Christmas is my favorite holiday and childhood Christmases are among my best memories, so today is day one of a month of Christmas themed articles. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation so my intention was to begin with that. When I rewatched it today in order to write about it I realized just how much I hate the movie, and based on the notes I took I didn’t see how I could put together an entire article on it. Then I had a thought: there’s another Christmas comedy from my childhood that is in my opinion very underrated, so what if I compared the two? With that in mind, today for the first entry of our greatest month apart from the one that contains my birthday I discuss all the ways in which Jingle All the Way (1996) is better and more worthy of your affection than National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989).
Chevy Chase is a Class Obsessed Striver Whose Redemption Is Unearned
Chevy Chase is obsessed with having the perfect WASP Christmas, contributing to every bad decision he makes in the movie. It begins with him traveling to the woods in search of the perfect tree, which he locates following a dick measuring contest on the road that results in his car flying through the air off of a snow embankment. He then locates a tree that is obviously much too large for those house but that doesn’t matter because he’s declared it to be the perfect tree. His next bad decision is covering every surface of the exterior of his home in Christmas lights, leading to a series of fits and starts and when the lights finally work they flood the neighborhood.
Major bad decision number three is leveraging his assumed year end bonus to put a deposit down that he can’t afford for a massive in-ground pool ($7,500, the 1989 equivalent of $15,636). Maybe it’s because I’ve spent almost my entire working life at universities and local government where bonuses don’t exist, but his belief in his entitlement to a bonus is insane to me. His level of certainty that this assumed bonus is going to be massive is also baffling. When he naturally doesn’t get one, there’s never a moment where he doesn’t treat the lack of a bonus as something rightfully his that was taken from him rather than, say, a bonus.
The Griswalds’ neighbors are yuppies played by Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. They’re presented as if they’re the interlopers who are supposed to be detested because of what they are, but they don’t do a single objectionable thing in the movie. They’re model neighbors, keeping to themselves, and they’re subjected to disaster after disaster courtesy of Clark. They’re the good guys. Clark’s the dick.
In the end, Clark’s boss comes around after being kidnapped by Cousin Eddie and Christmas is saved, no thanks to Clark. So apparently the message is be awful and it’ll work out in the end?
Jingle All the Way starts out in a similar vein. Howard Langston (Arnold) is a workaholic who isn’t there for his son and wife, but it’s more a result of benign neglect than it is purposeful bad behavior. Howard wants to support his kid but he isn’t trying as hard as he should be because of his focus on work. The big difference compared to Clark’s redemption is that Arnold attempts to make amends immediately. He spends nearly the entire movie trying to make things right with his son, and ultimately he does. Neither are ideal dads, but Arnold actually tries.
Phil Hartman Being A Creep is Infinitely More Palatable Than Chevy Chase Being A Creep
Sometime in the early 80s it was decided that Chevy Chase being a cocky, sarcastic butthole was charming as opposed to obnoxious. Chevy Chase owes his entire career to whomever perpetuated this misperception.
Like Chevy Chase in everything he’s ever been in, Phil Hartman is a smarmy creep in Jingle All the Way. The difference between the two is that Hartman was a comedic genius who made smarm entertaining, and Chevy Chase is unlikable.
Chevy Chase’s big creep moment in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is during the department store scene. In it Chase manages to be both a lech and a bumbling fool unable to complete a sentence without inserting a synonym for breasts in it except for when he tells the clerk he’s divorced. You see, the clerk is displaying cleavage so naturally Chevy Chase is reduced to imitating the slobbering bug-eyed wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon.
Phil Hartman, on the other hand, is a creep for the entire movie and never once reaches the level of lechery that Chase does in that one scene. Hartman’s creepiness is what my wife just described as “big divorced dad energy,” combined with a strong Eddie Haskell vibe. He’s being a creep but never really comes off as creepy.
Jingle All the Way Features Martin Mull With a Ponytail
Jingle all the Way features Martin Mull with a ponytail. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation does not have Martin Mull with a ponytail in it. To be fair, Cousin Eddie’s son Rocky has a rat tail but it’s not the same.
Jingle All the Way Feature a Professional Wrestler Dressed as Santa Claus. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Does Not
Well it’s the Big Show. It’s a big bad show tonight.
It’s a well known cinematic rule that including a professional wrestler dressed as Santa Claus makes your Christmas movie 45-60% better. Santa’s Slay understood and followed this rule, and that’s why it’s the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Jingle All the Way understood this as well. Christmas Vacation, not so much. Heck even Shasta McNasty was able to get The Big Show.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Punches a Reindeer in the Face and Then Gets it Drunk
Seriously, at this point it just feels like running up the score.
Jingle All the Way Also Features The Tick and Sonic the Hedgehog
Jingle All the Way Shares a Catchphrase With the Best Sketch in I Think You Should Leave
“It’s Turbo Time.”
Both Movies Feature an Explosion That Leaves a Character Smoking Like a Cartoon Character
In Christmas Vacation Uncle Lewis lights his cigar too close to the Christmas tree, causing it to explode in flames and leave him singed and slightly on fire. In Jingle All the Way the police officer who repeatedly suffers indignities thanks mostly to Arnold is holding a package that explodes, leaving him smoking (and everybody else in the room untouched). This one’s a draw.
Later Dudes. Let Her Rip. Hang 10
Chevy Chase says all of these words in the sledding scene. Well they’re ADRed in, but the dialogue is attributed to him. Embarrassing.
There you have it. Scientific proof that Jingle All the Way is a much better movie than National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation. Please adjust your holiday viewing habits accordingly.
What is your favorite childhood Christmas movie? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
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