‘Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas’ Is Here to Melt Your Brain

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Dolly Parton stands wearing a white dress, surrounded by falling snow, gazing upwards towards the camera. She is winking, a bright light covering her closed eyelid.
Have you heard the good news about our lord and savior Jesus Christ? Hold onto your britches because you're about to!

Oh look, it’s Dec. 1! That can mean only one thing! We have officially reached that special point in the year when Dolly Parton bestows upon us a preposterous Christmas movie. Her latest, Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas is even weirder than usual — significantly weirder than this trailer suggests, in fact.

I’m going to break this thing down for you minute-by-minute (spoilers are coming), so get ready. This movie mashes together fiction, a TV special, supernatural country stars, sections where Dolly breaks the fourth wall to share lessons that aren’t really lessons, one entire dance routine that happens inside her mind, and more stilted dialog than a ’70s porno.

Let’s do this!

2:53: Dolly plays a show in Tahoe and is caught completely off guard when it starts snowing in a region of the country that’s known for its skiing. K.

Dolly Parton, with a look of complete astonishment on her face.
It's not the apocalypse, Dolly. Calm down. (NBC Universal)

3:10: Driven into a frenzy by the sight of snow, Dolly decides on the spot that she simply must do a TV special “to bring that mountain magic to everyone this Christmas.” She calls a TV producer named Sam to share this suggestion and wakes him up in the middle of the night. Sam immediately turns on a light, grins, gets up and starts shamelessly kissing Dolly’s ass. This is 100% the appropriate response to a middle-of-the-night phone call from Dolly Parton.

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4:00: It is expressly stated repeatedly that Dolly wants to film the special at Dollywood and broadcast it on NBC. Oh crap. This whole movie is going to be a really long commercial for Dollywood and NBC isn’t it?

4:48: Opening credits roll, featuring Dolly sitting in a meadow, singing a song, surrounded by sunflowers. I presume this is exactly where she wakes up every morning, flawless from the dawn sunlight and surrounded by talking squirrels.

6:26: Ana Gasteyer is in this as an NBC employee named Susan. Susan wants Dolly’s TV special to be a live event, but does little else for the rest of this movie. What a waste of Ana Gasteyer.

A middle aged white woman with long dark blonde hair, speaking on the telephone at an office desk.
Ana Gasteyer in a role that in no way allows her to be funny. What is the meaning of this? Aside from squeezing that NBC logo into the background, I mean. (Katherine Bomboy/NBC)

8:35: Dolly is in Dollywood’s main square wearing a dress that I recognize from her 2020 movie, Christmas on the Square. (Thrifty!) Dolly is surrounded by unfeasibly happy people waving large candy canes and what can only be described as excessive wreaths. This initially appears to be a regular-ass musical scene, but then...

8:40: Dolly starts shouting “Go tell it!” and “Spread the word!” and the assembled crowds automatically repeat everything she says, in unison. Is Dollywood housing a cult? Has anyone looked into this? Someone should look into this.

8:47: Dolly yells “Jesus Christ is born!” and everyone in the square magically knows to respond: “Hallelujah! He is born!” Okay, now I’m scared.

9:01: Dolly starts singing “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and everyone in the vicinity starts line dancing. These people include: the candy cane and wreath people, cowboys and cowgirls flinging each other around, 1950s sock hop petticoat folks, casual bystanders and — oh but of course — Mary and Joseph impersonators. (Mary’s a ballerina, naturally.) I went to a wedding in Bastrop, Texas once that was actually a lot like this.

An eclectic mix of people dance in a town square while large crowds watch on from behind.
Cult members? Jury's still out. (Katherine Bomboy/NBC)

11:09: Dolly sings “He’s alive and I’m forgiven / Heaven’s gates are open wide!” Dollywood is definitely housing a cult.

13:33: It’s now “the morning of the live show” and everyone is talking to Dolly like she’s a maniac who might kick them in the crotch if they stop working compliments about her into every single sentence. Why is everyone so scared of Dolly Parton? Is this an Ellen situation? Someone should look into this too.

14:27: NBC decides it simply must work the Rockettes into this movie somehow, so invents a flimsy side plot where the show’s choreographer ditches Dolly to go work with the kicky dance troupe at the last minute. Hey NBC, we know you’ve got Radio City Music Hall tickets to sell and everything, but LITERALLY NOBODY THINKS THE ROCKETTES ARE COOLER THAN DOLLY PARTON. This would never happen.

15:39: Jimmy Fallon is in this because NBC is determined to ruin this entire movie.

15:43: Jimmy Fallon is wearing a leather jacket with “JIMMY FALLON” bedazzled on the back of it. He is doing an impersonation of Grease’s Danny Zuko with all the skill of your drunk cousin at a wedding. There is a good chance, I now realize, that I might keel over and die from watching this movie.

16:35: Dolly and Jimmy begin singing “It’s Almost Too Early for Christmas” at a Dollywood diner lunch table. It’s supposed to be live and spur of the moment. So either Jimmy Fallon’s voice naturally comes out aggressively auto-tuned, or he’s a robot now. Which actually would go some way to explaining his dance moves.

Dolly Parton in a tight red and black that's tied at the waist. Jimmy Fallon in a leather jacket. They are dancing inside a diner.
Dolly Parton and Jimmy Fallon: All of the chemistry of your new boyfriend trying to dance with your reluctant mom. (NBC Universal)

17:30: Someone must’ve recognized this dance number wasn’t really working, so two much younger, zippier people have been subbed in wearing the same outfits as Dolly and Jimmy, to pretend to be them. The camera is not moving quickly enough to disguise the fact that the people dancing are definitely not Jimmy Fallon and Dolly Parton. This is ... terrible. Just really, really quantifiably terrible.

19:34: Jimmy Fallon asks Dolly: “Why do you look as troubled as a tap dancer with a piece of corn in their shoe? Sorry. These mountains bring out the folksy similes in me.” Is this supposed to be funny? I don’t think this is supposed to be funny. But if it’s not supposed to be funny ... what even is it?

20:22: Dolly remembers this movie is actually a Dollywood infomercial and slips this dialog in: “Everything in this park is about my life. We’ve even got the old cabin I grew up in, we’ve got the church I went to, there’s even that old grist mill we used to play in.” What the hell is a grist mill?

20:27: Dolly, suddenly wearing an entirely different outfit, is now at the grist mill (*shrugs*), and walks inside looking wistful. Gold magic dust swirls in the center of the room and Willie Nelson appears. Because anytime anyone feels wistful in the vicinity of a mill, Willie Nelson teleports in, clutching a guitar.

20:56: Willie Nelson is wearing a headband with his own name on it, lest someone on the planet still doesn’t know who Willie Nelson is.

A senior man with long gray hair braided over his shoulders, wearing a red headband with the words Willie Nelson on it.
You've been alive literally longer than most people on the planet. We know who you are, Willie Nelson. (NBC Universal)

21:57: Dolly and Willie sing “Pretty Paper.” It is so genuinely delightful, I almost forget about the Jimmy Fallon atrocity we just witnessed. (Almost. Realistically, it may never leave me.)

26:07: Over a quarter into this movie and Dolly has just decided to break the fourth wall for the first time, totally out of the blue. She wants the audience to know that “everyone is a kid at Christmas.” And that’s about it. Why was it necessary to dedicate an entire aside to this? This movie is completely bananas.

27:16: Producers are bickering over the opening number for the TV special and Dolly doesn’t like it. “All that anger and cussing. That ain’t nothin’ but the devil’s doings,” she says. “We’re trying to lift people up and Satan is trying to tear us down.” (Please let there be a twist where Jimmy Fallon is Satan, please let there be a twist where Jimmy Fallon is Satan...)

29:09: Dolly breaks out into a choreographed rendition of “Go to Hell” that is neither part of the fictional plot, nor the TV special within the movie. So it’s happening ... inside her head? Whoever wrote this movie was on drugs. A lot of super religious drugs.

Dolly Parton, wearing a red sequined jumpsuit sings, arms raised, surrounded by dancers dressed in gospel choir garb.
This movie is very, very biblical in a super weird way. (Katherine Bomboy/NBC)

29:38: A smug-looking man in a suit arrives halfway through “Go to Hell”, as a representation of Satan himself. But get this: He looks exactly like Tom Cruise. That’s right! Dolly is trolling Scientologists! Somewhere, off in the distance, Leah Remini is rhythmically rubbing her acrylic nails together in appreciation.

33:59: Shameless plug for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which has given away 200 million books to kids who really need them. I am genuinely grateful for this reminder that Dolly Parton is really good at things that aren’t Christmas specials.

35:03: Dolly Parton is playing the banjo.

36:03: Dolly Parton is playing a bedazzled acoustic guitar.

37:48: Dolly Parton has been trying to work in her real-life “grand-nephew Liam” into this plot for the last 40 minutes and Jesus Christ, the things our families make us do.

A cute 6 or 7 year old blonde boy, looks off into the distance smiling. He is wearing a red sweatshirt and white and green checked overalls.
Liam: No teeth, no real reason to be in this movie. (Katherine Bomboy/NBC)

38:16: Dolly is talking directly to the camera again to tell us that Liam is “a special little boy” who is going to “grow up to be something special.” STOP TRYING TO BREAK LIAM INTO SHOW BUSINESS, DOLLY.

38:50: Dolly is singing a feverish rendition of “Whoever You Are, Be That.” (Basically “Born This Way” for country people.) You can practically hear grandparents across the country slowly getting up from their armchairs and excusing themselves to the bathroom to get away from this.

42:15: Dolly is breaking the fourth wall. Again. This time just to introduce “The Seeker,” which she sings in her dressing room. Is this part of the TV special within the movie? Personal downtime? This movie has entirely forgotten what it is supposed to be doing.

45:12: Dolly is talking to God. She seems to think he’s in the light fixtures.

46:29: With zero segue from the Very Earnest God Song we just heard, Dolly is now dressed as (I’m not lying) a reindeer and singing with Jimmie Allen. (Please note, non-country fans, that Jimmie Allen is not, in fact, a Jimmy Fallon comedy persona. And let’s all thank our lucky stars for that.)

Dolly Parton dressed as a reindeer and Jimmie Allen in a fringed brown suede jacket and matching wide brimmed hat.
“Hey man, my antlers are up here!” (NBC Universal)

46:35: There are reindeer ladies playing air guitar in the background of this scene and, dear god, this is worse than Cats. And that had James Corden in it.

48:27: Producer Sam refers to a female coworker as “that shy little thing” to her face and she responds to this HR violation by unceremoniously announcing that she grew up in miserable foster homes. What?

50:45: Dolly goes to the train station to ponder the direction of the TV special. (If only someone had done something similar before this movie was made.) A magic steam train shows up carrying Billy Ray Cyrus because, sure, why not.

Billy Ray has the face of Barry Gibb and the ombré hairstyle of Jennifer Aniston in Season 8 of Friends. It is genuinely mesmerizing.

A photo of Barry Gibb, a plus sign, a photo of Jennifer Aniston, an equals sign, a screenshot of Billy Ray Cyrus.
Tell me you don't see it. (Getty Images and Ron Galella / 'Friends' / NBC Universal)

51:40: Billy Ray and Dolly start singing at each other. I’m realizing that up until this moment, I have managed to live my whole entire life without ever knowingly listening to a Billy Ray Cyrus song that wasn’t “Achy Breaky Heart.” I feel duped. Duped!

54:38: Plot twist! Turns out that Billy Ray Cyrus is invisible to everyone except for Dolly Parton. If only this were reality.

56:26: Dolly and Miley Cyrus conduct a completely normal conversation about Dollywood roller coasters, just in case we haven’t considered visiting Dollywood in the last 10 minutes. Then they get up and sing a heartfelt ballad about Christmas. If you turn the sound off, they look like speakers at a sketchy sales convention.

Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus both wearing formal black and white dresses stand before a Christmas tree.
Dolly and Miley looking like a mother-daughter team trying to get you involved in a pyramid scheme. (NBC Universal)

1:01:34: Zach Williams shows up and Dolly explains that her TV special isn’t going quite as she imagined. (SAME, DOLLY. SAME.) Zach decides this calls for a talk about — what else? — Jesus.

Please now enjoy one of Zach and Dolly’s very natural exchanges.

Dolly: “Zach Williams, don’t tell me you’re another one of those wise mountain men I’m going to see today.”
Zach: “Well, I don’t know how wise I am, but I do know a wiser man than both of us and he’s telling me you can use a friend.”

JESUS CALLED ZACH WILLIAMS TO TALK ABOUT DOLLY PARTON, YOU GUYS. WHAT A GOSSIP.

1:03:02: Zach and Dolly sing “There Was Jesus” and it’s actually kind of a banger.

1:05:53: Dolly keeps working the term “wise men” into the conversation and I’m only now getting the fact that Willie, Billy and Zach are supposed to represent the Three Wise Men in this mess of a movie. Jesus literal Christ.

1:06:27: Dolly brings out her sisters Cassie and Rachel to sing with her because she is contractually obliged to do this every few years. If you don't believe me, just watch this crowded cabin of backcombed hair and shiny lace from the 1980s:

1:07:32 The following exchange just happened:

Dolly: “You know, I think I love snow so much because I was born in a big old snowstorm.”
Cassie: “Daddy had to ride down and bring up Dr. Thomas to deliver you. We paid for you with a sack of cornmeal.”

“We paid for you with a sack of cornmeal” is going to be my go-to insult for the entirety of 2023.

1:08:06: Dolly and her sisters are now singing a confounding song called “E-Shay As-Way, Eye-May, Est-Bay, End-Fray” and I am fairly certain my brain just shattered into a million pieces.

1:09:46: Thirteen more members of the Parton family (that apparently don’t warrant formal introductions) have arrived to sing a song about how crappy they all are to one another. This song contains lyrics like, “When it’s family, you forgive them, for they know not what they do / When it’s family, you accept them, ‘cause you have no choice but to.” If this is the nicest they can be about each other in public, on television, at Christmas, I would hate to hear their Thanksgiving dinner conversation.

1:15:03: Ana Gasteyer just showed back up to remind everyone that this is a Dollywood infomercial. “You know, it’s Dollywood,” she says. “The minute I walked through those gates, all my burdens just disappeared.” I am very tired now.

1:16:52: Sam asks Dolly “How’s my beautiful girl?” Why has no one at NBC HR ever had words with this man?

Oh, wait. That’s right...

A screenshot of a KQED Arts article titled 'At SNL, Allegations of Sexual Assault During Its Golden Era for Women.
Nothing to see here.

1:19:40: I can sense the movie is winding down now because Dolly is talking directly to the camera again. “I hope I haven’t crammed God or Jesus down anybody’s throat,” she says, knowing full well that she has. “I hated that when it happened to me, but it is the season.” Sure, Dolly, okay.

1:20:12: “Now I believe the kingdom of heaven is within, and God is good and God is love,” Dolly says. WE LITERALLY JUST TALKED ABOUT THIS, DOLLY.

1:22:37: Dolly closes the TV special within the TV special with “Life Is Good Again,” which is a good song. Sexual harassment specialist Sam watches the performance from the side of the stage with a facial expression that is best described as “sad-thirsty.”

Then everyone goes outside to stand and sing in the snow.

Dolly Parton stands under the marquee of the Palace Theater at Dollywood, surrounded by audiences members.
Why finish a show on the stage indoors, when there is snow and inconvenience outside? (NBC Universal)

The End.

Might we suggest that Dolly’s Christmas special next year just be a simple duets format? Please? Pretty please? With tinsel on top?

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‘Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas’ premieres on Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. on NBC, and is available to stream on Peacock from Dec. 2.