The Surprising Way the Director of 'Christmas Vacation' Got Warner Brothers To Agree To an Animated Opening

The popular holiday movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, is all about Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) trying to give his family the perfect Christmas. But before he and the rest of the Griswolds are even on screen, viewers see a short animated clip of Santa delivering presents to their house. And, much like the film, things don’t go as planned. 

Turns out, the movie’s intro was a tough sell. Christmas Vacation direction Jeremiah S. Chechik knew he wanted an animated intro but the studio behind the film wasn’t having it. So, the director got creative. 

‘Christmas Vacation’ has an animated opening with an original song

Fans of Christmas Vacation are likely all too familiar with the first few minutes of the film. Santa and his reindeer arrive at the Griswold house to deliver Christmas presents. But it’s not a pleasant experience. 

Just like the Griswold family who have multiple missteps during the holiday season, so does Santa. He falls in the snow, gets electrocuted, and has an unfortunate incident with their chimney all before making a quick exit so the Griswolds don’t see him. 

The nearly three-minute clip plays while Mavis Staples sings “Christmas Vacation,” an original song Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote specifically for the movie, according to IMDb. See the entire intro on YouTube. 

The director showed the studio a bad ‘Christmas Vacation’ intro

In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Chechik got together with Chase and other Christmas Vacation cast members. At one point, the director shared the story of how the film’s animated intro came to be. Produced by Warner Bros. and Hughes Entertainment — filmmaker John Hughes wrote the screenplay — Checkik recalled Warner Bros. not being enthusiastic about his idea. 

“I always wanted the animated opening you see in the film, but Warners balked at the cost of doing an animated title,” he said. 

The director continued, saying he decided to show studio execs an intro that was completely wrong for the film in the hopes they’d see his real version and agree to finance it.

“So rather than get into a fight, I designed another title sequence with a Christmas song sung by a Jamaican who sounded like he had no teeth and you can barely understand the words,” he said. “Then the replacement title sequence looked like an old French art film, with white titles on black.” 

His plan worked: “When I proposed this to Warner they said, ‘We think the animated titles are great,’” Chechik added. 

‘Christmas Vacation’ features holiday songs from Bing Crosby, Ray Charles, and more

The soundtrack to the 1989 comedy includes some classic Christmas songs. Bing Crosby’s “Mele Kalikimaka” plays as Clark fantasizes about the swimming pool. Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Clause” plays as local police show up at the Griswold house.

There’s also a touching moment where Clark sits in the attic watching old home movies listening to “The Spirit of Christmas” by Ray Charles. 

Christmas Vacation isn’t on Netflix but don’t fret. Catch the Griswolds on TV, rent the film, or buy a digital download.

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