Movie review: 'A Christmas Story Christmas' satisfies nostalgia, emotion

Ralphie (Peter Billingsley, R) is all grown up with his own son (River Drosche) and daughter (Julianna Layne). Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
Ralphie (Peter Billingsley, R) is all grown up with his own son (River Drosche) and daughter (Julianna Layne). Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- In 1983's A Christmas Story, a loving family was already old-fashioned in the era of dysfunction. A Christmas Story Christmas, premiering Thursday on HBO Max, retains that sense of familial love in the modern era, with a satisfying dose of nostalgia.

In the new film, it's 1973 and Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) is now a father -- 30 years past the 1940s setting of the original film. The Parkers are planning to have Ralphie's parents over for Christmas, but Ralphie gets a tragic phone call.


The cause of The Old Man's death, presumably from natural causes, was sudden enough that they had been expecting him in two days. Essentially, A Christmas Story Christmas handles actor Darren McGavin's death the same way Black Panther: Wakanda Forever handles Chadwick Boseman's.

The Parkers return to Hohman, Ind., to spend Christmas with Ralphie's mother (Julie Hagerty). They're apparently celebrating Christmas before the funeral, but Ralphie has to write the obituary, which is a pressure recurring throughout the film.


A Christmas Story Christmas still credits Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, the same story collection upon which A Christmas Story and other spin offs were based. The book did have Flick (Scott Schwartz) owning a bar in Hohman, so this sequel still retains some Shepherd elements.

Mostly, Ralphie plays the hits from A Christmas Story, but there is a reasonable basis for that. Families do have traditions they follow every year, and it's never quite the same each time.

So, in 1973, they revisit A Christmas Story traditions a little differently. At least the Higbee's department store Santa is nicer to Ralphie's kids.

The Parkers' neighbors, the Bumpuses, still have hounds, though 30 years later it must be a new litter. Ralphie finds some Easter eggs from his childhood in the attic.

This time, the triple dog dare is Flick's revenge on Schwartz (R.D. Robb) for the flagpole incident in A Christmas Story.

Ralphie still has fantasies that play out like old-time film sketches, just like when he imagined saving the day with his BB gun or going blind from soap poisoning. Western villain Black Bart (Nicolas Colicos) is still the subject of one of those.


As an adult, Ralphie's schemes aren't quite as elaborate as when he was a child. He still makes up stories to get his brother Randy (Ian Petrella) home for Christmas.

A Christmas Story fans will also recognize the musical score. The emotional theme, the slapstick comedy cue and even the Big Bad Wolf theme recur in this one.

Not every single scene from A Christmas Story recurs. There's no Ovaltine anymore, and fortunately, there are no Chinese caricatures this Christmas.

And amid all the nostalgia, A Christmas Story Christmas delivers plenty of new stuff, too. The Parker family enjoys a snowball fight, and Flick's bar has an appropriately quaint running gag in which every time the phone rings, the patrons dread it and hope it's not for them.

A new disaster with the gifts threatens Christmas, and a trip to the ER is every parent's nightmare at any time of year. Drunks sledding is another new, and perhaps edgier, set piece.

There are some irreverently modern touches, like cutting off some Christmas songs that appear in every Christmas movie.

There is a bit of an unavoidable "Xerox of a Xerox" feeling when filmmakers try to recreate a style they did once before. Billingsley is a producer now and the writers did adapt Shepherd, but there are still many changes between films.


For one, Hollywood doesn't shoot on film anymore, so the digital sequel just won't look the same, and they sometimes cut to clips of A Christmas Story in which you can see the difference. Director Bob Clark is gone, and it would be impossible to recreate a production from 39 years ago.

But, Warner Home Entertainment did a straight to video Christmas Story 2 in 2012 with an all-new cast. The returning cast members appear to value continuity sincerely.

Whether reinterpreting classic set pieces or inventing new ones, the overall theme is that the Parkers love each other and want to give the kids a fun Christmas. The obligatory Christmas miracle is still undeniably emotional in the context of both films.

A Christmas Story Christmas is unlikely to be the classic perennial as its predecessor. But, when you just can't watch the 1983 film anymore after its 24-hour TBS marathon, this is a fine follow-up.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


Peter Billingsley, Julie Hagerty attend 'A Christmas Story Christmas' premiere in Los Angeles

Peter Billingsley attends the premiere "A Christmas Story Christmas" at the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles on November 12, 2022. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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