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The twelve days of Christmas come to life in new movie from director Reginald Hudlin

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In the new movie "Candy Cane Lane," the magic of Christmas is more than a feeling. It's literal. In a neighborhood contest for the best-decorated house, Chris Carver, played by Eddie Murphy, turns to a slightly evil elf, played by Jillian Bell, to gain a competitive edge and ends up battling the 12 days of Christmas come to life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDY CANE LANE")

JILLIAN BELL: (As Pepper) Before the old clock tower dings, you must collect the golden rings. Then all will hail the king of Christmas. A strip of land is called an isthmus.

EDDIE MURPHY: (As Chris Carver) An isthmus.

BELL: (As Pepper) Well, nothing else rhymes with Christmas.

SUMMERS: It is a madcap family adventure pulled together by director Reginald Hudlin. Now, Hudlin has done a lot. He's led at BET, written Black Panther comics for Marvel and, of course, directed another Eddie Murphy classic, "Boomerang." But this is his first Christmas movie. So as a master storyteller, I wanted to ask him what he thinks the essential elements are that make a great Christmas movie.

REGINALD HUDLIN: Well, you've got to have family, love, great decorations, great Christmas music. I would say those are the four minimum requirements.

SUMMERS: And your movie "Candy Cane Lane" has all of those in spades and then some. It is expansive. It's outrageous and over-the-top. It is funny and heartwarming. But I want you to talk to us a little bit about some of the ways that it's a little bit of a genre-breaker. This is not a traditional Christmas movie.

HUDLIN: No. In fact, you know, I took my niece to the premiere, and after it, she goes, I didn't know it was, like, a horror film (laughter). It's not a horror film. But she was, like, wow, you went to all these places I never imagined.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDY CANE LANE")

BELL: (As Pepper) Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you.

MURPHY: (As Chris Carver, laughter).

BELL: (As Pepper) Who am I kidding? Of course I did. What's Christmas without a little terror (laughter)?

HUDLIN: And the thing is the foundation of what makes a great Christmas movie is there the entire time. But it's like, well, what else can we add? How do we make ourselves distinctive from this huge body of Christmas movies? And I thought, well, if we add a kung fu fight, if we have a car chase, if we have jump scares, now we've got a really unique motion picture.

SUMMERS: So talk to us a little bit about that more-is-more philosophy. Is there a scene that, for you, really encapsulates the largeness and the grandeur of this movie?

HUDLIN: You know, there's the scene at the track meet where, you know, all of a sudden, these tree ornaments that are coming to life are suddenly attacking the family on - in different places at different times.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDY CANE LANE")

MURPHY: (As Chris Carver) Why are y'all messing with me? Y'all should be working for Cirque du Soleil.

HUDLIN: And they're like, whoa, what's going on? And the audience is having a really great time. They're laughing. They're thrilled. They're concerned for our lead characters, and they can't believe what they're seeing because it's the weirdest stuff they've ever seen all mashed up in one movie.

SUMMERS: We should note that this movie was also a reunion for you and Eddie Murphy and your first time working together since "Boomerang" back in 1992. Why did it take so long for the two of you to reunite professionally?

HUDLIN: Well, it's kind of crazy because we had a great time making "Boomerang," and "Boomerang's" still a really beloved film.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

HUDLIN: But, you know, it's just to find the right script and - OK, he's down. I'm down. You know, we're both pretty picky. And this came together so easily. It was, like, not even a second thought, you know? We had a meeting. I kind of pitched him my vision of what the movie should be. And we just said, OK, then let's go to work, so boom.

SUMMERS: I mean, there is this incredible charming family dynamic in this movie, and I particularly want to talk about the relationship between Eddie Murphy's character, Chris, and his youngest daughter, Holly, who's played by Madison Thomas. And that chemistry is so sparkling on screen. I'm hoping you can pull back the curtain a little bit and tell us what it was like on set.

HUDLIN: Well, I think the core of that is the fact that Eddie is such an enthusiastic dad. He really loves being a father. He's got 10 kids, you know? And so, you know, all that is coming from a very authentic place for him. Madison - this was her first movie. I mean, I don't know if she knew who Eddie Murphy was or not, you know?

SUMMERS: Yeah.

HUDLIN: But she's just an amazing young actress, and she really got into the spirit of this really cute girl who's - can be a real boss.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDY CANE LANE")

MADISON THOMAS: (As Holly Carver) What are you going to do, dad?

MURPHY: (As Chris Carver) I'm going to go back to that weird woman and see if she can hook me up with some replacement parts.

MADISON: (As Holly Carver) Can I come?

MURPHY: (As Chris Carver) Don't you have school?

MADISON: (As Holly Carver) It's the last day. We're watching "Frozen" in, like, three different classes.

MURPHY: (As Chris Carver) You know, you're very, very cute, and you're also very manipulative.

SUMMERS: I mean, just thinking about this cast, all told, it feels like the kind of cast who could get up to some antics on set, who could really pingpong off of each other and bring a lot of energy. What was the atmosphere like when you were filming this movie?

HUDLIN: Well, yes, particularly I would say with the village people. This is what we call the characters of Pip and Cordelia and the Lamplighter 'cause they lived in Christmas Village, and they are people who have been turned into living tree ornaments.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CANDY CANE LANE")

NICK OFFERMAN: (As Pip) No, Christmas is wonderful once a year, but every day, it's a nightmare. I've been eating nothing but chestnuts for 10 years. I'm right clogged up.

ROBIN THEDE: (As Cordelia) The relentless good cheer, these ridiculous outfits...

CHRIS REDD: (As The Lamplighter) And it never ends. I light the lamp. I blow it out, light it, blow it out again - light, blow, light, blow...

THEDE: (As Cordelia) Stop it.

REDD: (As The Lamplighter) ...Light, blow - I would love to, Cordelia.

HUDLIN: They were a nonstop comedy team. Three very different styles of comedy - Robin Thede, Nick Offerman, Chris Redd - but, boy, they merged in a really brilliant way. And they were constantly freestyling. If you walked past where they were sitting, you - they would either tell you a joke or make fun of you. It could go either way.

SUMMERS: What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

HUDLIN: When I was a kid, you know, the Christmas tree was in the attic all year. And then I'd take it down, and I would assemble it. And it was, you know, one of those silver tinsel trees. And then you put on the light bulb, and it had that spinning wheel with different primary colors on it. And that was Christmas to me. And I thought, well, you can't beat that. But now we go get a real tree, and we - whenever our family travels, we get Christmas ornaments from wherever we go. So we've got a Hawaiian ornament and a ornament from London and from Zurich and whatever. So the tree really represents our whole family and what we've done. And we still put on the ornaments that the kids made in second grade out of dried pasta. So it's a mess, but it's a loving mess, like our family.

SUMMERS: Reginald Hudlin, thank you so much.

HUDLIN: Oh, thank you.

SUMMERS: He's the director of "Candy Cane Lane," streaming on Prime Video.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRACLE")

KELLI-LEIGH: (Singing) It's a miracle what we go through. Let's get mystical. Here's what we gon' (ph) do. We will aim high. We'll find the joy for you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.