Take 3: Christmas at Dollywood Review

In my review of Sense, Sensibility and Snowmen, I said that I would publish my review of Christmas at Dollywood on December 10th. Since I try my best to be a blogger of my word, I am here to present that review as promised! Out of the all the Christmas movies set to premiere in 2019, Christmas at Dollywood was my most anticipated. Ever since the Home & Family team went to Dollywood three years ago, I have wanted to visit the park ever since. So, when I heard that Hallmark would be featuring the Pigeon Forge attraction in one of their Christmas films, it immediately became a “must-watch” film for me! Christmas at Dollywood is Hallmark history in the making: it’s the first time an amusement park has been featured in a Hallmark movie and the first time Dollywood has ever been incorporated in a film! Because of this, I was hoping that this would be the Christmas at Graceland of 2019. When Danica McKellar and Niall Matter were cast as the film’s leads, it increased my level of excitement for the movie! I’ve enjoyed watching Danica’s and Niall’s acting performances over the years, so seeing them appear together for the first time in a Hallmark production made the movie seem even better!

Christmas at Dollywood poster
Christmas at Dollywood poster created by Hallmark Channel and Crown Media Family Networks. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=142&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=302&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Christmas+at+Dollywood.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I thought the overall acting was good in Christmas at Dollywood! When I discovered that Danica McKellar and Niall Matter were going to star in the film, I was so excited to see these two actors working alongside each other on screen! Danica’s portrayal of Rachel appeared natural in this film. With the use of various expressions, she was able to make her performance believable. In his performance, Niall made his character, Luke, seem charming and easy-going. Because of his acting abilities, it helped this character be as approachable and likable as possible. I found myself impressed with the performances of the supporting cast! They not only complimented the main stars, they also complimented one another. It was nice to see Crystal Lowe star in Christmas at Dollywood! Outside of the Signed, Sealed, Delivered series, I feel like her appearances in Hallmark projects are on the rarer side. But despite the fact that she is one of the network’s underrated actresses, she always brings versatility to every role she is given. This makes her performances such a joy to watch!

The on-screen chemistry: Danica McKellar and Niall Matter are not only talented actors, they also present a likable personality to their audience. These things worked in their favor when it came to the on-screen chemistry. Throughout the film, Rachel and Luke always appeared to get along with one another. That’s because both Danica and Niall gave a believable performance, giving their audience the impression that they enjoyed working together. Another thing that helped Danica and Niall was their years of experience leading Hallmark projects. Danica has starred in Hallmark films since 2015, while Niall has been appearing in Hallmark’s movies since 2016. Their similar amount of experience and the quality of their acting abilities made this on-screen duo very memorable!

The acknowledgement of literacy: From time to time, Hallmark likes to incorporate a worthy cause or a real-life non-profit organization into their stories. For Christmas at Dollywood that cause was literacy. Similar to what I said about the overarching message in Flushed Away, this acknowledgement toward literacy never felt preachy or heavy-handed. It always felt like it had a natural place in the story. From the inclusion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to seeing Rachel share bed-time stories with her daughter, the importance of literacy can be seen and heard at several moments in this film. I’m glad this film’s creative team took the initiative to highlight a cause that rarely gets recognition in a Hallmark production.

Image of Dollywood Grist Mill created by Courtney Backlund at freeimages.com. Photo by <a href=”/photographer/abbsmist-58275″>Courtney Backlund</a> from <a href=”https://freeimages.com/”>FreeImages</a&gt;. Image found at freeimages.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

A misleading premise: When I first learned what this movie would be about, I was led to believe that Christmas at Dollywood was the story of a Dollywood employee (Niall Matter’s character) and a New York City playwright (Danica McKellar’s character) putting on a Christmas show in the theme park. Because of this, I was excited to not only see an amusement park’s debut in a Hallmark project, but to also have an underappreciated but essential theme park component get the recognition it deserves on film. When I saw the movie, however, I discovered that the premise was, yet, another party planning story. Honestly, I was disappointed by Hallmark’s decision to swap a creative sounding narrative for something that was “tried and true” and “safe”. It made the movie more predictable than it needed to be.

A limited presence of Dollywood: Before watching this film, I knew that Dollywood wasn’t going to be featured in the movie for very long. That’s because it is a functioning business, which means the people involved with day-to-day operations can’t afford to close it for an extended period of time. But the park itself was showcased so little on screen, that it made the story feel like it didn’t need to take place in Dollywood. Most of the movie took place in either an office building or Rachel’s house. Also, there are so many unique and appealing elements of the theme park that could have been incorporated in the story, such as the attraction, “Wings of America Birds of Prey”. In my opinion, the creative team behind 2018’s Christmas at Graceland did a better job at highlighting the iconic Memphis location than Christmas at Dollywood’s creative team did for the Pigeon Forge theme park.

The party’s absence: Because this is a party planning story, it means the protagonists’ primary goal is to coordinate a VIP party. In Christmas at Dollywood, however, this aforementioned event never gets shown on screen. This is unfair not only for both protagonists, but also for the viewers. Throughout the movie’s majority, we see these characters working hard to create the best event they can. But, because of the party’s absence, that final outcome and pay-off are not included in the story. This makes it look like the protagonists’ efforts weren’t recognized. As for the viewers, they spend almost the whole movie watching these characters put together this elaborate event. Since the party itself is not included in the narrative, it seems like the audience spent all that time waiting for nothing.

Essential items of Christmas image created by Moonstarer at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/christmas-elements-collection_994917.htm’>Designed by Moonstarer</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/christmas”>Christmas vector created by Moonstarer – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

As I said in the introduction, Christmas at Dollywood was my most anticipated Christmas movie of 2019. Because of this, I had higher expectations for this movie than I did for other Hallmark titles. Unfortunately, this movie didn’t live up to those expectations. Sure, it was decent. But it wasn’t the “home-run” I was expecting it to be. The biggest issue I had with this project was how I was led to believe I would receive a creative and intriguing story, only to have it turn into a “run-of-the-mill” narrative. This kind of reminded me of how I felt about the Good Witch episode, “The Prince”. In my editorial, “When Creativity is Squandered: The Wasted Potential on Hallmark’s Good Witch”, I talked about how Hallmark’s desire to tell the same types of stories over and over again caused that particular episode of Good Witch to not reach its full creative potential. What could have been a memorable, historic moment for Hallmark’s television shows ended up being forgettable and tired. With Christmas at Dollywood, there were two “firsts” for Hallmark movie history. Premiering during the 10th anniversary of Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” line-up, this movie could have been something really special. Sadly, like “The Prince”, Christmas at Dollywood just came short of its full potential.

Overall score: 7.4 out of 10

Have you seen Christmas at Dollywood? What are your thoughts on Hallmark’s story-telling abilities? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at Dollywood!

Sally Silverscreen