‘Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special’ review: a fabulous and festive tongue-in-cheek romp

The undisputed "Queen of Christmas" indulges in just a little bit of festive excess for Christmas special

Just three years ago Mariah Carey denied being “the Queen of Christmas” by telling a journalist “that is not my appellation”, but it’s hard to believe she’d balk at the title now.

In 2019 her gift-wrapped banger ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ finally completed its 25-year journey to Number One on the Billboard 100. And now, a few days after the premiere of this glitzy festive special, it’s achieved the same feat in the UK. At this stage in her career, Carey is as synonymous with Christmas as chronic indigestion and a boozy bust-up with your family.

Though it’s co-directed by Wes Anderson associate Roman Coppola (Mozart in the Jungle) and Hamish Hamilton, who’s directed the Super Bowl halftime show since 2010, the first credit we see at the end is: “Executive producer: Mariah Carey.” That’s probably as it should be, because this campy, twinkly and sometimes tongue-in-cheek romp feels very much like Carey’s vision.

From her first appearance following an intro from narrator Tiffany Haddish to a fabulous finale featuring that song, the diva’s makeup and lighting is so spectacularly on-point that she almost seems to glow.

The 43-minute special’s plot is precisely as substantial as it needs to be – in other words, it’s as wispy as tinsel. With the world facing a “holiday cheer crisis” – fair enough in 2020 – Carey is summoned by Santa from her New York apartment to save the day. Once she arrives at the North Pole following a ridiculous green screen sleigh ride (most of the budget for this scene seems to have gone on hairspray), she informs a busybody elf (Billy Eichner) that she “doesn’t do schedules”, then sets about cheering us up with a series of seasonal song and dance numbers.

‘Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special’. Credit: Apple TV/Press

Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson join her for a joyous rendition of Carey’s second-best Christmas song, the bouncy R&B bop ‘Oh Santa!’; then Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri show up to decorate a festive medley of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)’ and ‘House Top Celebration’. Later, Carey’s version of ‘Silent Night’ is just as lovely as it was on her 1994 LP ‘Merry Christmas’, now the best-selling holiday album of all time.

Along the way, there’s a cute animated interlude featuring Charlie Brown and the Peanuts crew, a performance from prima ballerina Misty Copeland, and Zoom cameos from the likes of Millie Bobby Brown and Bette Midler. In a way, the overall effect is a bit like overloading a fairly flimsy Norwegian spruce with bauble after bauble after bauble, but it feels almost Scrooge-like to point this out.

Treading daintily between showgirl sincerity and knowing self-deprecation, Carey’s megastar charisma and stellar vocal performances sell the whole thing. Sure, it’s probably a song too long, but Carey wouldn’t be the Queen of Christmas if she didn’t indulge in just a little festive excess.

Details

  • Directors: Hamish Hamilton, Roman Coppola
  • Starring: Mariah Carey, Tiffany Haddish, Billy Eichner
  • Release date: December 4 (Apple TV+)
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