What you see... isn't always what you get.
Christmas-adjacent movies are fun for me. See, I'm not a huge Christmas spirit kind of person - I'm no Grinch, I'm just not as prone to being outrageously happy simply because of a season being merry. As such, I'm not as drawn to the main movies one might see during the December months (such as that one about shooting yourself in the eye, or that one with Will Farrel). So this is generally what you get out of me - fun movies that take place during but not directly focused on the holiday itself.
An inventor is off in china town trying to sell his merchandise, and while doing so also picking up a gift for his son for Christmas. While in the shop, he doesn't seem to have any luck selling things, but does find a very interesting little creature in a box. Unfortunately it isn't for sale - but the shop owner's kid tells him to wait outside for a little while and sells it without getting permission. With this pet, however, comes a list of very important rules. Number one: It doesn't like bright light - sunlight will flat out kill it. Number two: No water - never get it wet, not even a drop. Most importantly though, never ever feed it after midnight!
Enter the inventor's son. He's working at a bank to keep the family going nice and happy, even if his car has difficulty starting rather consistently. He's even got himself a bit of a crush from what we see, although he also has a bit of an arch-nemesis in the form of a mean old crotchety lady who want's his dog dead. Still, after almost getting fired at work, he get's home a little before his father comes home with the new present. Here, we get introduced to the cutest little thing you'll ever see - the Mogwai. It's been named Gizmo, and it does all sorts of things like a singing and watching television - it's one smart little bugger.
Of course, it's not long before we find out that through circumstances or just poor luck the son isn't a very great owner of the little guy - immediately blinding the poor little fellow with a camera flash (the mom's fault). Not too much longer later, the son accidentally blinds the little fellow with a mirror, causing him to fall in a garbage can and hurt his head. Not too much longer after that, a friend whose over accidentally dumps water on him - and this is where the real fun begins - causing a gang of Mogwai to spawn from the poor little guy. Soon enough, this little gang of Mogwai miscreants tricks the son into feeding them after midnight - turning them all into terrible little nasty green gremlins that are out to cause chaos and havoc. Whether or not the town will survive this mistake is up in the air, and you'll have to have watched to find out!
The plot here really does a good job of turning dark real fast without you really knowing what you were in for. Sure, the title is Gremlins, but if the viewer hasn't seen or heard anything about it before hand, the Christmas setting and the jolly pre-chaos interactions, coupled with the ever so cute Gizmo really set you up for a turn. It all flows relatively nicely as well, with the exception of a bit of the romantic interest's tragic exposition dump feeling slightly out of place (even if theoretically appropriately placed). Admittedly, the cops of the town feel like the absolute worst law enforcement you'll ever see in a movie, but even then the movie still takes time to have gags and jokes that lighten the mood from the obviously murderous little green monsters.
Of those little green monsters we should talk as well. Most of the puppetry here holds up amazingly well. The amount of facial expression they get out of the Gizmo head alone is impressive, but the details in the sickened and destructive little gremlins hold up pretty well also. They have a personality about them, even if some of those personalities are dumber than others (looking at you, gremlin flasher). I'm not entirely sure where exactly the gremlins all found those tiny little outfits to go with their personalities, but it does spruce them all up to add more diversity to their on-screen presence. Unfortunately, there is definitely some noticeable stop-motion going on in some scenes, and that certainly didn't age as well as the puppetry did.
Actors do a good job here, even some of the side characters who aren't really super important. Yes, the characters are written in a sort of obvious manner (this woman wants to kill that dog? I should hate her!), but it all just sort of fits and works in the movie somehow. You aren't shown so many characters that you forget who you need to pay attention to or the movie drags on, so that's enough to make me happy. Between the props and puppetry, the sound department also really helps bring the creatures alive. Beyond that, balance is done well so you never need to struggle to hear something, and the theme tune is quite the catchy little earworm as well.
Although it would probably be a bit to frightening for the younger audience, after that "give nightmares" hump is passed over I'd certainly give it a recommendation. It's a fun movie, and although it does have those frightening moments and you can feel hints of semi-deep messages running through it's veins, it never feels like a routine repetition of things already seen. It has a few rather dated moments, but it also has some lines that ring true even to today. If nothing else, just seeing the amazing puppets is enough for me to say it should be worth checking out.