Pixar’s deftly computer-animated Up (New Year’s Day, BBC1) sees a grumpy old man and a boy scout transported by party balloons to an exotic South American paradise. And in Steven Spielberg’s dazzling The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn (from Christmas Day, Sky Premiere) – also animated, but using motion-capture for added realism – the bequiffed young hero and his dog encounter smugglers and pirates in a quest for sunken treasure. But for something really out of this world, watch quirky indie sci-fi drama Moon (Sun 30 Dec, BBC2).
Cloud Cuckoo Land
Fairy tales make perfect sense during the season that’s synonymous with elves, gingerbread and childhood wonder, and Tim Burton’s smash box-office hit Alice in Wonderland (Boxing Day, BBC1) gives Lewis Carroll’s hallucinogenic inventions an idiosyncratic upgrade, with Johnny Depp’s wild-eyed and eccentric Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter’s definitive Red Queen among the dazzling characters. From Disney, Tangled (Christmas Day, ITV1) gives Rapunzel a spirited makeover (the modern dialogue has her “grounded, like, for ever“), and The Princess and the Frog (New Year’s Day, BBC1) adds creole cool to the frog prince story, with its 1920s New Orleans and Louisiana bayou settings. Shrek was originally designed to mock Disney tradition but has now become part of the establishment, and the fourth film, Shrek Forever After (Christmas Day, BBC1) wraps up the series in smart style, with the green ogre coming to regret wishing for his old life back.
Flights of Fantasy
With The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey in cinemas, why not revisit Peter Jackson’s world-beating Lord of the Rings trilogy? Start with The Fellowship of the Ring (Christmas Day, C4) and journey from there. Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time (New Year’s EVE, BBC1) turns a video game into a lithe sword-and-sandals epic, while The Wizard of Oz (New Year’s Day, C4) takes us back to a more innocent age; its ambitious parallel universe (filmed in glorious Technicolor) making it the Gone with the Wind of fantasy.
Drift off with a good book
Nothing beats unwrapping something to read at Christmas, whether traditionally bound or, these days, delivered electronically. A good literary adaptation can be just as rewarding. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (Boxing Day, BBC2), only slightly tweaked from Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 gothic novel, is prime Hitch: eerie, suspenseful and handsome. (Toby Jones plays the man himself earlier the same day in BBC2 drama The Girl). The 2009 motion-capture version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (Christmas Eve, BBC1) allows Jim Carrey full scope for gurning, but the enduring fable was done better, in my opinion, with Michael Caine and some felt puppets in The Muppet Christmas Carol (Christmas Eve, C4).
If you’re looking for thrills and love a bit of moody Scandi-drama, Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millenium trilogy totally rocks on film. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Boxing Day), The Girl Who Played with Fire (Thursday 27 Dec) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Saturday 29 Dec, all C4), originally shown on Swedish TV as one mini-series, follow Noomi Rapace’s vengeful hacker as she uncovers the sort of grim goings-on BBC4 viewers are getting rather used to. For a Hollywood alternative, enjoy Die Hard 2 (Saturday 22 Dec, C4), a cracking slice of Bruce Willis action that happens to be set on Christmas Eve, just like the first film.
…And down to Earth
Amid all the fantasy and fairy dust, it’s nice to know you can settle down with something more grounded, and Julie & Julia (New Year’s Eve, BBC2) has it all: postwar Paris nostalgia played in a contemporary New York frame; the sure and witty touch of the late writer/director Nora Ephron; and constant food preparation, as Amy Adams’s blogger seeks to emulate Meryl Streep’s legendary cookery writer, Julia Child. One of this year’s best films, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (from Friday 21 Dec, Sky Premiere), sees the usually glam George Clooney “ordinary up” as a bereaved Honolulu lawyer. It’s bittersweet, boasts a gloriously damp Hawaiian setting and gifts Clooney his best role for years.