It’s that time of year again when people are pulling out boxes with Christmas ornaments and fairy lights, and getting into the spirit of the holidays with nostalgic, classical holiday movies. But while some might say they grew up watching movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf, or even The Nightmare Before Christmas, I’ll admit I never did.
It’s hard to say whether it’s the result of being a first-generation child who, despite moving to Canada, still grew up on European stories and movies, or whether I simply didn’t like them. The holidays for me have always been marked by a rather different set of movies. Now, these non-traditional films are what I associate with winter and the magic and spirit of the holidays.
So whether you’re looking for something different to spice up a yearly tradition, or are just generally curious, here are three alternative speculative films to watch these holidays:
1. Tři oříšky pro Popelku (translated: Three Wishes for Cinderella; 1973)
Though it is considered a holiday classic in some European countries, Three Wishes for Cinderella has nothing to do with the holidays. The only Christmas aura you’ll get from this film is the the stunning snowy Czech landscape, and the evergreen trees.
Three Wishes for Cinderella tells the story of a male servant, who is sent to a marketplace to pick up fabric for the stepmother and stepsister of the classic Cinderella tale. After asking Cinderella what she’d like for him to bring back, the servant is told to bring the first thing that falls on his nose. This happens to be a trio of hazelnuts which, when cracked open throughout the movie, reveals a new outfit that Cinderella needs.
The movie features a rather sassy and badass Cinderella (for her time period, at least), who is nostalgic for the days she used to go hunting with her father, and even mocks the prince when she meets him in the woods. Viewers also get to see a bit of the prince’s character, as opposed to the very bland and cookie-cutter Disney version.
Three Wishes for Cinderella brings with it a quality that’s very much in the style of European fairy and folktales. It takes its time to create an atmosphere rather than simply powering through the story. And the best part is the main theme in the soundtrack, which has a light, twinkling quality to it, guaranteed to make you imagine galloping on a horse through large piles of snow, feeling the pleasant crispness of winter all around.
2. A Little Snow Fairy Sugar (anime series; 2001-2002)
While the most well-known anime series focus on creating elaborate fantasy worlds and introducing viewers to a cast of emotionally complex characters, A Little Snow Fairy Sugar quietly tiptoes the line between the child and adult realms.
Luckily for you, A Little Snow Fairy Sugar is a short series, so it’s perfect to blaze through this winter season. The show is twelve episodes long, and tells the story of a highly organized and studious girl named Saga, who lives in a small German town with her grandmother and works in a coffee shop. But one day everything changes when Saga discovers a tiny starving fairy and feeds her a waffle, and meets a snow fairy apprentice named Sugar.
Beyond being simply adorable, what with Sugar’s addiction to Belgian waffles and the constant mishaps she gets into with fellow friends Salt and Pepper, the series also addresses themes of growing up and dealing with the loss of a loved one. At times, it is hard not to get emotional while watching. The show has a natural and heartfelt tone to it that make the series stand out in the anime genre.
Sugar’s constant practicing with conjuring snowflakes makes winter feel like it can be found at any time of the year, but also gives a different—and cuter—association to the season. If anime is for you, be sure to give this series a shot!
3. Vechera na Hutare Bliz Dikanki (translation: Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka; musical, 2001)
For a rather long time, there was a different kind of holiday tradition that developed in Russia and Ukraine: that of the musical.
While this trend lasted for over a decade, only the first four or so were genuinely any good. However, I’d argue that the best is the one based on the work of Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol, called Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka.
Set on New Year’s Eve in the small village of Dikanka, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka is the story of a blacksmith named Vakula, who is rejected and mocked by the beautiful Oksana. She gives him a challenge: he can marry her only if he brings back the red shoes worn by the tsarina in St. Petersburg. While the task initially seems impossible, a lucky run-in with the Devil himself proves to be helpful and Vakula, after some blackmailing, is flown across the night sky to St. Petersburg to bring back the shoes and marry Oksana.
The story will most likely sound bizarre to people outside of the culture, but the film does a pretty good job in both presenting and stressing the importance of New Year’s Eve, as opposed to Christmas Day, in Ukrainian culture. It is considered to be the most magical night of the year when all the magical forces come out to play. This version features a talented cast and hilarious lyrics (for those who don’t mind quickly learning Russian/Ukrainian, or can find a version with subtitles), adding a touch of comedy and music to a beloved cultural classic.
So, if you’re still in search of some new and different films to change up your holiday movie list, be sure to give some of the wildcards above a try. And happy holidays to you all!
-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko