The Christmas Cottage

The Christmas Cottage is the story of a pivotal moment in painter Thomas Kinkade’s career; when he had to help his mother keep the family home from falling into foreclosure and help his mentor and neighbor Glen through his last days. Glen’s main disabilities are due to age; he has blurry vision, memory problems, and trouble walking, but refuses to use a walker even when one is procured for him. However, he does agree to use a gnarled branch, which he calls his “staff and rod”, pointing out that it could also be used to fight off his enemies if need be. He refuses any attempt to get him out of the house and seems to be in a depression as well, often bemoaning the fact that he can no longer capture his late wife on canvas.

Another elderly character is seen out and about more often in their little town; an old lady with hearing problems who’s still playing the piano for the annual Christmas pageant and drinking martinis. Though she’s seen getting pushed around in a wheelchair for longer distances, she’s still able to stand and even help fix up the Kinkade family cottage towards the end.

Soon after the town appears en masse at the cottage, Glen hobbles over on his staff and rod to deliver his last painting as a gift. He tells them to sell it and pay off the mortgage, and explains to Thomas that he had finally figured out the secret: that leaves are impermanent, so one should always paint the light that illuminates them instead. For an uncomfortable moment, we at Disability Movies were sure he was about to fulfill the cliche of the cripple who imparts his inspirational message and promptly dies. But Glen recovers himself, has Christmas dinner with the family, and dies serenely in his studio instead.

Elf

It’s not uncommon for little people to play elves in Christmas movies, but Elf bucks tradition a bit by casting people of average stature as the elves (through the cinematic technique of forced perspective), and a single little person (Peter Dinklage) as a highly paid children’s book author with an attitude.

Disability themes are hinted at; throughout the movie, especially during the beginning scenes at the North Pole, Buddy the Elf notices he’s different from the other elves. He can’t make toys as fast as they can, and though his elf supervisor tries to cheer him up by pointing out all the things Buddy excels at–like changing the lightbulbs every six months–behind his back they gripe that he’s slowing them down. Buddy overhears one such conversation, and is sent to the equivalent of a sheltered workshop for “special elves” (here the word “special” is used as a pejorative) where he performs repetitive busywork. A maniacal Jack-in-the-Box terrifies Buddy, and Santa must intervene.

Santa tells Buddy that he’s really been human all along, and must go to New York in search of his biological father. Buddy catches the next ice floe out of there, but after a socially awkward reunion with Walter Hobbs, his reluctant father believes Buddy is mentally ill.

Buddy persists in trying to form a relationship with his father, and (after an unusually quick paternity test) Walter is convinced of his duty to Buddy. He takes him home to a very understanding wife and son for nurturing, but after realizing he cannot leave Buddy alone in an unfamiliar world, takes him to work in the hopes he’ll sit quietly in the corner.

Buddy barges in on a meeting with the aforementioned children’s book author Miles Finch and mistakes him for one of his elf compatriots. Miles takes offense, lists his accomplishments (houses in various cities, plasma TVs, more “action” than Buddy’s ever seen), and challenges Buddy to “Call me elf, one more time!” Unaware of the human world’s sad history of labelling assertive disabled people as “angry”, Buddy whispers that he must be an “angry elf”.

Miles charges down the length of the conference table and opens up a travel-size can of whoopass. Someone’s been taking his adaptive martial arts lessons. Watch the full “Angry Elf” scene (unfortunately not embeddable). The scene is played for laughs, but such a beatdown is quite possible; little people do have normal or almost normal strength in their arms and legs. Combined with a low center of gravity, judo training, and the element of surprise, and it’s small wonder that Miles prevails.

Interestingly, the Elf Original Motion Picture Score lists the incidental music track for that scene as “Attack of the Little People”. The words “dwarf” and “midget”, currently considered pejorative, aren’t uttered in Elf. The producers show a sensitivity to disability issues, and even wring some humor out of them.