Our A.V. Club Field Guide To Parenting is designed to guide you toward the best kids’ books, shows, movies, and music, just like we do with The A.V. Club for adults. Every month or so, we feature a new subject with a few essential pop culture takes parents should know, saving you from the mountains of kids’ dreck out there.
The end of the year brings with it a virtual avalanche of kids-related programming, as parents futilely try to steer their offspring away from the materialism of the season and toward a holiday spirit that involves family, friends, and (hopefully) thinking of others. Frankly, sometimes during this hectic season we just want a peaceful night on the couch with some peppermint hot chocolate and popcorn, or (more likely) something to stick the kids in front of while we wrap presents in the bedroom. To that end, here’s an assortment of favorites, new and old, for our latest batch of A.V. Club-curated treats, aiming for some non-material, all-inclusive holidays.
Click Clack Moo: Christmas At The Farm has an impressive voice cast and a spotlight on giving (Amazon Prime Video)
Amazon tries to take it easy on parents with Click Clack Moo: Christmas At The Farm by stacking the cast with people like Patton Oswalt, Rachel Bloom, Pete Davidson, and Chris Diamantopoulos, not to mention a script by Adventures Of Pete And Pete creator Will McRobb. It also helps that the original Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type is a fun book about cows going on strike and using typewriters to make their demands. Christmas At The Farm follows its silly lead, just without the labor dispute: The farm animals want to do something nice for Farmer Brown this time by buying him a washer-dryer at Christmas. They don’t have the money to pay for it, though, so they hatch schemes to get one. Hijinks follow, in a good way, and Bloom especially commits to the musical genre she loves so much, while the special’s emphasis on giving rather than getting may get the kids to realize that, hey, maybe they should get you a present someday. Now where’s that Labor Day-themed Click Clack Moo to fully explore labor relations? [Kyle Ryan]
The inclusive Home: For The Holidays offers a fun new Hanukkah song (Netflix)
Home is one of those shows that when you find out your kids are binge-watching it on Netflix, it’s a bit surprising: “What the hell is this? Didn’t that movie suck?” From what I remember, it did indeed suck, but my kids are bananas for Home’s Netflix counterpart. It has a diverse animated cast (not even counting the aliens), and once you can get past Boov’s Sheldon-sounding voice, it’s pretty palatable. Home expands this year into an hour-long holiday special, which has appealing, nostalgic felt-looking credits, backgrounds crammed with festive decorations, and a solid emphasis on diversity, as Boov is sad that there are no aliens in the holiday displays, so he and Tip decide to spread the work to his friends. Even better, Ben Schwartz shows up to push a catchy Hanukkah song (that focuses on latkes, but still) and to show Boov that there are actually a variety of holiday celebrations all over Earth. Yes, it drags in parts, like a bizarre Nutcracker interlude, and guest star Kelly Clarkson would have done better to offer “Underneath The Tree” than “O Holy Night.” But Tip and Boov’s reunion at the end of the show with absolutely no presents makes this special’s message of community over materialism extremely clear. [Gwen Ihnat]
Tumble Leaf’s “Snowflake Dance” and “The Tinsel Tree Topper” focus on winter over holidays (Amazon Prime Video)
The Field Guide To Parenting has previously sung the praises of Amazon’s excellent stop-motion series Tumble Leaf, a show that’s great for littler kids any time of year. It dips into holiday themes in this season two episode, particularly the second story, “The Tinsel Tree Topper.” Despite the titular tree and topper, it’s basically non-denominational—there’s no mention of Christmas—as Fig accidentally breaks the topper for the tree he and his friends decorate. “The Tinsel Tree Topper” still strikes a familiar Christmas theme, as Fig learns that spending time with loved ones is more important than holiday decorations. Its light touch contrasts with the subtle-as-a-jackhammer message of most holiday entertainment, not that Tumble Leaf traffics in treacle. The first part of the episode, “Snowflake Dance,” finds Fig and pal Maple preparing for the annual Snowflake Festival. It’s much more of a typical Tumble Leaf episode—Fig and friends go on an adventure to solve a problem—but its wintry setting provides a nice complement to the episode’s back half. [Kyle Ryan]
Why Elf holds up (Amazon)
Last year, our staff had a spirited debate about whether Christmas movies should still be made, with emphatic reasonings on both sides. All of us agreed, though, that the best recent Christmas movie was Elf. Sure it’s already 14 years old, but it’s hard to top its combination of holiday innocence and Will Ferrell hilarity. If you’re like us and you have had a hard time selling your kids on black-and-white movies, Elf may become your family favorite: The young ones will immediately love Buddy, while you’ll still crack up over lines like “You sit on a throne of lies” and “Smiling’s my favorite!” Plus Elf isn’t about those Etch A Sketches he makes at the North Pole, but enjoying the season in every possible form: ice-skating, cutting down your own tree from Central Park, and eating a mostly sugar diet. As his brother, Michael, points out near the end, what makes Buddy so irrepressible is his complete unselfishness: He cares about everyone else before himself. For a variety of delightful reasons, Elf is still worth a rewatch (possible more than one) every year. [Gwen Ihnat]
How young is too young for It’s A Wonderful Life? (Amazon)
Speaking of those black-and-whites… We are fortunate to live in Chicago, where one of our favorite attractions on the Northwest Side is the Music Box Theatre, which specializes in foreign and indie movies and some vintage screenings. This time of year, the Music Box is famous for its sing-along double feature of White Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life. Yes, one of those movies offers many more songs than the other, but both are introduced by a Santa accompanied by the vintage organ at the front of the theater, leading the crowd in carols. A few years ago, I took my then 9-year-old daughter with me on one of my favorite holiday outings.
Surprisingly, White Christmas, despite its colorful musicality, held little interest. It’s true that it’s pretty plotless, as the four leads get caught in a train singing a song about snow at about the 40-minute mark. To my surprise, the darker It’s A Wonderful Life was a much bigger hit with her. Possibly because of the sing-along Christmas atmosphere, it was easy for my daughter to follow, as the whole crowd kept hissing at Mr. Potter whenever he showed up, and Jimmy Stewart’s desperation in the Bedford Falls bizarro world had her genuinely concerned. So, like the rest of us, she cheered at the end, telling me that black-and-white movies were the best—a greater holiday gift I could not receive, especially as she truly seemed to get what made George Bailey the richest man in town. I suggest trying Wonderful Life out with your young ones; having a guy in a Santa suit leading carols really helps seal the deal. [Gwen Ihnat]