit of the holiday. While the battle might already be won for “Deck the Halls” this is possibly bigger than any round in this match up combined as capturing the spirit of Christmas is what these movies were made for above anything else. So which one is the better representation of Christmas? Let the final round commence!
With “Deck the Halls” the Christmas spirit is literally a central plot point of the film. Both lead men are trying to one-up each other as their local Mr. Christmas and thus we see them compete in traditions, decorations and holiday expertise. So, in terms of atmosphere and detail this movie has Christmas written all over it. But, it’s not just about the look. “Deck the Halls” captures the spirit of the holiday in more than just the decorations and lights. It also does so in how it treats the true meaning of the holiday. While many movies will focus on the consumerism aspect of Christmas as a criticism “Decks the Halls” is more geared towards the value of making memories during this special time of year which is an important thing for anyone to appreciate over the normal gift giving aspect of the holiday. “Deck the Halls” makes an effort of reminding viewers what the season is really about in a manner that I think is underrated and deserves to be commended as it’s one of the few ways that the movie does try something different rather than keeping the status quo.
“Christmas with the Kranks” might be filled with mean spirited commentary and greed but somewhere deep down it also has its own Christmas time merit. Like most everything else about the film “Christmas with the Kranks” misses the mark in so many ways in trying to capture what Christmas is all about. Like “Deck the Halls” it speaks to the importance of traditions but doesn’t offer any grey area in whether or not you have to follow those rules to the letter. In the context of this movie Christmas is not about being together and respecting each other, it’s about doing what everyone else is doing, keeping up with traditions you may not even like and conforming to the larger tribe’s perspective of what the holiday is supposed to be. It barely touches on the more personal aspects of the holiday. Like I’ve said all along there was potential for this movie to tackle the holiday with a more cynical edge and shed some light on the darker aspects of how we as a people celebrate Christmas that we all seem to ignore. Instead is justifies and embraces those darker elements as appropriate when in reality none of this is what Christmas is about. It’s not about snowmen or caroling or honey hams or trees. It’s about brotherhood, family and community which are all watered down in favor of less delightful holiday concepts when all is said and done.
The final point and the unquestionable win goes to “Deck the Halls”.
SCORE: “Deck the Halls” – 4 “Christmas With the Kranks” – 1
WINNER: “Deck the Halls”
While “Deck the Halls” isn’t a great film or even a good one it’s far superior to the horrible film to which it is often compared in many circles. Neither of these movies deserve praise but “Deck the Halls” is at least entertaining to some extent with better characters, more effective comedy, much stronger and more appropriate messages and a much better grasp of what Christmas is all about. The only place where “Christmas with the Kranks” really has the edge is in the neighbor versus neighbor conflict which ironically enough may be due to the darker subtext that doesn’t even feel like the true intent. Listen, if you enjoy these films than have at it. To each their own and even the worst movie has something redeemable about it that makes it worth the watch. But if I had the choice I’d take “Deck the Halls” in a heartbeat because in a battle of which is worse and which is better “Deck the Halls” rings much truer to what Christmas is all about than “Christmas with the Kranks”.