Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Ernest Saves Christmas

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  You know how it goes, I watch a movie and blog about it.  Still going through the Christmas movies I watched back in December.  Today, it's Ernest Saves Christmas and I originally watched and wrote this on December 8, 2019.

Continuing with my latest binge of Christmas movies, I found Ernest Saves Christmas in a discount bin for $5, and figured, "Why not?"  Like a lot of youths in the 1980s, I was nuts for the character of Ernest P. Worrell when he burst on the scene.  So much so, that I actually saw Ernest Saves Christmas in the theatre back in the day. 

A quick refresher.  Ernest was the creation of the advertising agency Carden & Cherry, and brought to life by actor and comedian Jim Varney.  The character was used in a number of regional ad campaigns across the USA.  Up here in Canada, at least Western Canada, he became the face of Gainer's lunch meats.  The character took the world by storm, and Carden & Cherry soon started receiving offers for Ernest to star in national campaigns.  The problem with that was, he couldn't, as Ernest was tied up in too many regional deals.  So, to satisfy the national demand for Ernest, they started putting the character in a series of low budget movies.  They wound up cranking out nine Ernest movies before Varney passed away in the year 2000.  The first four were co-produced by Disney.  And the second one, Ernest Saves Christmas, is in the record books as being the most successful Ernest movie at the box office. 

But when it comes to Ernest and Christmas, my most vivid memory has to be seeing the trailer for the first Ernest film, Ernest Goes to Camp, in the theatres.  It had a Christmas theme, it took the same format as the classic commercials, with Ernest harassing his buddy Vern about the latest great product he's discovered.  Only in the trailer, Ernest crashes Vern's Christmas party to tell him that he's made his very own movie. 

But I digress. I caught Ernest Saves Christmas on TV a couple of Christmases ago, and was surprised at how well it holds up.  Hell, you could easily remove Ernest from the equation and remake it, because Ernest actually does very little to save Christmas.

It December 23 in Orlando, Florida, and a kindly old man arrives from the North Pole and hops into a cab driven by Ernest.  The kindly old man explains that he is Santa Claus.  The problem with Santa is, after time, his Christmas magic begins to fade, and in order to replenish the magic, he needs to pass the mantle of Santa Claus onto another.  To be the new Santa, Santa has chosen Joe Caruthers, a Mr. Rogers-esque kids show host from the Orlando area.  Ernest, of course, takes this man at face value, and pledges to help him out.

Joe, however, needs more convincing.  His show has just been canceled, and his sleazy, 1980s agent has landed him a part in a cheezy 1980s slasher film.  Joe's not so sure about this, because of all the violence and the cussing in the film.  Too bad this was a G-rated film.  There's one moment where the agent loses it with Joe and tells him to get with the real world, man, and take this part in the movie and make tons of money.  They could have gone for PG-13, and dropped their single F-bomb in that rant. 

And a teen runaway calling herself Harmony Starr gets caught up in these shenanigans.  Of course, Santa is immediately able to call her by her real name -- Pamela -- and knows that she ran away from home because her parents are going through a divorce and she just couldn't take it anymore. 

And you know the kinds of gags in these movies.  There's a misunderstanding and Santa winds up in jail, so Ernest and Harmony have to bust him out.  Joe is shooting a screen test for his slasher film, so Ernest has to sneak Santa into the movie studio.  Stuff like that. 

As I said, you could easily remake this.  Hell, just beef up the role of Harmony and have her save Christmas. 

Anyway, it all comes to a head on Christmas Eve.  The clock is ticking, because Joe has to become the new Santa and leave to deliver toys no later than 7PM, or else Santa will be done for.  Santa goes to make one last desperate plea to Joe, Ernest goes to the airport to collect the sleigh and reindeer which have been shipped down, and Harmony swipes Santa's sack and hits the road again, hoping to use its contents to get rich.  It looks dire, but Santa has faith that it'll all come together. 

But it's still a fun little movie and not a bad way to kill an hour and a half in the Christmas season.  I was surprised at how much I still enjoyed it.  While it may not make you laugh out loud, it will make you smile.  It's just fun.

Oh, one last note.  This is easily one of the best supporting casts in an Ernest movie.  Santa is played by a legendary British character actor named Douglas Seale.  I remembered him from a TV show on at the time called Rags to Riches, but later generations will remember his as the voice of the Sultan in the original animated Aladdin.

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