National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Review: Christmas in July Blogathon 2017

We’re in the home stretch of the 2017 Christmas in July Blogathon. Starting the beginning of the end is Carl from Listening to Film. As you might have guessed, Carl’s movie reviews focus heavily on the music of the film. He offers a lot of insight so go give him a follow if you don’t already.  I first met Carl during the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story episode of the Talking Stars podcast, where we were on guests together. Enough babbling, let’s see what Carl has to say about one of my personal Christmas favorites: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!


National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation movie posterLike most families, mine has several holiday traditions. We set up a Christmas tree in the living room. We assemble an old Lionel train that my father has had since he was two years old. And we sit down a couple days before Christmas and watch Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) make an absolute mess of his attempt to have a “fun old-fashioned family Christmas.”

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is such a part of my annual holiday experience that I cannot fathom a year when we didn’t watch it, and unlike some films that grow stale over time, the jokes and the story still works for me like it’s the first time I’ve seen it. Midway through the film, Clark attempts to sneak up into the attic to hide presents. His house has one of the old attic hatches with a chain that you pull to open (my childhood house did as well making this extra funny), and when the ladder swings down and smacks him in the head, I cannot help but laugh. Every. Single. Time.

This is the third installment of the “Vacation” series, which all feature dim-witted but well-meaning dad Clark attempting to have an experience with his family only to have things go terribly wrong. Unlike the other films, the family largely stays home and lets the chaos come to them.

“And forgive my husband, he knows not what he does.”

However, they first must venture out to find the Griswold Family Christmas Tree in a sequence that is one of my favorites in the film. After unsuccessfully trying to get their kids (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki) to join in a round of Christmas carols, Clark finds himself being terrorized by a couple of redneck drivers. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm to “burn some dust” causes him to lose sight of the fact that a large log truck is trying to pass them as he swerves into the other lane. While it’s a funny visual, I also have to give a shout-out to whoever actually pulled this stunt off (there are a couple shots that are clearly not process).

After trudging through the snow and pulling a giant tree out by its roots, the Griswolds return home, where the majority of the film takes place. Anyone who has ever celebrated a large (or even a small) Christmas with family will recognize aspects of what takes place, but because this is a John Hughes-penned Vacation film, everything is taken to the nth degree. It’s not enough for Clark to put lights on his house, he needs 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights. His efforts to “fart around with his lights” as his father-in-law (E.G. Marshall) puts it go about as well as you’d expect, as he battles an aluminum ladder and his staple gun and then torpedoes his yuppie neighbors’ stereo with a shaft of ice when he rips a gutter off of the house. When the lights finally do light, however, it’s a wonderfully cathartic scene (played to the Hallelujah Chorus, no less). Never mind that the lights are using enough power that smoke comes from the electric meter and the city must kick in the emergency auxiliary.

“Dad, you taught me everything I know about exterior illumination.”

This scene also leads to the surprise visit of Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family. While the movie has been quite funny to this point, Eddie’s presence kicks things into another gear. With his black dickie under a white sweater, rusting R.V., and a penchant for emptying his chemical toilet first thing in the morning, Eddie is the kind of character Randy Quaid was born to play, and he doesn’t disappoint.

Despite his unrefined exterior, Eddie really does have a heart of gold. Unfortunately, as Clark himself comments on, Eddie’s heart is also bigger than his brain. When a subplot regarding Clark’s Christmas bonus goes wrong (Clark is expecting a bonus check to help pay for a pool he’s installing but winds up with something else entirely), one of the all-time great rants (wonderfully delivered by Chevy Chase) leads Eddie to conclude that the proper course of action is to kidnap Clark’s boss.

“SQUIRREL!!!”

This is just the capper on a Christmas holiday that truly does prove Murphy’s law: a cat and the Christmas tree are both incinerated in separate accidents; the turkey winds up desiccated and explodes; and Clark’s replacement tree brought in from the yard happens to have a squirrel living in it. To be honest, this last point is really the only part of the film that I take issue with. The family all react to the squirrel like it’s the scariest thing they’ve ever seen, and the destruction caused by its being there really seems like piling on.

In the end, one of the things I love about this movie is that it, like Eddie, really has a heart of gold. Despite all the chaos and destruction, the family really does come together in the end to have the Christmas Clark has been dreaming about, only with the addition of Clark’s boss, his wife, and the SWAT team that was sent in to diffuse a hostage situation. Despite his faults, Clark really is a loving husband and father, and none of the jokes are mean-spirited (except perhaps those aimed at the yuppie neighbors, but then they kind of deserve it).

This is the kind of comedy that isn’t really made anymore. Despite the toilet emptying scene and a brief sexually suggestive bit, there isn’t the raunchiness or gross-out “humor” that permeates the films of this type that are being made today. Between this and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, John Hughes seemed to have a way of capturing both the potential disasters (and the humor that arises because of them) of the holidays but also the warmth and the spirit as well. As I said at the beginning, this is a movie that I make a point to watch every year.

It wouldn’t be a fun old-fashioned family Christmas without it.


Thanks Carl! I’m pretty sure this movie appears in the blogathon for a review or on a list every year. Talk about consistency! As I said before, Carl and I were part of a discussion about Rogue One, so it should be no surprise that his guest to our holiday party is the lovely Felicity Jones.

Closing out the blogathon later today is my partner in crime and frequent collaborator Kim from Tranquil Dreams. She will discuss some of her Christmas favorites. Favorite what? You’ll just have to come by to find out. You won’t want to miss what she has in store!

Until next time, cheers!

My Fave Five Christmas Movies

It’s that time of year again.  Snow is falling, bright lights decorate houses on every street, the Salvation Army bell ringers are outside every grocery store you can see, and TBS is having a 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon.  Yes, it’s the holiday season.  While you and your family are gathered by the fireplace sipping eggnog, sitting at the table playing a game of cards, or whatever your holiday traditions may be, chances are you do so with a Christmas movie playing.  Everyone has something different they like about the holiday season and there are plenty of movies to reflect that.  Here are my five favorite Christmas movies.

Honorable Mentions) Die Hard & Lethal WeaponLethal Weapon movie poster Die Hard movie poster

I have included Die Hard and Lethal Weapon on this list because they aren’t what could be considered “traditional” Christmas movies.  They take place during Christmas (the lowest requirement for a Christmas film) but that’s about the only relation to Christmas they have.  However, they are both great movies.  And on top of that, they both produced catch phrases that would last throughout both franchises.  They may not be the most traditional of Christmas films, but they are Christmas films nonetheless.

Elf movie poster5) Elf

Will Ferrell’s humor is hit or miss with audiences (based on people I’ve talked to at least).  But in Elf, he hits the mark.  Even those who I know aren’t Ferrell fans enjoy this movie.  The innocent and good natured Buddy the Elf resonates with everyone.  It’s always entertaining to see someone like Buddy who comes from a small town experience New York City for the first time.  There’s something about that fish-out-of-water element in the Big Apple that is so humorous.

4) The Polar ExpressThe Polar Express movie poster

When I was but a wee lad, I enjoyed the book The Polar Express.  Then it was brought onto the big screen, and the sense of wonderment only grew.  It can be difficult to adapt a children’s book into a movie, but The Polar Express shows how to do it correctly, and with style.  The animation uses contrasts efficiently and before Frozen, this was the pinnacle of snow animation, creating a gorgeously unique style that still looks amazing ten years later.

Christmas Vacation movie poster3) Christmas Vacation

Oh Christmas Vacation, how I love you.  I believe this was the first movie from National Lampoon’s Vacation series that I saw, and it is probably the best of the series.  Clark Griswald is once again played by the amazing Chevy Chase, whose comedic timing is spot-on in this film.  Even the supporting cast each get their moments.  But what I would have to say is my favorite part about Christmas Vacation is how it takes traditional holiday events that we loath (or like), such as in-laws staying for a few days or decorating the house with lights, and takes them to the extreme.  Sometimes real-life events make for the most touching.  Check out Natalie’s Christmas Vacation review from my Christmas in July Blogathon.

2) A Christmas StoryA Christmas Story movie poster

This is the Christmas movies of all Christmas movies, or at least TBS thinks so since they play it for 24-hours.  But I would have to agree.  Every kid can relate to Ralphie, the young version played by Peter Billingsley, looking for that on awesome gift under the tree on Christmas morning.  The narration from an older Ralphie, voiced by Jean Shepard, is the perfect compliment to what is going on in the story.  Ralphie’s parents and friends, Ralphie’s daydreams, everything is skewed to fit a child’s perspective and it creates one of the best Christmas films out there.

The Santa Claus movie poster1) The Santa Clause

The Santa Clause was THE Christmas movie of my childhood.  This is the film I do not go without watching every year.  This was one of Tim Allen’s first movies since he started on Home Improvement and he carried much of Tim Taylor into this movie.  I think what appeals to me most is that Scott Calvin, Allen’s character, didn’t want to be Santa Claus, he was selfish and didn’t want the responsibility.  There is a big difference in his attitude between his first and second outings as Santa.  And I couldn’t forget all the cool elf gadgets.  Tinsel, jet packs, the sleigh’s CD dispenser.  Everything is just cool.  The cute little touches, like the Rose Sucha Clatter ladder company, just add to the experience.


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Christmas In July Blogathon: Christmas Vacation

Here at Drew’s Reviews, we’re celebrating Christmas in July.  Earlier today, Rob reviewed It’s A Wonderful Life, which you can read right here.  Now let’s check in with Natalie from Writer Loves Movies.  Her favorite holiday movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Take it away, Natalie!


National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation movie posterEvery year our Christmas TV guide awards National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation a lowly two stars and I always feel disappointed. This laugh packed depiction of a traditional family Christmas reminds me of everything I love about the season and, to me at least, it seems deserving of much greater recognition.

Family man Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to hold a fun old-fashioned family Christmas but nothing seems to go right. Even his bonus cheque seems to have gone awry – something that leads Uncle Eddie to make a kind-hearted but stupid decision.

Yes there’s a crazy chase scene when the family is frightened by a rogue squirrel and there’s also a mad plot at work towards the the film’s conclusion, but what makes Christmas Vacation great is its attention to all the tiny details of family Christmases. Writer John Hughes (the same comedic mind behind Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) knows it’s the little things that make Christmas. These little things that, more often than not, go disastrously wrong every year in households across the globe. Hughes finds the comedy in the turkey always being overcooked, the hosts and guests bickering throughout and everyone falling asleep after dinner. Remind you of Christmas yet? The truth is Christmas wouldn’t be the same without these familiar mishaps and so director Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon) presents them fondly, as moments of minor irritation with plenty of humour and warmth.

Clark overflows with enthusiasm in the face of a less than enthusiastic wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and teenage kids (Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki), brought to life with non-stop energy by Chevy Chase. His disappointment frequently spills over into frustration which provides heaps of slapstick and a hilarious tirade of insults, but he’s well meaning and we feel for him as well as laugh at his predicaments. Despite getting the impression much of the family would rather be somewhere else, support comes from Clark’s parents who identify with his desire to pull off the perfect celebration. In two of the film’s most touching moments – cine-reel footage of Clark’s childhood Christmases and a father-son heart to heart – we’re reminded that time passes and Christmases change. It taps into a part of us that misses the Christmases of years gone by and reminds us to appreciate family in the moment.

Clark Griswald

There is another man with more than enough appreciation for Clark’s efforts and that’s Eddie. Uncle Eddie lives with his wife, two kids and Rottweiler in a trailer after losing his job many years previously. Eddie lets the dog root through the trash, choke on a bone at the dinner table and empties his chemical toilet into the sewer with explosive results. Eddie is also the orchestrator of the aforementioned ‘mad’ plot that arrives towards the end of Christmas Vacation but the crazy turn of events works precisely because Eddie is behind them. Despite his uncivilised manners Eddie stands out as the ultimate example of familial love.

In direct contrast with the Griswold’s old-fashioned Christmas are the yuppies who live next door. Todd (Nicholas Guest) and Margo (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are having a quiet Christmas, just the two of them, and they’re clearly more concerned with material possessions than family. Hughes continually makes fun of them by having Clark unwittingly trash their swanky pad at every opportunity. It’s great comedy and reinforces the central message that family Christmases – despite all of their complications – are well worth the effort.

So there you have it. For me National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the definitive Christmas movie not only for it’s comedy and lovable characters, but because it looks and feels like a real family Christmas. Apart from the squirrel. I’ll never quite understand why they were afraid of that cute little thing.

What do you think? Does National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation remind you of your own family Christmases? Let me know in the comments and, in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a selection of my favourite scenes.

Christmas dinner:

Christmas shopping:

Christmas lights:


Thanks, Natalie!  I know it reminds me of my family.  Our family gatherings aren’t as eventful as the Griswolds, but there is always some sort of excitement and it’s never dull.  We are quite the rambunctious bunch.  Christmas Vacation is my third favorite Christmas movie, directly behind A Christmas Story and two behind my all-time favorite: The Santa Clause, which yours truly will be reviewing next for the final review of my Christmas in July blogathon.  Stay tuned.