Judge Dawn Hunt's Christmas Journey involves many trips to the cookie plate.
"The first-ever Christmas story inspired by the popular Love Comes Softly series from Janette Oke."
Love's Christmas Journey feels a bit episodic in nature, as if the screenwriter was thinking "Scene One: Problem appears. Scene Two: Problem solved. Scene Three: Problem appears. Scene Four: Problem solved." Sure, everything relates, but it felt a bit more disjointed than I expected and fails to really tie together. Some problems seem to be there merely to pad the runtime and could have easily been removed. That said, it's a harmless bit of holiday viewing gently imbued with Christian overtones that will please fans of the genre and of Oke's books in particular.
Facts of the Case
This two-part miniseries follows Ellie (Natalie Hall, Pretty Little Liars), a young widow who lost her husband and daughter in a tornado. She travels to visit her brother Aaron (Greg Vaughan, General Hospital) who himself lost his wife, leaving him with two young children, Annabelle (Jada Facer) and Christopher (Ryan Wynott). They all plan to spend Christmas together.
You definitely need to have read the books and seen Love Comes Softly in order to get the connection Love's Christmas Journey has to the rest of the Love Comes Softly series of films. Otherwise, it's a perfectly standalone miniseries on its own.
Aaron has been looking forward to having sister Ellie come for an extended visit. After her husband and child died, the siblings lost touch for a bit, and he's anxious to see for himself that she's doing all right, but Ellie watched her loved ones die right in front of her and it's left her scared and feeling alone.
When Aaron leaves to go purchase some more land, he asks his deputy Michael (Dylan Bruce) to look in on Ellie and the kids. This won't be a problem, since Michael is sweet on Ellie. However, even though the time together brings the two close, things soon escalate into a series of situations which may have dire outcomes.
What should be a quick trip to the land office and back instead becomes a fight for survival when Aaron is held up by bandits and shot. Left for dead in a ditch, he has to find a way to make it home, but his failure to come back is hardly unnoticed. Christopher sets out to find his dad on his own but becomes lost. Worse, he eats poisonous berries so when Ellie and Michael finally find him, they must abandon the search for Aaron in order to get Christopher back home.
Town Scrooge Mr. Weaver (Charles Shaughnessy, The Nanny) is little more than a bully. He has a man run off his ranch at gunpoint and is dead set on learning where the town's prospective railroad is going to be. To that end, he sets a fire at the Mayor's place in order to steal the secret plans. When Aaron's adopted son Erik (Bobby Campo, The Final Destination) is framed for the crime, Ellie takes matters into her own hands, only to be held at gunpoint by Mr. Weaver. Michael rescues her and Erik is set free.
Erik's problems aren't over, though. He's in love with Suzanna (Annika Noelle) but her father, Mayor Wayne (Sean Astin, The Goonies) doesn't like him. It will take more than the Christmas spirit to help Erik convince him he's the right man for his daughter.
Then the town is devastated to learn the railroad won't be coming through town after all. Everyone is so disappointed they decide not to celebrate Christmas together, but Ellie and the kids are determined to make the townspeople remember the true meaning of Christmas. The ending is fairly predictable, but that's almost to be expected from the genre.
Love's Christmas Journey feels less Christian-influenced than its compatriots. Until it's time to actually focus on the holiday, there's less of the "true meaning of Christmas" and God's role in these people's lives. Still, it's still a nice holiday themed and family-friendly film, and I appreciated it.
The acting was more than passable, but the veterans clearly outpaced the kids who were sadly a bit wooden. The script was a bit choppy, but there was an undercurrent of familiarity with the genre which helped me stay connected to the movie. Love's Christmas Journey is a beautifully shot film, with nice vistas and set pieces that manage to capture a sense of life in the early 1900s.
Those visual elements were backed up by a 1.78:1 presentation. There's a bit of artefacting which occurs, but the palette was well-chosen for the genre, highlighting the outdoors with a nice yellow wash and providing an appropriately dark (but not too dark) earthy look indoors. The soundtrack was pretty mellow, hardly a full orchestral score which would tweak your subwoofer, so the Dolby 5.1 was more than adequate.
The only special feature is a Love Comes Softly: 10th Anniversary Collection-themed greeting card. I personally don't have any use for it, but uber-fans of Janette Oke's works may be tickled by its inclusion.
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