kay, is there anyone who doesn’t choke up when little Zuzu Bailey says, “Everytime a bell rings, an angel gets its wings,” at the the end of It’s a Wonderful Life? The best Christmas movies vary in style and tone, but they tend to possess certain thematic elements such as forgiveness, charity and devotion. A film from the modern era that truly embodies these themes is Home Alone. In this post, we examine how Home Alone stands out amongst Christmas films due to its sound design, production design and cinematography.


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Mastering the Christmas Movie: Home Alone​​​​

Mastering the Christmas score

If there’s one element of Christmas that’s most apparent, it’s arguably the music. From the classic church choir, to a Mariah Carey pop song, the melodies and rhythms of Christmas compositions set the tone for the entire holiday season.

For Home Alone, director Chris Columbus turned to John Williams in helping to craft a score that would evoke the Christmas spirit.

Mastering the Best Christmas Movies - Family - Home Alone

The best Christmas movies use score to enhance character emotions.

John Williams compositions embrace the structure and style of Romantic Era composers.

A seminal figure of the Romantic Era is Tchaikovsky, and, here, Williams finds inspiration from one of his most popular works, The Nutcracker.

Because The Nutcracker has become so associated with Christmas, Williams uses its place in popular culture to his advantage.

The use of bells and sweeping strings become nods to classic Nutcracker pieces such as “Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy.”

Like John Williams, take inspiration from Christmas songs to show how your characters experience the holidays. 


Shoot through a child’s eyes

Yes, Christmas is a holiday enjoyed by young and old, but its wonderment is first established during childhood. For a child, the mythology and magic surrounding Santa Claus becomes something epic.

Have I been good enough to receive my presents, or am I just going to get a hunk of coal in my stocking? Of course screenwriting is central to shaping character development, but camera perspective is just as important.

This is especially true for the best Christmas movies. 

Mastering the Best Christmas Movies - Through Child's Eye - Home Alone

Christmas films tend to unfold through the eyes of a child.

Shooting a character from a low angle can make them seem powerful, menacing, or larger than life.

When it comes to Christmas, everything is larger than life for a child.

The holiday and its characters offer superior moral knowledge, and an ideal of happiness we aspire to reach.

When creating Christmas films, use a child’s perspective to enhance the emotional power of scenes.


Write an arc with heart

Most of the time you don’t hear people say, “Geez, I wish they’d make Christmas films where no one gets what they want, and everything ends terribly.” I mean even the Grinch came to his senses in the end.

One essential way to strengthen a Christmas film is by incorporating traditional holiday themes such as love, family and gratitude. 

Mastering the Best Christmas Movies - Warm Embrace - Home Alone

The best Christmas movies use heart to solidify their themes.

In the case of Home Alone, the central theme is forgiveness. Although generations apart in age, Kevin and Marley both face the same dilemma, do I forgive my family or not?

Both have experienced hurt, and absolving someone of the pain they inflicted is never an easy decision. But with each other’s help they overcome their fears, and are grateful for having individuals they can share their love with.

Remember, the best Christmas movies pull at the heartstrings. 


Use complementary colors

Complementary colors exist opposite each other on the color wheel. The high contrast of complementary colors creates an engaging, rich look.

And as the name suggests, these colors complete or enhance one another. When discussing the best Christmas movies, one needs to consider the Christmas color palette.

Mastering the Best Christmas Movies - Kevin Suspicious - Home Alone

The best Christmas movies utilize the Christmas movie color palette.

Every component within a scene should be reinforcing the characters and their development.

By incorporating a christmas color palette, the familiar reds and greens of the holiday season instill in the viewer’s mind the attitudes and emotions associated with the celebration.

Boughs of holly, Santa and Christmas trees abound when the Christmas color palette surfaces. When storyboarding your Christmas film, consider using reds and greens for a timeless, festive look.  


Breaking down Jingle All the Way

Home Alone is not the only Christmas movie worth re-considering. Have you looked closely at Jingle All the Way and the plethora of hidden messages and symbols? This underrated masterpiece of holiday cinema gets the full StudioBinder break down in this video. We'll uncover the subliminal critiques of capitalism and the way Christmas has been hijacked by consumerism. Seriously, this movie is deep!

Up Next: Jingle All the Way →
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  • Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

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