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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Donny & Marie Christmas
Donny & Marie Christmas
R2 Entertainment // Unrated // November 7, 2006
List Price: $12.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted October 29, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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What happened to the televised celebrity Christmas specials? They largely disappeared from the airwaves sometime in the 1980's, and it seems unlikely they'll ever come back. The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show is fairly representative of the numerous Christmas specials that one could typically chose from back in the 1970's. Since this special stars the Osmonds, the emphasis is on music, family and God -- a more traditional focus when compared to other more secular Christmas specials from that time period (please click here for my George Burns: The TV Specials Collection Box Set review, featuring The George Burns Early, Early Christmas Special, starring the Playboy Bunnies!).

The snow-bound Utah setting for The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show is spectacular. Imposing mountains and snowy valleys open the show, with the Osmond family making their way through a real snow storm. There's certainly nothing fake about that snow, and it easily puts you right in the Christmas mood. After Donny & Marie tell the viewer that this particular special will be an "all-Osmond only" special (including the first appearance of the Osmond Wives singing, as well as Mother and Father Osmond, and older brothers Virl and Tom performing), the action switches inside to a big set depicting a western-style cabin. Here, the Osmonds perform various songs including "Let's Have an Old-Fashioned Christmas," and "Cooking Christmas Dinner," while Donny introduces his then-new bride, Debra, singing a duet with her. Then, after some sports out in the snow, Donny & Marie head off to give a Christmas concert, complete with an appearance by Santa Claus. After their return home, the family puts on a talent show, and once the kids are put to bed, the grown-ups gather in the family room to sing one more song for the viewer.

There's much to like in The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show. As always, the one quality that always comes through very clearly with the Osmonds is their sincerity. Unashamedly, the Osmonds put their Christian faith out front (although they're careful not to be specific about their Mormon beliefs). This might come as a shock to casual TV viewers today, who have become used to a prime-time TV land now largely expunged of most religious references. The Osmonds also firmly believe in the traditional family unit, with an emphasis on celebrating familial bonds that grow outward to include parents, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, grandchildren and grandparents. Of course, these principles are nothing new to most Americans; most Americans live these tenets every day. But TV, after years of veering away from mainstream, traditional American beliefs, largely eschews them now, painting a false portrait of an America that doesn't believe in religion or family.

Several of the production numbers are quite good. Donny singing to his new wife, Debra, is a nice, quiet moment (she has a fine voice, too), although it's hard to hear, "You're Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady" now without visualizing Newman from Seinfeld singing it. Marie has a fun moment with some of the Osmond kids building a snowman while singing "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." Together, Donny & Marie are in fine form for their concert segment (filmed on the same stage they were using for the last two seasons of their ABC variety show - please click here for my The Best of Donny & Marie: Volume 1 review). George and Olive Osmond, referred to here only as Father and Mother Osmond, have a touching moment alone together, reminiscing about past Christmases, and there's a spirited Victorian Christmas-themed number (reminiscent of Mary Poppins) about chimney sweeps.

Not all of The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show is successful. Particularly embarrassing is the production number with just the male Osmonds cooking Christmas dinner. It's a chaotic mess, with non-existent choreography, and several of the guys mugging terribly. At one point, Marie promises to show the family at play out in the snow, for the benefit of the viewers at home who may never have experienced a white Christmas. It's a nice thought, but unfortunately, the footage is framed in ugly, garish graphics listing the names of the people involved, spoiling what could have been a fun segment. Perhaps most unfortunate is Jimmy Osmond's solo stint, singing "If Christ Should Come Tomorrow." I don't have a problem with religious songs on a Christmas special, nor does it bother me that an image of Jesus Christ is superimposed over the mountains of Utah at the end of Jimmy's song. After all, it's a Christmas special with the Osmonds - what do you think it's going to be about? What does bother me with this particular song is the nagging, vaguely haranguing tone it imposes on the viewer. If I'm watching a Christmas special, I want to hear uplifting songs, or nostalgic songs, or just happy songs -- secular or religious, it doesn't matter to me. What I don't want is to be told what a mess the world is in, and that it's my fault because I'm not religious enough. Entertain (and if you care to, uplift and encourage) me -- don't lecture me.

The DVD:

The Video:
The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show was shot on video; it's not the best-looking DVD out there, but the image is sharp and clear. There's no problems with the full-frame transfer.

The Audio:
The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS. It's a strong audio presentation, which is fine for Donny & Marie's numbers, but "Cooking Family Christmas" should be muted at all costs.

The Extras:
There are no extras for The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show.

Final Thoughts:
The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show can be recommended for fans of the Osmonds. I'm not so sure that newcomers will find it interesting, mainly because the habit of watching these kind of Christmas specials seems to be a lost tradition. For many growing up in the 1970s, watching the roster of celebrity Christmas TV specials was as much a family tradition as carving the Christmas turkey. It's popular for new critics to condescend to past TV viewers; somehow, the notion has taken hold that past TV viewers were largely unsophisticated rubes who just recently were replaced with a saavy, informed, discriminating audience. I don't think that's true. We were well aware (yes, even that far back) that these were commercialized products, manufactured for our amusement. We took them for what they were, and if the message of the season came through, that was fine, too. Perhaps we're more cynical or jaded now. There's definitely an element of sneering "seen it all before"out there in the collective culture that probably makes these kinds of specials anathema to a lot of kids and families, and that's a shame. The Donny & Marie 1978 Christmas Show is by no means a perfect Christmas special, but it has its moments, and it's fine for family viewing. Recommended.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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