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One Magic Christmas - Disney DVD Review

One Magic Christmas

Theatrical Release: November 22, 1985 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Phillip Borsos

Cast: Mary Steenburgen (Ginny Grainger), Gary Basaraba (Jack Grainger), Harry Dean Stanton (Gideon), Arthur Hill (Caleb Grainger), Elisabeth Harnois (Abbie Grainger), Robbie Magwood (Cal Grainger), Michelle Meyrink (Betty), Elias Koteas (Eddie), Wayne Robson (Harry Dickens), Jan Rubes (Santa Claus), Sarah Polly (Molly Monaghan), Graham Jarvis (Frank Crump)

The Graingers have been having a rough year. Jack Grainer (Gary Basaraba), the paterfamilias, has been out of work since June and the radio station that fired him is having the family move out come the first of January. Whatever dreams of a jolly Christmas that the two children, Abbie (Elisabeth Harnois) and Cal (Robbie Magwood), have are being overshadowed by the family's troubling financial situation and their mother Ginny's (Mary Steenburgen) general discontent for the holiday season.

Enter Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton), a man who enjoys spending time in trees playing his harmonica. Gideon used to be a cowhand, but he gave his life to save another from drowning, and as such, he's now a Christmas angel. This year, Gideon's assignment is to bring cheer to Ginny and in turn make things right for her family. With his trenchcoat and hat, his calm reserve, and some pretty potent powers, Gideon makes for a most interesting figure.

Gideon's task is not a small one, and the film aptly balances a number of elements in its end-of-the-year exploration of the Grainger family. Ginny is forced to endure long hours at the supermarket for an unappreciative manager, and her disillusionment with Christmas as a commercialized holiday the family can't afford to enjoy seems reasonably rationalized in the film's context.

Ginny Grainger (Mary Steenburgen) isn't very jolly about Christmas. Ginny and Jack try to pull Christmas off in the face of hard financial times.

Though unemployed, her husband Jack is less glum. He imagines a special time for the two cute kids, and his seasonal spirit even has best friend Eddie (Elias Koteas, in one of his earlier film appearances) and he collecting money to make sure that the town of Medford's Christmas tree will light up as it has every year in the past. Jack's optimism reflects back to his father (Arthur Hill), a warm old man who also tries to make Christmas a little more special for his grandchildren.

With Ginny reluctant to have her young daughter Abbie believe in Santa Claus, and completely against the words "Merry Christmas," a rapid and effortless character transformation would not be believable. So where Scrooge got a closer look at Christmases of the past, present and future, and George Bailey had the opportunity to see what life would be like without him, Ginny too gets a unique experience to make her appreciate all that she has.

In its perfectly-paced 89 minutes, One Magic Christmas runs quite a gamut in telling the story of Ginny and Gideon. There's intense hardship to endure, fantasy to embrace, and a realistic human drama to ground it all. In a less sincere film, the story could have come across as schmaltzy, but here it's incredibly poignant. From Disney's new cover artwork, the unacquainted majority may expect a sappy production with Santa Claus figuring largely. They may well be surprised at the depth and emotion to this G-rated gem.

The most substantial praise for One Magic Christmas seems like it should go to Phillip Borsos and Thomas Meehan, who came up with the story and then oversaw production with Borsos directing and executive producing and Meehan writing the script. They have a powerful film to tell, and they do so with an honesty and earnestness that makes it impossible to resist.

Abbie looks to Santa Claus for help. The snowy street where the Graingers live.

Bringing the tale to life with conviction is a young Mary Steenburgen with a strong central performance to weigh the film's drama. (All these years later, Steenburgen returned to Christmas with success, with her role in last year's enjoyable comedy Elf.) Perhaps the most haunting and effective work in the film, though, belongs to Harry Dean Stanton, an actor whose turned in so many great and underappreciated supporting performances over the years, and who makes terrific use of the more substantial screen time he has here.

In addition to Elias Koteas, two other actors make memorable feature film debuts here. Elisabeth Harnois (miscredited as "Elizabeth"), who gives one of the best child actor performances I've seen, would play Alice in the Disney Channel's colorful "Adventures in Wonderland" series and a starring role in The Wonderful World of Disney film My Date With the President's Daughter. Playing Abbie's even poorer neighbor Molly Monaghan is Sarah Polly, who would go on to star in the "Road to Avonlea" television series and a number of critically acclaimed independent films in recent years.

There's a good chance you may not have seen One Magic Christmas. In theaters, it was lost in the shuffle of Rocky IV and even overshadowed by Santa Claus: The Movie. Unlike other holiday films of the '80s and other eras, the film has never received wide seasonal television airings either. But it's a shame if you continue to miss out on this compelling Christmas drama, which will stay with you long after it ends.

Buy One Magic Christmas on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Dolby Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French; Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 7, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 White Keepcase


Released to DVD by Anchor Bay in 1999, One Magic Christmas already looked quite good on disc. The good news is that Disney's DVD adds 16x9 enhancement, and this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen surpasses even the strong previous release. Winter scenery poses no trouble for this transfer, which remains vivid and showcases a warmth and accuracy to its colors. The print was remarkably clean, outside of the opening Disney logo which is nicely restored, and no noticeable flaws detracted from the presentation. This sharp, satisfying video presentation matches a likewise film.

Like Anchor Bay's disc, the film is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix here. The audio presentation sounds pretty similar, with perhaps more speaker separation to Anchor Bay's disc. Music and dialogue are nicely rendered, and the surrounds make good use of atmospheric effects. This potent 5.1 track stands out amidst the fine but unspectacular Mono presentations that Disney films of the '70s and early '80s have generally received.

Outside the North Pole. Gideon pays Abbie a visit.


Unfortunately there are no bonus features for One Magic Christmas. I was hoping that we'd at least get the theatrical trailer that was missing from Anchor Bay's DVD (except for the packaging). Nope, all we get is the 90-second promo for recent live action Disney films on DVD.

The menus aren't as elaborate as Anchor Bay's, but the 16x9 stills are pretty pleasing, with their artwork from the film and long selections from the winning score.

If this angel has his way, it will truly be "One Magic Christmas." Abbie with her special snow globe.


One Magic Christmas comes highly recommended as a film. This wonderful little holiday tale has a great heart. Disney's DVD release is short on extras, but it features truly first-rate video and audio. It's ideal viewing for those who like their family films with some depth to them and for folks who mistakenly think that they've seen all the good Christmas movies and specials.

More on the DVD

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Recent Live Action (1980-Present) Films Page | September 2004 Catalogue Releases

Related Reviews
One Magic Christmas Anchor Bay DVD

New to Disney DVD
The Christmas Star (1986) | The Last Flight of Noah's Ark (1980)

Disney in the '80s
Flight of the Navigator (1986) | Cheetah (1989) | Return to Oz (1985)

Reviewed September 7, 2004.

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