Winter is here and it’s time to get festive, but despite there being 4.2 million practicing Jewish people living in the US, it is extremely difficult to find a single Hannukah Movie. This year I want to dive into the good and bad Hannukah movies in hopes this may inspire someone somewhere to contribute to this small list.
Full–Court Miracle is a 2003 Disney Channel original movie directed by television’s Stuart Gillard and staring Alex D. Linz and Richard T Jones. The plot revolves Alex (Alex D Linz) as he attempts to improve his school’s basketball team’s abysmal record. When he comes across former NBA player Lamont Carr (Richard T Jones) shooting hoops in the park, he tries to hire him as the team’s new coach. Lamont, who suffered a career ended knee injury and is now living in his van, finds himself desperate enough to take the kid’s forty dollars. From that point on the story revolves around various basketball issues as the team trains for “the big tournament” all while the kids learn about and Hannukah while attending Hebrew school. Unfortunately, even though the poster depicts Alex dunking a ball and the film is titled Full Court Miracle, at no point does anyone slam dunk a basketball from the other side of the court, which I was waiting for the entire runtime.
Going into this movie I had a few expectations. I had anticipated that it would be cheesy, poorly written and/or to not even really be about Hannukah. I was not expecting to unironically enjoy this movie. My expectations were surpassed.
Full–Court Miracle is good, actually. It certainly isn’t an underrated masterpiece, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a huge grin on my face while watching. Where this movie succeeds is in avoiding the shortfalls of most children’s media. The characters function like real people and conversations aren’t solely used as launching off points for insults or exposition. The performances, while again not necessarily Oscar worthy, are a lot of fun, with R.H. Thomson as Rabbi Lewis being particularly memorable.
This movie also screams early 2000s in the best way. Perhaps the best example of this is the climactic scene towards the end where the players enter the court dancing to a hip hop remake of the dreidel song. I was gasping for air when I saw this, every ounce of cynicism left my body for a couple of minutes as this group of friends enjoyed the fresh rhymes of SoL Survivor.
Full-Court Miracle is not a great movie, but it is great to me and I think it could be great for you as well. It operates in the relm of unapologetic cheese and unironic optimism. Watching these characters come together for their team, their families and their faith is an absolute joy, and that is why it’s perfect for this Hannukah season.
Full-Court Miracle is available to stream on Disney Plus.
Mistletoe and Menorahs
Mistletoe and Menorahs is a 2019 Lifetime original movie directed by Max McGuire and written by Guy Yosub and G.Y. Cohen. The plot follows Christy (Kelly Jackle), a Toymaker who loves Christmas. After pitching her toy design company (without actually showing the company any new designs) her client (Michael Gordon Shore) invites her to his holiday party so she can pitch a new toy-line to him. The only problem is that the client is Jewish, and Christy knows nothing about Hanukkah. Fortunately, her friend (Cory Lee) happens to know that her son’s history teacher Jonathon Silver (Jake Epstein) needs to learn about Christmas in order to impress his girlfriend’s dad. The two decide to take turns learning each other’s respective holidays, and eventually learn more about each other.
Before I get into reviewing this movie, I’d just like to say the IMBD page has one of the funniest pieces of trivia I’ve ever seen, so go ahead and follow this link and have yourself a laugh. One of the first things you’ll notice when watching the trailer for this movie is it spoils the ending, to the point where it shows a clip that’s literally within the last three minutes of the movie. The second thing you’ll notice is that the leads lack chemistry, which is unfortunately true for the rest of the movie as well. It’s difficult to describe but Jake Epstein delivers most of his lines as if he’s giving a Ted Talk and is written to be relatable (sarcastic) in contrast to Christy’s corporate shill boyfriend who I didn’t mention because he’s only in the movie to get dumped. Kelly Jackle is fine, but she exclusively conveys extreme happiness or extreme contempt. There are a couple of moments where her boyfriend is being slightly insensitive, and she looks like she may just murder him where he stands.
In case you haven’t seen a Lifetime original movie, Christy and Jonathon end up together. This goes for most rom coms, but I don’t believe these two are going to work out. Their entire relationship starts based off their “holiday lessons” and the way they teach says a lot about their world views. Johnathon’s lessons revolve around faith, tradition and giving back to the community whereas Christy’s lessons revolve around collecting the right physical items. Even their reasons for learning about the holidays represent this, with Christy it’s a business acquisition and with Jonathon it’s in order to bond with his girlfriend. I actually think the writers recognized this conflict because in the first interaction they have before the realize they’re supposed to meet each other Christy orders an absurdly complicated Christmas coffee and Jonathon criticizes her for not thinking about the barista. That argument never really gets resolved, but it leaves me to speculate that the future of this couple is not as bright as they want you to believe.
Now despite me writing two paragraphs of negatives I didn’t hate this movie. The most objectionable thing about this movie is that despite the whole premise of this movie being about education I didn’t learn much about Hanukkah at all, which feels like a missed opportunity. The thing is, I’m never going to be able to raise that much rage about a movie that’s attempting to make people happy, especially this year. Plus, there are some genuinely good things about this flick, starting with the “villain” who again I didn’t mention in the plot summary because he doesn’t really do much. This character, who’s name I’m not going to bother to look up, worked at Christy’s unnamed toy company but was secretly planning to give away their plans to their competitors the entire time. He has all of two lines of dialogue, but the actor was clearly directed to play the character as flamboyantly as possible, so whenever he was on screen he was just fabulously glaring at Christy and it raised my enjoyment levels significantly. Also, there are a few scenes where Christy and Jonathon did lessons through the computer that were genuinely fun. The calls allow for some sweet moments where the characters surprise each other with stuff they’ve worked on off screen, and the filmmakers taking the time to show that they’ve been thinking about each other even when they’re not sharing scenes work to make a romance between the two of them fee all the more natural.
Mistletoe and Menorahs is fine, extremely watchable. It’s not a particularly memorable flick, but if you just want to feel some uncomplicated entertainment, this’ll likely hit the spot. It’s not a great example of a Hanukkah movie though, most of the days are skimmed over at best. It could be worse though…it could be a lot worse.
Mistletoe and Menorahs airs on Lifetime.
Eight Crazy Nights
Eight Crazy Nights is a 2002 Happy Madison Film Directed by Seth Kearsley and written by Brooks Arthur, Allen Covert, Brad Isaacs and Adam Sandler. The story follows unlikeable shmuck Davey (Adam Sandler) as he gets taken under the wing of his former school basketball referee Whitey (also played by Sandler) following another in a long series of anti-holiday outbursts. Davey slowly becomes less terrible as he spends more time with Whitey and begins to bond with his middle school sweetheart Jennifer (Jackie Sandler) and her son Benjamin (Austin Stout). Rob Shneider narrates and also plays a Chinese waiter, because of course he does.
This movie is bad, and you shouldn’t watch it. The animation featured is actually quite good which ended up making me feel worse than if I just watched a normal Happy Madison production. Imagining the amount of work that went into making Davey moon a group of carolers and then blast away on a fart upsets me greatly. This film is also a musical, most of the singing is dubbed so it’s not as bad as it could have been, but the writer’s inability to rise above middle school level lyrics sinks those moments to only barely being more enjoyable than the dialogue heavy scenes. Davey is not a great lead, and his “romance” with Jennifer follows the movie mantra that if the main character spends enough time in the physical proximity of a female they’re bound to fall in love, but the absolute worse character is Whitey. Whitey is Adam Sandler at his worst, high pitched, annoying, random and Sandler doesn’t even really appear to be trying. Unfortunately, he has the second most songs in the film.
And the product placement, OH THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT. Like any modern Sandler production, Eight Crazy Nights is absolutely shameless about selling out. One of the first scenes in the entire movie, before we even meet Jennifer, is a scene in which Whitey obnoxiously describes every real-life store in the mall for thirty seconds. Also, the product placement was allegedly added without the permission of the brands, which really begs the question of why they went to the trouble of advertising for companies that weren’t paying them. Is the Happy Madison writer’s incapable of creating a script that doesn’t feature an ad break?
Eight Crazy Nights is too cynically made to be dumb fun, but it’s also too…dumb to be smart fun. This movie is bad, and you shouldn’t watch it. I genuinely hope the musicians and animators have moved on to better projects, and I genuinely hope Adam Sandler sticks to Safdie projects.
Eight Crazy Nights is available on Hulu, not that anyone cares.
A Rugrats Chanukah
A Rugrats Chanukah originally aired Dec. 4, 1996 as the start of the fourth season of Rugrats. The special was directed by Raymie Muzquiz and written by J. David Stern and David N. Weiss. The story follows the babies as they misinterpret the Hanukkah festivities Tommy (Elizabeth Daily) has been celebrating. Meanwhile, Tommy’s Grandpa Boris (Michael Bell) prepares to star in a play about the history of Chanukah, however he dreads another confrontation with his childhood rival Shlomo (Fyvush Finkel). The babies attend the play; however, they’ve convinced themselves that Boris is in trouble and attempt to stop the play at all costs. Shenanigans ensue.
One thing I didn’t consider before watching this special is that Rugrats is actually a great vehicle for education. A lot of the base show revolves around the babies misunderstanding the world around them, so having the final act revolve around them learning the true meaning of Chanukah or anything else fits the structure of the show very well. One of the main problems I had with Mistletoe and Menorahs was I was constantly questioning how the main character knew so little about Chanukah, but I didn’t have that problem with Rugrats…because they’re babies…they don’t know anything about anything.
The special is also just good in addition to being a good educational piece. Rugrats is an extremely charming show, and that trademark sense of childlike wonder mixed with clever humor shine in this episode.
A Rugrats Chanukah is educational, festive, and charming. These babies have a special place in my heart, and from the bottom of my baby filled heart I thoroughly enjoyed this special.
A Rugrats Chanukah is available on Hulu.
Even Stevens: Heck of a Hanukkah
Heck of a Hanukkah originally aired Dec.1, 2000 as the fifteenth episode of the first season of Even Stevens. The episode was directed by Neal Israel and written by Dennis Rinsler. The episode starts as Louis (Shia Lebeouf) tries to find all of his Hanukkah presents on the first day. He’s successful, but unfortunately destroys them all as he attempts to hide his theft from his family. After being sent to his room, Louis wonders out loud whether his family would have been better off without him. Suddenly, he’s visited by the spirit of his great-great-great-great grandmother Bubbie (Donna Pescow), who takes him into an alternate future in which he is replaced by Curtis (Chris Marquette), a snobbish little nerd. Louis watches his new family and rediscovers his own self-worth all as the parallel families celebrate Hanukkah.
I did not much care for this children’s show. I had never seen an episode of Even Stevens previously and based on this episode, I will not be coming back to it any time soon. My main issue is simple: Louis is annoying. He is conniving, but he’s not smart enough to be charming in any way. Every piece of dialogue he has is very self-serving and completely uncharming. The plot also leaves a lot to be desired. This parody of It’s a Wonderful Life falls flat because unlike George Bailey, Louis IS bad and responsible for everything that happens. He doesn’t need to learn his own self-worth, and justifying his existence by showing a worse alternative is an unbelievably bad way to make the audience support the main character.
Curtis is a very good villain. Chris Marquette delivers the cheese in every single line he has and he’s nearly evil enough to make Loius appear likeable…nearly. Donna Pescow also gives a great dual performance as both Eileen Stevens and Bubbie. I genuinely didn’t recognize her both because of the makeup how well Pescow embodies both characters. One thing early 2000s kids show excelled at was the casting, and while I can’t say I enjoyed any of the performances as much as Marquette and Pescow I never doubted that any of the characters were who they said they were.
Heck of a Hanukkah is a little underwhelming. I wanted to enjoy it, but in the end I just kind of ended up staring at my screen for twenty minutes. Unless you’re really desperate for some Hanukkah cheer, I would suggest skipping this one.
Even Stevens is Available on Disney Plus.
Agent Emes 5: Agent Emes and the Happy Chanukah
Agent Emes and the Happy Chanukah is the fifth film in the Agent Emes series and was written and directed by series creator Leib Cohen. The film follows Agent Emes (Sholom Ber Cohen) as he fights the villainous Dr. Lo-Tov (Jorge Aranovich) who attempts to ruin Hanukkah for the Jewish citizens of Shpittsburgh. After famous singer Rocky Rabinowitz (Modi) decides to visit Shpittsburgh, Dr. Lo-Tov kidnaps him after shooting everyone in town with a depression gun, thus ensuring that this Hanukkah will be marked by sadness. As one of the few unaffected citizens, it’s up to Emes to save Rabinowitz and THE DAY!
From what I can tell this movie and the rest of the Emes series was made inexpensively with the help of a Jewish community in Pittsburgh. It appears like it was made for about two dollars, and that’s what’s great about it.
The charm radiating from this movie is infectious. This film gave me some serious nostalgia for the videos I made as a kid, and this is the exact type of movie I’d have made if I had the skills at that age. While I can’t say the acting is all that great, I can say that everyone clearly tried very hard and had a good time. Any fans of Cool Cat Saves the Kids or Bibleman will recognize what I’m talking about.
Agent Emes and the Happy Chanukah is not perfect, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. If you’re like me and can see the charm through the cheese, this movie is a delight.
Agent Emes and the Happy Chanukah is available on Amazon Prime Video.
The Hebrew Hammer
The Hebrew Hammer was written and directed by Jonathan Kesselman. After the evil Damian Klaus (unfortunately, Andy Dick) violently usurps his father with the intent of destroying Hanukkah and Kwanza, The Jewish Defense League sends Ester (Judy Greer) to find the Hebrew Hammer (Adam Goldberg), the only private eye with the skills to save the holidays. With the help of Mohammed (Mario Van Peebles), the leader of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front, the Hammer works to uncover Klaus’s evil plot and save Hanukkah.
I would strongly suggest watching Agent Emes as an origin story for this film, it lines up decently well.
This movie is a parody of the Shaft series, swapping Richard Roundtree for Adam Goldberg. This is no more apparent than in the first scene with Goldberg, as he casually tosses a local kid a Hanukkah gift (an action figure of himself), protects another kid who’s being bullied and before sauntering off tells the kid “Stay Jewish”. At times the film really nails the feeling of the Shaft series, with Goldberg being able to shift from being cool as ice to asking everyone to put less pressure on him with ease. Ironically, while Judy Greer is clearly designed to be a stereotypical love interest, she’s still better written then most allegedly deep love interests, including in the 2019 Shaft reboot.
Andy Dick being in this movie is really unfortunate in hindsight. For those who don’t know, Andy Dick is an awful person, and while Damian is written to be as terrible as possible, it sucks the fun out of it to know that the star is that person in real life. There’s also this sort of early 2000s bluntness to it that’s a little uncomfortable. Nothing within the context is too offensive but I think if this movie was being made today it would have to be a lot cleverer.
The Hebrew Hammer is pretty fun. If you’re frustrated with Christmas’s domination of winter and have a strong stomach for iffy humor, I would recommend this flick.
The Hebrew Hammer is available on Amazon Prime Video.
Fiddler on the Roof
Fiddler on the Roof is a 1971 movie based on the 1964 musical written by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein. The musical itself is based on the book Tevye and His Daughters, written by Sholem Aleichem. The film was directed by Norman Jewison and Joseph Stein wrote the screenplay. The film follows Tevye (Topol), a poor milkman living in Imperial Russia. Tevye talks to God periodically about his family’s struggles with poverty, anti-Jewish government action and tradition. Over the course of the film three of Tevye’s five daughters fall in love in ways that break with conventional wisdom all of which cause ripple effects within the family and the community as a whole.
I don’t have much more to add to the Fiddler discourse other than it is so so good. Many musical adaptations struggle to capture what was great about their Broadway counterparts, and so more often than not you wind up with something very plain like The Producers movie or catatrophes like the Cats movie. Fiddler on the Roof understands both the source material and the medium of film, which allows both to exist in glorious harmony. Every shot is beautifully framed and filmed in gorgeous technicolor.
The performances were also near perfection. Topol starred in productions of the show and it shows. His presence dominates the film, his charisma mixed with outbursts of anger feels so authentic, and there are so many great little moments he has like rolling his eyes when his new son in law calls him Papa. The film excels at creating a sense of community, which is made all the more potent with the talent behind the camera. You feel their excitement as they gather to see the local tailor’s new sewing machine and you feel their pain as the government destroys their town. It’s a movie that makes me wish I was Jewish while simultaneously glad that I’m not.
Fiddler on the Roof is a masterpiece. The beauty, sadness and joy this film has to offer is incredibly potent, and I really can’t imagine this film being any better than it is now.
Fiddler on the Roof is available on Netflix.
Through watching these movies, I discovered what I already expected. There is nothing preventing anyone from enjoying a good Hanukkah movie. While I didn’t enjoy everything I watched, I did enjoy reviewing all these movies, and I hope I can review some more Hanukkah movies…if they ever come out. Thank you for reading this ENORMOUS article and I hope everyone reading has a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Festivus, A Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa. Have a good holiday Cavs.
By Jason Yearout