A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 298 – The Box of Delights

The Box of Delights – December 23rd, 2010

When we planned this little mini-project, with twelve days of Christmas movies, I knew exactly which day I wanted to watch this on. It is, hands down, my favorite Christmas movie out of all of our regulars. I’ve been watching it at least once a year at Christmas time since I was a kid. We first saw it on our local PBS and fell in love with it instantly. The next year they showed it again and we thought to tape it, but it was an edited version, only two hours long instead of almost three. Such a disappointment. We cherished our somewhat illicit tape, watching it once a year only, to keep it from wearing out. And well into my adulthood, with eBay and Amazon and the like making it easier to find such things, I located an NTSC copy of the full version and snapped it right up. And so tonight, for my birthday, I am watching the full version of my favorite Christmas movie, in excellent condition, while making cookies with my mother. All in all, the perfect way to spend a Christmasy birthday evening.

You might not have heard of this one. I’ve met people who have, but most of them are from the UK. It’s just not as well known around here. It’s based on a children’s novel by John Masefield and is a rollicking adventure about a magical box and an evil sorcerer bent on getting it and Christmastime and mythology. There’s some stuff with King Arthur and Herne the Hunter. There’s a trip back in time and demons and robberies and kidnappings. It’s a highly unusual story, and I love it thoroughly.

Having read the book this is based on, I can say with some authority that it’s very true to it. There are some things changed, but they were minor enough that they made little impact on me and I honestly can’t say what they are. Some additional description, probably. Some more magical stuff. But from what I recall it cleaves very closely to the book. Which is fantastic, because the book is a ton of fun too.

I’m going to attempt to explain the plot here, but I warn that I am quite certain I won’t be able to truly impart the charm this movie has. Please just believe me on that point. Kay Harker, a boy returning home for the holidays from school, meets a Punch and Judy man who turns out to be the keeper of a magical box that allows one to fly, shrink and go inside of it to have magical adventures in fantasy lands and the past. The evil sorcerer Abner Brown, whom Kay has dealt with in the past, is trying to get his hands on the box, but the Punch and Judy man, Cole Hawlings, gives it to Kay. Abner and his gang – masquerading as the staff and students of a theological college near Kay’s home – kidnap (or ‘scrobble’ as the movie puts it) person after person to try and figure out who has the box. He takes Hawlings. He takes Kay’s governess, Caroline Louisa. He takes clergyman after clergyman, believing that since the local cathedral is planning its 1000th Christmas mass and won’t be able to run it without the local clergy, someone will step forward and give over the box in order to save the big celebration. Kay and his friends, a family of children who are staying with him for the holidays, have to find out what’s going on and stop Abner and his gang and rescue all their prisoners – including the clergymen – before midnight mass on Christmas.

Throughout the course of the movie Kay has many adventures. The villains in the movie are characterized as wolves and the phrase used to warn that there’s villainy about is that the wolves are running. Kay helps Arthur fight them off and defend a caste. He learns about them from Herne the Hunter. He shrinks down and talks to a mouse living in the walls of his home and he goes into the past to try and find the creator of the box and ask him to come forward in time and take it back with him so people will stop fighting over it. And the movie ends with Kay, stuck tiny because he’s lost the box, riding around in Abner’s pant cuff in secret, helping free prisoners and learning all about Abner’s devious plot.

The movie features plenty of wonderful shots of the British countryside (the movie was filmed mostly in Worcestershire), both green and covered in snow. Kay and his friends have a grand time, even though there’s clearly some nasty stuff going on and the stakes are rather high. The story is set in the mid 1930s and it’s got a fantastic period feel. We (being my mother and myself, specifically) especially love some of the language used, like scrobble, splendiforous, and the purple pim. The last is used as an exclamation, as in “Being scrobbled really is the purple pim!” We use it all the time and laugh whenever we do.

The adults you see a significant amount of are Abner and his gang (Patricia Quinn plays one of them, Sylvia Daisy Pouncer, with relish) and Cole Hawlings. Abner is played by Robert Stephens, and he has this wonderful delivery for his lines. Sure, in any other movie it would be scenery chewing, but it’s perfect here and same for Patricia Quinn. The kids playing Kay and his friends are fine, but really the stand out is Joanna Dukes as the spitfire Maria (she’s been expelled from four boarding schools and the headmistresses still swoon when they hear her name). I love Maria. But then there’s Cole Hawlings, the mysterious old man who gave Kay the box in the first place. He’s played by a familiar name to anyone who knows Doctor Who: Patrick Troughton. You might not recognize him under the wild hair and bushy beard, but he does a magnificent job with the role.

If you are at all interested in seeing this, and I hope anyone reading this will be, I would encourage you to see if you can find the full version. There’s about 40 minutes more material and while there are some “comedic” bits with a foolish police constable who doesn’t believe Kay, there are also some extra bits of magic and time travel and conversations and it’s well worth it. And, well, if you can’t find the long version do the short version anyhow. It’s worth it too. I truly love this movie and I’ve loved it for years. There is nothing else like it and it’s not really Christmas for me until I’ve seen it. There are some fantastic bits of animation and a whole lot of adventures and evil plots and magic. All to stop a villain from getting his hands on a magical box and to save Christmas (just ignore the cop-out ending). An odd combination to be certain, but a wonderful one. Splendiforous, even.

December 23, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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