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.

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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 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.

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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 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

Evenings At The Shore: It’s OK to not be OK

While Hallmark is a place where almost all of the stories are light-hearted, that doesn’t mean our favorite characters are invincible to hardships. There are times when financial troubles come their way or negativity enters their lives. Perhaps a major disaster happens or a loved one passes away. Despite the occurrence of these incidents, the Hallmark characters that we hold dear to our hearts always find a way to pull through their troubles and come to a better day. Whether they turn to family for support or independently figure out a solution to their problems, these characters provide a positive inspiration that when we, the audience members and fans of Hallmark, put our minds to it, anything is possible. Chesapeake Shores can definitely be included in this conversation. Every member of the O’Brien family, as well as Trace, has dealt with their fair share of struggles and trials. Fortunately, they all have persevered and found a way to reach their dreams and goals. Let’s take a look at the half-way point of Chesapeake Shores’ third season!

Just a reminder: If you did not see this episode of Chesapeake Shores, there may be spoilers within this re-cap.

Chespeake Shores Season 3 poster
Chesapeake Shores poster image created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Channel. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=142&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=302&ShowType=series&ShowTitle=Chesapeake%20Shores%20Season%203&episodeIndex=3001

Season: 3

Episode: 5

Name: Love Eventually

 

Trace’s story: Trace is still on tour with his band. This time, they are in the city of Nashville. The time and distance between him and Abby is starting to make Trace feel sad and lonely. However, he finds meaningful ways to occupy his time, such as having dinner with John (one of his band mates) and his family. Trace also writes a new song for the band as his way of dealing with Abby’s absence. When John and Leigh hear this song, they have differing opinions about it. John likes it and thinks that Trace should perform the song at their next concert. Leigh, however, is upset that Trace created a song on his own instead of coming up with a song together. She expresses her thoughts and feelings about this song to Trace the next day. Trace explains that the song’s inspiration came to him at a moment’s notice and that he couldn’t let that opportunity slip. During his conversation with Leigh, Trace gets a phone call from Abby. She not only apologizes for not answering Trace’s phone call from earlier in the episode, she tells him more pictures for the two of them, plus Abby’s daughters, were found on the internet. Abby shares her concerns and fears with Trace about the situation, while Trace expresses his frustrations about the paparazzi’s actions being beyond his control. After their band’s practice, Trace calls Bree to arrange a surprise visit for Abby. Later that evening, Trace shows up at Abby’s office. Abby is very pleasantly surprised, with Jess and Bree revealing that they were in on the surprise. When Jess and Bree leave, Trace plays his new song for Abby. After Abby shares with Trace that she liked the song, they both talk about everything that has been happening lately. Toward the end of the episode, Trace reminds Abby that she is the most important thing in his life.

 

Abby’s story: While at work, Abby finds more photos, from the paparazzi, of her, Trace, and her daughters on the internet. This concerns Abby, but she tries to take her mind off of the photos by focusing on work and encouraging her sisters that they can overcome their problems. However, the photos still trouble Abby as the episode goes on. One day, she calls Trace to tell him how she feels about the situation. She says that the reason why she moved to Chesapeake Shores was to keep her daughters safe. Recently, because of the paparazzi, Abby feels she is having a hard time keeping that promise. Abby is told by Trace that there is only so much he can do. Later in the episode, Abby receives a visit from Jess and Bree at her office. When Trace suddenly shows up, Jess and Bree reveal that they helped Trace plan this surprise visit. When Jess and Bree leave, Trace plays his new song for Abby. After his short performance, Abby expresses how much she likes the song. Abby and Trace then discuss everything that’s been happening lately. Abby gets a reminder from Trace that she is the most important thing in his life and he tells her that he won’t let anything jeopardize their relationship.

 

Mick’s story: At the beginning of the episode, Mick asks the O’Brien family if anyone would like to help him take down the decorations from the vow renewal ceremony. After almost everyone tells him no, Megan volunteers to help him. While they are removing the decorations from the yard, Mick and Megan talk about how much fun Thomas and Robin must be having on their trip. Mick takes this opportunity to tell Megan about his concerns about Connor. To help take his mind off his worries, Megan suggests that they order margarita pizza at a nearby restaurant. The next day, at Sally’s Café, Mick meets up with Connor to give him a binder relating to the land settlement. After Connor accepts the binder, Mick asks him if he would like to meet him at the docks. Mick is happy when Connor agrees to go to the docks. When Connor shows up at the docks, Mick asks him to help fix the boat. Connor quickly refuses because he feels that Mick is trying to avoid dealing with any conflict between him and Connor. Later in the episode, Mick and Megan go out to dinner to order that margarita pizza they were talking about. Mick expresses his concerns about Connor to Megan. When Megan offers her advice, Mick politely declines to accept it because he feels that Connor needs to figure this problem out himself. The next day, while Mick is making repairs to the boat, Connor shows up, again, to the docks. After Mick calmly explains what needs to be done on the boat, Connor agrees to help him. Mick is pleased that his boat crew is growing, with Thomas and Connor as the newest and, so far, only members.

 

Megan’s story: After almost everyone tells Mick that they can’t help him take down the vow renewal decorations, Megan volunteers to help him. While they clean up the decorations from the yard, Mick and Megan talk about how much fun Thomas and Robin must be having on their trip. During their discussion, Mick shares that he is concerned about Connor. To help Mick take his mind off of his worries, Megan suggests that they order some margarita pizza at a local restaurant. Later in the episode, Megan and Mick go to a local restaurant to order that margarita pizza. At dinner, Mick shares that he is still concerned about Connor. However, when Megan tries to give Mick some advice, Mick politely declines. His reason for not accepting Megan’s advice was because he wanted Connor to solve his own problems. The next day, while taking a walk with Kevin, Megan learns about Kevin’s concerns for Sarah. When Kevin says that Sarah’s behaviors and choices remind him of his own past behaviors, Megan tells him that during that time in Kevin’s life, the entire O’Brien family was concerned about Kevin’s well-being. Megan encourages Kevin to tell Sarah how he feels.

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Bree’s story: Because her publisher has been asking for a final copy of her manuscript, Bree has been busy editing her story. When Simon comes to Word Play on a surprise visit, he reveals that he was sent by his publisher (who also happens to be Bree’s publisher) to help Bree edit her manuscript. This task becomes more easier said than done. Whenever Simon tries to help Bree edit her manuscript, Bree always finds a reason to not change any aspect of her story. During one of their editing sessions, Simon becomes intrigued by the character of Casey. He finds it interesting that Casey owns a car that doesn’t work. This makes Bree defensive about her writing, causing her to leave the session feeling frustrated. Later in the episode, Bree meets up with Simon at The Bridge. She apologizes to him by explaining that the manuscript is a reflection on her life and experiences. With this new understanding of Bree’s manuscript, Simon forgives her and agrees to continue helping Bree. Toward the end of the episode, Bree helps Trace plan a surprise visit for Abby.

 

Kevin’s story: While reading Bree’s manuscript, Kevin gets a phone call about Sarah getting injured during a firefighting mission. At the hospital, Kevin learns that Sarah’s injuries are minor and he is happy when Sarah is officially released from the hospital. As the days go on, Kevin becomes increasingly concerned about Sarah’s well-being. To him, she appears to be a lot more energetic than normal. This includes Sarah wanting to go dancing shortly after her hospital release and taking long distance jogs. When Sarah shares with Kevin that she wants to go sky-diving, Kevin starts to notice that her behaviors and choices remind him of his own behaviors from when he came home from the military. One day, while taking a walk with Megan, Kevin tells her about his concerns for Sarah. Megan shares with him that when he came home from the military, everyone in the O’Brien family was concerned when his behaviors started to change. Megan advises Kevin to tell Sarah how he feels. The next day, Kevin catches up with Sarah, while she is on her way to go sky-diving. When Kevin reveals to Sarah that he survived a dangerous experience while in the military, he shares that he felt invincible after he realized he survived. Sarah tearfully reveals to Kevin that she has, recently, felt the same way. Toward the end of the episode, Kevin and Sarah tell each other “I Love You” for the first time while on a jog.

 

Jess’ story: For the majority of the episode, Jess stresses out about the future of her relationship with David. However, this doesn’t prevent her from helping out Trace and giving Connor advice. At Sally’s Café, while sharing a whole pie, Connor shares with Jess that he and Mick aren’t getting along. Jess tells Connor to focus on the” here and now”, advice that she herself has taken when dealing with Megan. Jess also teams up with Bree to help Trace plan a surprise visit for Abby. Toward the end of the episode, Jess and Abby plant flowers to enhance the curb appeal for the Inn. During this activity, David comes back to Chesapeake Shores to surprise Jess. He not only returns Jess’ shoe to her, in Cinderella style, he also tells Jess that he wants to resume his position at the Inn.

 

Connor’s story: While Connor is eating his breakfast at Sally’s Café, Mick meets up with him to give him a binder relating to the land settlement. After Connor accepts the binder, Mick asks him if he could meet him at the dock. Connor agrees to go to the docks after work. Later that day, Connor visits Mick at the docks, where he discovers that Mick wants his help with fixing Mick’s boat. Connor senses that Mick is trying to avoid dealing with the conflict between one another and Connor refuses to help. The next day, Connor meets up with Jess at Sally’s Café. While sharing a whole pie, Connor shares with Jess that he and Mick aren’t getting along. Jess tells him to focus on the “here and now”. Later that day, Connor goes back to the docks, where he, once again, finds Mick repairing his boat. This time, Connor agrees to help Mick, taking Jess’ advice to heart.

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Some thoughts to consider:

  • I thought that Jessica Sipos’ (the actress who portrays Sarah on Chesapeake Shores) performance in this episode was fantastic! The scene where Sarah and Kevin are at the sky-diving station is one of the strongest performances that Jessica has ever given in any Hallmark production she has appeared in!

 

  • I just want to say that Jess’ polka-dot outfit that she wore while gardening at the Inn was adorable!

 

  • While Simon is helping Bree edit her manuscript, Bree tells him that she spent a college semester studying in Copenhagen. The reason this statement caught my attention is because Emilie Ullerup, the actress who portrays Bree, happens to have been born in Copenhagen. I thought it was a really interesting choice for the show’s screen-writers to incorporate something from the real-life of one of the show’s actors into the overall story.
Starry night landscape with reeds
Evening view from the shore image created by 0melapics at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/landscape-in-a-swamp-at-night_1042860.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by 0melapics – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What are your thoughts on this episode? What do you think of Season 3 so far? Let me know in the comment section!

 

Have fun in Chesapeake Shores!

Sally Silverscreen