Note 16: 2020 British Christmas Adverts

Just say "No!" to Toyotathon and Happy Honda Days.

I wrapped up my latest bit of Christmas over the weekend by filling Christmas crackers while watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (ROS). Star Wars has gotten back onto my Nice List with Disney’s announcement that Patty Jenkins will be making a Rogue Squadron film and The Mandalorian in general. I mean, what Star Wars fan can pass on fan service like this?

It’s a scene that I’ve played out countless times in Star Wars: Battlefront II, both on the giving and receiving end of those seismic charges.

Anyways, I needed something to watch while filling crackers and had run out of recorded programming and wasn’t ready to jump back into Hallmark Channel holiday films to pass the time. So I fired up Disney+ and gave ROS another shot, since my first (and only) viewing in the theaters before everything went screwy.

Overall second impression? Pretty much the same as my first impression. ROS is J.J. Abrams making us watch him play with his Star Wars toys and put as much thought into his script as a kid dumping his action figures out on the carpet. The visuals are great and the acting’s on-par for Star Wars. The biggest problem is that the film’s very obvious an exercise in ad-hoc cinema over a period of five years. You’d think that a film franchise capable of generating multiple-billions of dollars in revenue would have merited more than a game of plot Hot Potato between various filmmakers. I mean, Dave Filoni is building his own consistent canon within the larger universe between Mandalorian, Rebels, and Clone Wars with no issue. Where Abrams was the kid smashing his action figures together (“Hey look, I just got a Palapatine for Christmas!”), Filoni was the kid sitting quietly in the back of class writing his own Star Wars stories in his notebook.

The Skywalker clan deserved the kid with the notebook - not the fellow running around in the yard screaming with his pal Greg.

Christmas short films

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the fine British tradition of the Christmas advert with Sainsbury’s re-enactment of the Christmas Truce of 1914:

Up to that point, I was pretty much sick of American holiday ads hawking cars and M&Ms. Christmas ads were just like other ads, which I tuned out or skipped.

It turns out - and I don’t know exactly why this is the case - that our friends across the pond treat the holiday season the same way we treat the Super Bowl - the time for the Ad Men to show what they’re really capable of.

Not only were they capable of being dramatic, but they would wear their humor and hearts on their sleeves:

(Don Draper, eat your heart out.)

Since reviewing the British Christmas adverts has become an annual tradition for me, I thought I would skip the wordy commentary this week and give you a good old-fashioned list of my favorites this year.

In no particular order, other than my overall favorite being at the end:

Argos: I enjoyed this one because it reminded me of being a kid with the Sears Wishbook and imagining all the cool stuff you could do if you received the right stuff from your list. (The proper methodology for annotating the Sears Wishbook may become the topic of a future holiday Note.)

Amazon: The e-tailer didn’t screw around and showed how much 2020 sucked for kids and teens with dreams that they had to put on hold while the world was sick. Nonetheless, Amazon finds beauty in that.

Barbour: I mainly liked this one due to its art direction and how it looks like a children’s book on my screen. The coat plot could have been stronger, but then again, this is a freaking ad.

Coca-Cola: For the corporation that’s second only to the Victorians when it comes to modern ideas of what Christmas is, they brought their A-Game to their ad (and director Taika Waititi to bring it home).

Waitrose & Partners: I dug how this one combined a variety of different art styles to tell its story.

McDonalds: If there’s one thing that the British advertisers know how to do around the holidays, it’s executing the Three Act Structure in the context of family drama to tell a compelling story.

Disney: “Hold my beer, Ronald McDonald.”

Tesco: I enjoyed this next one, because I don’t think we’ve explored enough what gets you on to Santa’s Naughty List.

Sainsbury: This British supermarket chain introduced me to all of this with their 2014 advert (see above), and I think they made a good call going low-fi with these phone calls between family and friends.

Co-op: Catchy tune and talented singers.

Finally, my favorite of the season, featuring Kevin the Carrot and homages to some of my favorite films, courtesy of the Aldi supermarket chain. Watch them in order:

And an extended scene for those in the Irish market:

What do you think? Are any of the above your favorite or are you a fan of another?

Misc. updates

I’ve been meaning to do a political hot takes post, but reality has been getting stranger faster than I can write about it. I expected some silliness after the election, but I should have known that the Trump era wouldn’t have slipped away quietly. Anyways, stay tuned and if things pause over the next couple of weeks long enough for me to put something together, I’ll push out something.

In terms of the home renovations, the bathroom reconstruction is still ongoing and I’m without a sink next to my office. Nonetheless, I’m managing.

Work has been consistently busy leading into the holiday. I’m looking forward to a slow down next week (and some time to jump back into Star Wars: Squardrons), but we’re at the point in the holiday cycle where everyone’s trying to get things done before the new year.

Interesting reads

An Unwelcome Silent Night: Germany Without Christmas Markets (New York Times)

‘God be with us’ Covid-19 becomes personal in a South Dakota town as neighbors die and the town debates a mask mandate (Washington Post)

US House passes bill to tear down judiciary’s paywall (Ars Technica)

The arches of chaos in the Solar System (Science Advances)

What Did the Past Smell Like? (Nautilus)


Until next week, CMDRs!