Any Jewish holiday is commercially a small market. No surprise, then, that there are very few good feature films about Chanukah. But despair not, oh descendants of the Maccabees! Anyone with internet access can be entertained for 8 nights.
I have mined Youtube and other sources to bring you the best I could find to light up your Chanukah. Below are my picks, with the exact title of the video noted, so you can find it in a simple search. The same list, with URL links, is on this article’s webpage or we can e-mail it to you on request. I’ve noted video length, so you can make-up your own “time-wise” play-list.
The Hebrew Hammer (2003). Modeled after “Superfly” type films of the 1970s, it features Adam Goldberg in the title role, as a Jewish crime fighter who must stop the evil son of Santa Claus from destroying Hanukkah. “Hammer” isn’t great. But it’s pretty good and often quite funny. Look for Jewish actors Rachel Dratch (“SNL”) and Peter Coyote in big supporting roles. You can stream it for free (with ads) on OVGuide, Popcorn Flix, Snagfilms, FilmRise and others (most of these apps/sites are on Roku, too). Runs about 90 minutes. Look it up on Online Video Guide.
Fievel: An American Tail (1986). This animated musical stars “Fievel Mousekewitz,” a Russian-Jewish mouse who, along with his family and other mice (read: “Jews”) are always being persecuted by cats (read: “bad non-Jews”). As the movie opens, his father gives Fievel a hat, a family heirloom, as a Chanukah present. His father also tells him about America where, he says, there are no cats. A pogrom forces Fievel to flee to America, where he has many harrowing adventures involving cats—but things work out in the end. This film didn’t turn out great, as producer Steven Spielberg hoped it would, but it isn’t bad at all and its theme song, “Somewhere Out There,” was an elephant-sized hit. P.S. Nehemiah Persoff, who voiced Fievel’s father, is now 97. Runs about 90 minutes. $3.00 to stream on Youtube; also on DVD.
“The Rugrats” 1996 episode called “Chanukah” is terrific. It really tells the story of the holiday in a half hour via a school play and other clever devices. It’s so funny and informative that good critics have labeled it perhaps the best Chanukah special of all time. Not for scholars, but worthwhile family fun for all. However, the copyright police have taken it off Youtube. It’s available on demand on Hulu. You can also buy it for $2 on Amazon, where it’s called “Rugrats Character Collection: Holidays.” Check local libraries for DVD. Runs 30 minutes
“Maccabees: Revolution and Redemption” (1997). In the 1990s, the A&E cable station was known for literate PBS-type content. This episode (part of the “Mysteries of the Bible” series), features insight by Jewish religious scholars and provides a concise, intelligent view of the history of the Jewish revolt. Available free on Youtube. Runs 45 minutes. Use search box on Youtube and enter title in first sentence above. So/so video quality.
“When Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas” is a very funny “SNL” skit (1989) starring Jon Lovitz in the title role. Harry fills in for a sick Santa and delivers toys to good little gentile kids. Donkeys named Herschel, Schlomo, and Moishe pull his sled. Runs about 8 minutes. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/hanukkah-harry/n9852
Also on Youtube: a professional group has taken most of “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special” and turned it Jewish via dubbing in Jewish-themed dialogue and adding one scene. Called “Charlie Brown’s Hanukkah,” it is much cleverer and a bit more risqué than I expected. I won’t ruin the surprises, here, but some real thought went into the jokes and changes in song lyrics. About 6 minutes.
I can’t recommend Adam Sandler’s Chanukah movie “8 Crazy Nights,” but I can recommend re-listening to his four Chanukah Songs (i.e., which celebs are Jewish). All are on Youtube. Search for “Sandler Chanukah Songs” and you’ll find all four. The Wikipedia article “Chanukah Song” gives all the names mentioned and corrects Sandler’s errors. (About 15 minutes, total).
Do listen to “Light One Candle,” a Chanukah song written by Peter Yarrow (the Jewish member of Peter, Paul, and Mary). It’s that rare thing: a catchy modern Chanukah song.
.” Also highly recommended: Rachel Bloom (TV’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) sings a sexy and clever Jewish parody of “Santa Baby” (“Chanukah Honey”). Warning: last song line is R rated.