The made-in-Utah "Christmas Oranges" is the first holiday movie out of the gate, and we can only hope they get better than this syrupy mess.
Based on a popular children's story, the movie tells of Rose (Bailie Johnson), a saintly orphan who must leave the kindly care of Mrs. Hartley ("Matlock" alumna Nancy Stafford) to the more severe setting of the subtly named Irongates. The headmaster, Mr. Crampton (Edward Herrmann), enforces harsh punishments for his strict discipline, even at Christmas. When Mr. Crampton's kindly brother Joe (Bruce Newbold) brings the children oranges as a gift, Rose runs the risk of losing out when she breaks the rules.
Director John Lyde and writer Sally Meyer lay on the sentiment in thick slabs, with no heart-tugging moment passing without swelling music and thudding dialogue to telegraph every emotion.
The story, meant as a heartwarming tale of children banding together to give Rose a happy Christmas, is undercut by Lyde's weak handling of his young cast members leaving poor Herrmann, who's always watchable even here, stuck with a role that's a pale imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch and every other meanie touched by the Christmas spirit.
Opens Friday, Nov. 2, at area theaters; rated PG for thematic elements; 100 minutes.