We all have a favourite Christmas movie whether is it the timeless Muppet Christmas Carol or the grumpy Grinch. While these tales usually have a happy ending, a surprising amount of laws get broken along the way. After putting together five of our festive family favourites, we sat down with ULaw Programme Director Aruna Verma and alumna Céline Winham, a solicitor at Bolt Burdon to find the biggest Christmas movie lawbreaker. Place your bets now; who breaks the most laws out of these festive family favourites?
By Cara Fielder. Published 14 December 2020. Last updated 23 September 2021.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
One of the most famous grouches of all time, the Grinch’s feeling towards Christmas and Whoville are a result of bullying and a broken heart and the villagers have turned their back on him because he just a bit different. Yet little Cindy Lou is on a mission to turn his life around and make the town see him as more than a monster. However, he doesn’t make it easy for her because he breaks a lot of laws along the way.
Very early on in the movie, he breaks into the Whoville post office. He puts the post in all the wrong place and even adds blackmail letters. This alone sees him guilty of blackmail, burglary and theft.
You might have missed it but even much loved Cindy Lou’s mum commits theft when her love for flashing lights gets the best of her and she steals a traffic light for her Christmas display. That’s one count of theft for her.
Did you know that shaving off part of someone’s hair against their will is assault? Well, it is. So when the Grinch shaves off some of the mayor’s hair, that’s another law he has broken. This is when he goes on a real crime spree. The Grinch goes on to steal a villager’s alcohol (theft), set fire to the town Christmas tree (arson), steal a micro-sized car, which he then crashes so badly it explodes (dangerous driving, arson and theft). That’s some serious legal trouble he’s gotten in, all in the space of a few minutes.
Arguably the most despicable crime the Grinch commits is burglary as he breaks into homes and steals Christmas presents from under the trees. Don’t even get me started on the criminal damage caused when he pours hundreds if not thousands of moths into homes to cause damage.
However misunderstood he is and no matter the happy ending, the Grinch would end up doing some serious jail time.
Jingle All the Way
Workaholic father Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) makes one promise to his wife over Christmas, to get their son THE toy of the season - a Turbo Man action figure. He forgets until the last moment and rushes out on Christmas Eve to find the coveted toy. He and hundreds of other desperate parents, including hot-tempered postal worker and Howard’s new arch-nemesis Myron.
Unlike most of his action films, it’s not Arnie’s character that kicks off the violence. In Jingle All the Way it’s Myron who breaks the first law by choking a woman in a toy shop queue. It’s all done with the slapstick humour of a 90s family movie but in the real world that could be attempted murder or grievous bodily harm (S18).
The slapstick humour continues when Sinbad hits Arnie with a bag so hard he falls over into a huge pile of toys and knocking them flying. This could be assault and criminal damage (or another day working the Christmas rush for many retail workers). After that, Howard punches and rips up a life-size Turbo Man cut; another count of criminal damage.
In a mad rush, Howard knocks down a police motorbike with his car. Luckily, no police officers were hurt but he does knock off the bike’s wing mirror. This time he’s guilty of driving offences and criminal damage.
It’s not just the people breaking the law in Jingle All the Way. One toy shop doubles the price of Turbo Man on Christmas Eve, making them guilty of fraud.
The action really kicks off when Howards and Myron head to a toy shop that’s had a last minute delivery of Turbo Man figures. Instead of selling them off the shelf, the shop runs a lottery. Each shopper is meant to be handed one ball with a number on, but things don’t quite go to plan. Myron maces Howard in the face to get a lottery ball; that’s another case of assault against him. Arnie grabs a child’s face to try and get a lottery ball out of their mouth (lots of women attack him with handbags). This could be assault on a child but it could be argued that the ladies prevented it going any further.
Things get even more surreal when Howard goes to a warehouse and is sold a shoddy Turbo Man knockoff that immediately falls apart. He gets into a fight with multiple Santas (including wrestler The Big Show); although we’re not sure anyone would be pressing charges as they’re all as bad as each other. However, Howard is the first person to hit someone (with a giant candy cane), making him guilty of assault.
Another opportunity to win a Turbo Man comes their way in the shape of a radio phone-in competition. Desperate to be the first caller, Howard attacks Myron in phone cubicle, and Myron deliberately destroys the phone. The one count of assault for Howard and one of criminal damage for Myron.
During their mad dash to the radio station, Myron dumps the mail he is meant to deliver so he can run faster. Not only does that leave him guilty of fraud and theft but he’s going to be in serious trouble for breaking his employment contract too.
Once he makes it to the radio station, Howard smashes the studio glass. That’s another count of criminal damage and possibly aggravated criminal damage too.
In a desperate attempt to get his hands on the radio station Turbo Man, Myron pretends (so he thinks) that he has a bomb and threatens to blow everyone up if they don’t give him the action figure. As the parcel did end up containing an explosive, he would be vulnerable to prosecution of arson or planting a bomb.
Howard hits an all-time low when he breaks into his neighbour’s house to steal their son’s Turbo Man from under the tree and accidentally sets fire to the house. That’s more burglary, criminal damage, theft and arson. On top of that, he punches a reindeer. He’s dangerously close to becoming a monster at this point and as he attacked an animal and not a person, he’s guilty of more criminal damage and animal offences.
Having given up on getting his hands on a Turbo Man, Howard goes to meet his family at the Christmas parade. There, he is mistaken for the actor playing Turbo Man on one of the floats. Because he does not point out the mistake and carries out the role, he’s guilty of fraud. Myron also crashes the parade and ties up the actor playing Turbo Man’s enemy, Dementor. He steals the actor’s outfit to take part in the parade and steals the limited edition Turbo Man from the float. In this scene, he’s committing false imprisonment and theft. However; Howard’s son Jamie gets his own back by kicking Myron; committing his own assault.
A Muppet’s Christmas Carol
Based on Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) rejects his nephew Fred's invitation to Christmas dinner and returns home after eventually allowing his employees Christmas day off work. That night, the ghosts of his dead business partners appear and warn him he will be visited by three more ghosts; Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. Now we all know Ebenezer Scrooge would be an online troll if he were around today but what laws did he actually break in this Christmas classic?
Early on in the film, Scrooge threatens to serve eviction notices on Christmas day. It’s a horrible idea but just a threat, so no laws were broken here. However; moments later, his (rat) staff point out that they are freezing cold and request another scoop of coal to keep the fire burning. Scrooge responds to the request for heating by threatening to fire them all. Temperatures in the indoor workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (so, technically a little late for this Dickensian story), which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace. The minimum temperature in a regular office workplace should typically be at least 16 degrees Celsius. Threatening to fire his employees isn’t illegal unless it is linked to discrimination (based on a protected characteristic such as sex, race, disability, maternity/pregnancy etc.). Still, if he did fire someone for raising health and safety issues, this could be seen as automatic unfair dismissal or it could result in a whistleblowing detriment claim.
After being adopted by Santa’s elves, Buddy eventually learns he’s not an elf and that his parents are from Earth. He ventures to New York to try and find his biological father and soon realises that America is very different from what he’s used to. It may be ridiculously gross when he eats used gum off the subway but isn’t illegal. However, there are plenty of other laws that get broken by Buddy and his new friends.
Buddy starts his outlaw life pretty low key. When he first gets to New York, he spins round and round in a rotating door. Not a big deal you may think, but if he’s on private property this action could be classed as a public disturbance.
After Buddy gets mistaken for a department store Christmas elf, he ends up pretending to work there and even sleeping in the store overnight. Here his crimes step up a notch to trespassing, possibly burglary and fraud. At one point, Buddy even peeks over the top of a toilet cubicle. It’s innocently done but, in the real world, he would be up against the sexual offences act.
The first time Buddy comes into contact with a store Santa, he doesn’t quite understand why a strange man is pretending to be the real Santa, and things deteriorate quickly. After Buddy pulls off the Santa’s fake beard, beardless Santa goes on to smash up items in the department store/criminal damage – Gimbles gets a restraining order against Buddy. Criminal damage and assault.
Later in the movie, Buddy goes missing from his dad’s office. When his dad leaves work to try and find him, his boss threatens to fire him. As we mentioned with Scrooge earlier, threatening to fire someone isn’t illegal. It may seem heartless but leaving work without permission, even if someone goes missing, is unauthorised absence. It might be reasonable for an employer to commence the disciplinary procedure and sanction an employee for unauthorised absence depending on the circumstances. If his boss fired him on the spot (and he had worked there for over two years) Buddy’s dad could have a claim for unfair dismissal as warnings should be given.
Home Alone tells the story of eight-year-old Kevin who’s accidentally left at home during the build-up to Christmas when his family fly to Paris. Realising he’s all alone, two burglars set their sights on breaking into the house and it’s down to Kevin to keep them out.
Harry (Joe Pesci) starts breaking laws straight away in the opening scene of Home Alone. He begins with a big one too, by impersonating a police officer to scout out the McCallister home. Within seconds of the film starting, he’s personated a police officer and committed conspiracy to burgle.
Jumping to the family side of things, Kevin’s parents could be charged with child neglect for leaving him alone even if it wasn’t intentional.
Unsurprisingly there are a lot of burglary based crimes committed throughout this movie. The burglars’ first attempt to break into the McCallister home is foiled when they are scared off by Kevin. Even though their attempts failed, they’re both guilty of attempted burglary. They also rack up several other counts of burglary when they break into other houses in the area.
Just as Kevin is starting to look after himself, he accidentally steals a toothbrush after running away from his scary neighbour in a local shop. There’s no intention behind it, but it’s still theft. As Kevin runs away, the burglars almost knock him down in their van. If all the burglaries weren’t enough, now they’re guilty of dangerous driving. On top of that, the burglars follow the boy to see where he lives, making them guilty of stalking.
There’s also one low-level lawbreaker who appears a few times during this film; the pizza delivery boy. Every time he comes to the house, he knocks down their garden ornaments, that’s criminal damage.
When Kevin realises the burglars are coming for him, he decides it’s time to seriously defend his home. He shoots one of the burglars with BB gun through the cat flap. He does it again when the other burglar puts his head through the cat flap. The adults are guilty of attempted burglary, and Kevin is guilty of possession of a firearm or imitation with a firearm. However; Kevin is using householder defence. When it comes to self-defence, you can use force, but only that is proportionate. If it takes place in your house and you are defending yourself or your property, you can use force which is disproportionate but not grossly disproportionate.
Before long, the burglars manage to break in; committing burglary and criminal damage. Kevin leaves traps all over the house, but as we’ve learnt above, householder defence should cover him for most of this. The burglars continue on their crime spree by leaving taps on in the house, causing criminal damage.
Eventually, the burglars catch up with Kevin and intimidate him with verbal threats. This could be seen as assault by words or conduct. However; Kevin’s scary neighbour saves the day and hits the burglars with his snow shovel. He’ll be able to use defence as he did this to protect Kevin.
So there we have it, our festive family favourites are breaking laws all over the place. However; it’s Home Alone and Jingle All the Way that would really be racking up the prison time, but who’s the biggest lawbreaker?
After careful consideration, we’ve figured that Arnie’s action antics have broken the most laws and would lead to the most prison time. Jingle All the Way is the ultimate family Christmas movie lawbreaker. Don’t believe us? You try eating a mince pie every time a law is broken and see how far you get.
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Disclaimer: None of the above is legal advice upon which you should rely. All advice is dependent on individual circumstances – the above is just for the purposes of festive fictional circumstances.