Growing up, I looked forward to Christmas movies that warmed my heart and made me cry. The movies were my benchmark of how well off I was and how much I was loved. Miracle on 34th Street, The Bells of St. Mary's, and It’s a Wonderful Life put me in the holiday mood like nothing else could. There was usually a tearful scene when someone choose to do the right thing and do unto others. The newest Hallmark Channel Original Movie, Christmas in Canaan, from a book co-written by Grammy Award winner Kenny Rogers and Donald Davenport, is a story of a unique friendship between two boys, one white and one black.
The movie focuses on two families. The first family consists of Daniel Burton (Billy Ray Cyrus), a widowed father of three children, 10-year-old DJ (Zak Ludwig), nine-year-old Sarah (Jessica McLeod), and three-year-old Bobber (Darien Provost ), along with Daniel's father-in-law, Wylie Jerritt (Tom Heaton). The other family is the Freeman family, Miss Eunice Freeman (Candus Churchill) and her 10-year-old grandson, Rodney (Jaishon Fisher).
The boys are polar opposites; Rodney is a bookworm and DJ struggles to complete his homework. DJ has two siblings, a dad, and grandfather and Rodney’s parents are nowhere to be seen; DJ is white and Rodney is black.
As a way to combat the negativity and racial slurs that Daniel kept hearing from his son, he made an outrageous suggestion to Miss Eunice — to have the boys spend one week together. Since it was the early 1960s and segregation was still observed in Canaan, this formula violated the cultural rules of the day. Like many bold ideas, this one was a success. Their friendship blossomed over the love of a puppy.
This movie felt more like an After School Special with teachable moments rather than a Christmas special. I kept finding reasons to wander out of the room, only to be disappointed to see more scripted movements, words, and actions when I returned. This movie had the outline of a great movie – young children, friendship, shared values, overcoming poverty and yet there was no sense of emotional connection. I wanted to be sucked into the scene (any scene) and come away with tears.
The movie picks up five years later when Rodney and DJ are young men with a tight friendship and strong history. As their world expands and becomes more interesting, so does the movie… but only for a brief moment. Things turn out right and people do the right thing but there's no juice behind the film, no spark and no reason for me to tune in to get my Christmas 'fix.'
Christmas in Canaan, a Hallmark Channel Original Movie, premieres on Saturday December 12.