Monsters, magic and a splash too soon

20th December 1996 at 00:00
Something old, something new - but mostly something old. Janette Wolf picks the freshest fare from the familiar dishes served up this Christmas.

While shepherds watch their flocks, chances are we shall all be spending much of Christmas watching our televisions. But what makes good family viewing? One advantage of endless seasonal re-runs is that at least parents have had a chance to pre-judge which films are suitable for general consumption. In the case of some (The Wizard of Oz, Christmas Day, BBC1, 11.20am-1pm, and Tom Thumb, December 30, Channel 4, 5.10-6.55pm) they probably caught them first time round.

So what's new this year? The answer is not much, but here is the best of the seasonal debutantes.

FernGully: the Last Rainforest (Christmas Eve, BBC2, 12.05-1.15pm) is an eco-friendly animation to warm the cockles of your heart (without endangering the ozone layer). It provides more proof that Robin Williams is often best heard and not seen, when he does the voice-over for a bat in this good-fairy-vs-evil-spirit woodland romp.

Jurassic Park (Christmas Day, BBC1, 6.30-8.30pm) sees the juggernauts of prehistory brought back to life, thanks to some breathtaking computer graphics and Mr Spielberg's magic. Most people will have already seen it on the big screen (where it more properly belongs) but it still has the power to shock in the best Oh-my-God-look-behind-you tradition. Shame about the ridiculous plot.

The Secret Garden (Boxing Day, ITV, 4.50-6.45pm) is an absolute delight. This version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's timeless children's classic should enchant even those already succumbing to post-Christmas ennui. Maggie Smith is terrific as the housekeeper with the cast-iron knickers and the heart of gold. The moody house and gardens are magnificent and even the children are quite appealing. Definitely one to watch.

Then there is Free Willy (Boxing Day, BBC1, 6.00-7.50pm). Why did the BBC choose to use the one and only electrifying moment of this otherwise schmaltzy film in its preview clip, thereby puncturing any sense of suspense and depriving us of a heart-stopping climax? Still, it is worth watching just to put Willy's wonderful leap for freedom into context. (What do you mean, does he get away?) Satellite television has more than a touch of the Ebenezers about it this year, with little to entice dish owners away from the terrestrial channels. Mind you it does have Mary Poppins on the Disney Channel (Christmas Day, 3.40-6.15pm), marvellous if only to hear Dick van Dyke's surreal Cockney accent.

Miracle on 34th Street comes to Sky Movies (December 22, 6.00-8.00pm), when Dickie Attenborough tries to convince a sceptical Mara Wilson that he is the real Santa Claus. And The Flintstones (December 22, Sky Movies, 8.00-10. 00pm) will leave no room for ambivalence - you'll either love it or it will ruin your holiday.

On Christmas Day, Val Kilmer gets to have a crack at the bat with a rubber fetish in Batman Forever (Movie Channel, 6.00-8.00pm) and as a perfect antidote to all the enforced bonhomie and superficial niceness of the season, try Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (Christmas Eve, Disney Channel, 7.45-9.15pm).

No Christmas would be complete without those two roisterers Roald Dahl and Indiana Jones. The former makes a welcome return with The Witches (December 30, BBC2, 5.15-7.45pm) featuring Angelica Huston at her most sorcerous, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (New Year's Day, BBC2, 3.55-5.30pm). Anglia viewers also have a chance to see The Making of James and the Giant Peach (Boxing Day, 5.15-5.55am). Indie reappears in the first (and best) of his three adventures, as Raiders of the Lost Ark makes a leap back on to the small screen (December 22, BBC1, 8.00-9.50pm).

Don't miss Wallace and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers, (Boxing Day, BBC1, 4.00-4.30pm) and Euro 96 - When Football Came Home (Boxing Day, BBC2, 6.00-7.00pm). It's not a film but it was an epic of sorts and, as the song says, "You've seen it all before." Which could apply to most of what you'll be watching this Christmas.

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