How Warner Bros. has sold the sequel to a bonafide classic
There’s little use in recounting how 1983’s A Christmas Story became a seasonal classic through the power of home video and basic cable as everyone likely knows the story. While there were two attempts at sequels – 1994’s It Runs In The Family (also called My Summer Story) and 2012’s straight-to-video A Christmas Story 2, the adventures of Ralphie and his friends and family have never continued in a way truly worthy of how beloved the original is.
Seeking to rectify that is A Christmas Story Christmas, debuting on HBO Max this week. Set in the mid-1970s, Peter Billingsley returns for the first time as a now-grown Ralphie, now with a wife (played by Erinn Hayes) and kids of his own. He brings the family back to his childhood home in Hammond, IN where Ralphie finds that creating a magical childhood Christmas for his kids is a lot harder than he realized all those years ago.
In addition to Billingsly much of the original cast also returns, including the actors who played Ralphie’s younger brother Randy and his friends Schwartz and Flick as well as their schoolyard nemesis Scott Farkus. Julie Hagerty takes on the role of Ralphie’s mother as Melinda Dillon retired years ago. Clay Kaytis directed the movie and cowrote the screenplay with Nick Schenk.
announcement and casting
Warner Bros. and Legendary announced the movie in January 2022, with Billingsly set to reprise his role and Kaytis directing. Others from the original cast joined the sequel a short while later.
Hayes and the actors playing Ralphie and Sandy’s children were added later on.
the marketing campaign
The first teaser trailer wasn’t released until mid-October. It’s not much, but shows new footage of the Parker’s home with audio from the original film to communicate that it’s something new but also something very much rooted in what’s come before.
Ralphie stands in the foreground with his childhood home in the background on the one poster that was also released in mid-October. Everything about the design is meant to evoke memories of the first movie, but especially the home video covers as opposed to the 1983 one-sheet. In case the image wasn’t clear, copy on the poster reads “Ralphie comes home.”
A batch of first-look photos was shared at the same time along with comments from Billingsly about where Ralphie is in this story and what he wants to accomplish.
As the full trailer (837k views on YouTube), which came out at the beginning of November, opens, Ralphie is reminiscing about the passage of time as he shares a drink with some old friends. At the behest of his mother, he tries to create magical Christmas experiences for his own kids but finds that it’s a lot more difficult on the adult end of that equation. There are plenty of references to moments from the original movie along with some updates and it looks just charming.
Last weekend the cast and crew were in attendance at an outdoor screening of the movie. That was followed by a featurette with Billingsley explaining how the characters have been updated in a way that still honors the original, getting all the kids back together and more. He also took part in a fun little video where he answers Christmas related questions.
An interview with Billingsley had him explaining in a bit more detail how he and his producing partner decided the time was right to revisit the story and characters, how Dillon gave him her blessing to cast someone else as Ralphie’s mom and lots more.
Your mileage will likely vary based on how you feel about the original movie (if you don’t love it with all your cold cynical heart you’re the world’s greatest monster though) and how you feel about legacy sequels (it’s completely reasonable to have different opinions, so ydy) but I find a lot to like here. Mostly that’s because it seems to be focused on Ralphie’s struggles to meet everyone’s expectations and live up to the sepia-toned memories he and others have of “the good old days”. Both of those are very relatable.
The most surprising part of the campaign is actually the release itself. It seems like this would be a natural fit for theaters, especially since there aren’t a ton of (or any?) other holiday films playing on the big screen this season. But perhaps, despite WB’s new “theaters first” doctrine it was felt that since the original didn’t really take off until home viewing it was more natural for this one to be a home experience.