Today marks a momentous occasion in Disney Channel history: the debut of the fourth-ever Christmas DCOM. Christmas Again is the first holiday Disney Channel Original Movie in 10 years. Good Luck Charlie: It’s Christmas! premiered on December 2, 2011. That came a decade after ‘Twas the Night (2001) and The Ultimate Christmas Present (2000). There was also one DCOM in the early 2000s that included a celebration of Hanukkah: Full-Court Miracle (2003).
There’s an excellent repository of holiday episodes among Disney Channel series, but a Christmas DCOM is rare. Christmas Again is directed by Andy Fickman and stars Scarlett Estevez as Rowena, a young girl who lives with her mom and sister and is adjusting to a new family structure after her parents’ divorce. It’s their first big blended Christmas, and Rowena isn’t taking it well. Her parents choose to celebrate the holiday together and include the dad’s new family. Rowena’s soon-to-be stepbrother, Louie, is a pest (at first). Her soon-to-be stepmother, Diane, bakes kale cookies. Ro is impatient with her flatulent grandparents, her aspiring comedian Guncle who gets in the way of her TV time, and her dad’s preoccupation with that darn Louie. To her mother’s horror, Rowena’s mishaps turn into absolute mayhem, taking down both the Christmas decorations and everyone’s moods. Thus the fateful wish to have another chance at her Christmas.
The next morning, Ro starts to realize that she is, indeed, stuck in a Yuletide time loop. After reckoning with her “Groundhog Day” fate, she’s pleased to discover that her actions seemingly have no consequences. Ro takes a leaf out of Kevin McCallister’s book and orders herself a stretch limo for a perfect day of sledding and a trip to Chicago’s Navy Pier. For the next couple of days, she tries to prove the time warp to her family, to no avail. Then she travels by limo to watch her favorite hockey team play. After the match, Ro sees a couple winning a candy cane counting contest. The grand prize is a thousand dollars, and Ro wants that dough, so she makes sure to go back to the rink to win big the next day. I love this part because it’s such a sweet nod to one of my favorite Erik von Detten movies, Christmas Every Day (1996) — except that EVD is guessing the amount of gumballs.
Chicago lovers will also appreciate Rowena’s museum-going scene, highlighting the gorgeous “Christmas Around the World” attraction at the Museum of Science and Industry. She even goes to the top of the Hancock tower and summons up the courage (after a few days) to tip out onto the glass platform. I’ll admit that I didn’t keep count of how many times Ro relives Christmas Day, but it’s a lot. And I really didn’t mind! It’s interesting to see what an 11-year-old will do with so many chances to curate the holiday of her dreams.
The sad part is that Ro’s family doesn’t seem to notice she’s missing while she’s on her jaunts through Chicagoland. On the bright side, every single Christmas involves an interaction between Rowena and Santa — he’s the limo driver, the hockey concessions vendor, and the voice of wisdom for a misunderstood little girl. “Families change, but what’s important is, you’re all still together on Christmas,” Santa says. He tells Ro that she’s missing out on new family memories, but she gets the wrong idea and attempts to get her parents back together. This, too, doesn’t work. As a ’90s kid, I can appreciate a movie where everything has to get messy before it can be fixed. Ro cuts off the power and clogs up the garbage disposal to turn her father into a hunky handyman. She makes the rest of the family disappear to get her parents alone together, fitting them in matching gingerbread sweaters and dangling mistletoe over their heads. Rowena’s parents come clean to tell her that her dad is remarrying and Louie and Diane will officially become part of her family.
Scarlett Estevez shows great range as a young actress, sending her character into a convincing, bed-headed depression over her changing familial structure. “I don’t believe in Christmas,” she declares to her relatives. Ro is inconsolable until her older sister, Gabby, offers some perspective, remembering how much their parents used to fight. Gabby then points out that she wasn’t too excited to get a baby sister at first, but she gave Ro a chance. Boom. Christmas transformed. And Rowena makes it the best one yet by hiring a mariachi band. In her last rounds of December 25th, Ro attempts to help people in the neighborhood by learning Judo, body-slamming a bully, and making sure another neighbor doesn’t drop her eggs. There’s also her savvy move to save a proposal at the Winter Fest, and her sweet gift to two more neighbors: their lost cat and two new kittens. Just when I think the beautiful round of “Silent Night” in Spanish signals the end, Rowena continues her good deeds and endears herself to her family even more.
For all her kindness, the neighbors bestow gifts on Rowena, turning her warm family gathering into a community party that genuinely filled my heart with joy. In a cute turn of events, two of Ro’s new friends bring along their single dad, who has “a moment” with Ro’s mom.
“Here we all are, together, and I’ve never been happier,” Ro tells the whole family at the end. I’m a sucker for Christmas carols, so “Silver Bells” brought a big smile to my face. Actually, I smiled a lot during this movie. I’m a 27-year-old with no kids, but this is truly one of the best “new” Christmas movies I’ve seen in a long time. If I had children, they would be watching this with me.
I’m glad to see the DCOM legacy continuing in this decade, especially when that means Christmastide DCOMs are back! I can’t help but consider that while Rowena is a couple years younger than Allie from The Ultimate Christmas Present, some things never change. Whether it’s Ro trying to escape into the perfect Christmas Day, or Allie just trying to use a weather machine to get snowed in and avoid writing a paper, the tween DCOM protagonist can speak to us from age to age.