Come each December, one neighborhood in El Segundo decks out its homes with Christmas cheer to the extreme–a profusion of lights, Christmas carols on repeat, hand-made cutouts and blowup characters like elves, reindeer and St. Nick all combine to create a magical realm of holiday joy. It’s over the top. It’s competitive. Residents spend thousands on their displays. And it draws visitors from miles around. It’s called Candy Cane Lane and Kelly Younger, Westchester resident and screenwriter, knows it well.
Kelly’s parents moved to El Segundo in the 1990s and both mom, Ruth, and dad, Jim, quickly got swept up in the “go big or go home” decorating spirit.
“My parents moved to the top of the street that leads to Candy Cane Lane. My dad was a truck driver, but he was always making stuff in our garage. When they moved to El Segundo and found out that there was this tradition, he went all in,” said Kelly.
His father was restoring a classic Cadillac at the time and was struck by a vision.
“He put the Cadillac up on risers like it was taking off, and he built wooden reindeer and attached them to the front of the hood, flying off at various heights. It looked like Santa’s sleigh was a 1955 Cadillac convertible, and they completely decorated the house with lights!” says Kelly.
Clearly making an impact on Kelly, he’s now written a film about this local Yuletide enclave that feels like a love letter to El Segundo. “Candy Cane Lane” stars Eddie Murphy and Tracee Ellis Ross as the Carvers, and Jillian Bell as Pepper, an ornery elf. Did I mention since premiering on December 1, “Candy Cane Lane” is currently the number one movie in the world on Amazon Prime?
While most screenwriters have set their Christmas movies in a snowy, midwestern town, Kelly wanted to reflect his own experience of winter growing up in SoCal.
“When I was a kid, we would take our boogie boards to the beach at Christmas and go down the sand dunes and pretend that we were on snow like we were on sleds. The original screenplay opened with kids riding down the dunes on boogie boards. But our incredible director, Reggie Hudlin, takes everything to level 10, so when I saw that first shot of those snowboarders coming down the sand dunes, it made me laugh!” he says, noting that the scene was shot in El Segundo.
Other Easter eggs in the film include gingerbread houses made to look like Randy’s Donuts and the LAX Theme Building, and a shot of Eddie Murphy driving past El Segundo’s Old Town Music Hall where there are movie posters for “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “March of the Wooden Soldiers”– Murphy’s favorite Christmas movies. But that’s not all.
“We also see the Chevron refinery, the water treatment plants and the airport–it’s sort of bonkers where we live, isn’t it? How it could be so beautiful, but also so industrial, and yet we’re also by the beach. I really wanted to make sure they captured all of that,” he says.
Once “Candy Cane Lane” was greenlit but before they started shooting, people from the art department, production designers, the director, the producers and all the big Amazon Studios executives came to Ruth and Jim’s house in El Segundo for the opening of the neighborhood Candy Cane Lane.
“We normally have a Candy Cane Lane party, we get pizza, we have paper plates. Then we had all these Hollywood people come, and they loved it because a lot of them are transplants to Los Angeles. They don’t really have families here, and they got to have our annual family Candy Cane Lane party, but they also studied my dad’s workshop in his garage. That Kringle store [in the film], the miniature village with the train set behind it and the mountains–that is all based on the miniature village that my dad built in his garage,” Kelly says, adding that set designers even borrowed some of his dad’s hand-carved wooden items and put them in the background in the Carver’s garage.
Sadly, Kelly’s mother Ruth passed away about a month before the film’s release. While she got to see a few clips, she didn’t get to see the entire film. But Kelly says it was the experience leading up to the movie premiere that was important to his mother.
“When we had all of these people over to our annual Candy Cane Lane party, for her, that was the premiere, that was the red-carpet event,” says Kelly. “My parents are those people who want to open their doors to their neighbors and the neighborhood. And that’s what I hope that this movie does for families, for friends, for people around the world.”
As a screenwriter and producer, Kelly has built an impressive career working on multiple Disney films, including Encanto, Moana and Frozen 2, not to mention writing projects for The Muppets. He’s been on the Loyola Marymount University faculty for 20 years teaching Film, English and Theater. An alumnus of LMU, it’s also where he met his wife, local real estate icon, Stephanie Younger, when they were both undergrads.
Kelly loves the Westchester community where he and Stephanie are very active around town.
“I love our Little Leagues. I love our holiday events, our Fourth of July Parade. We are one of the homes for the Santa stop that the Rotary Club does with the LAPD, and we bring out a hot chocolate cart,” says Kelly. “I surprise all the kids by getting a fake snow machine. When Santa arrives, it starts to snow, and we get like 300 people from the neighborhood totally ruining our lawn, but we love it because that stuff grows back, right? That’s what the holidays mean to me and that’s why I’m so proud of this movie.”
Given the huge success the movie has achieved so far, I asked Kelly if a sequel was in the works. Though he couldn’t confirm or deny a sequel, he did say this: “I’m not done with the Carver family yet!”
“Candy Cane Lane” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
El Segundo’s Candy Cane Lane (1200 Block of East Acacia Ave.) is celebrating its opening night on Saturday, December 9 at 7 p.m., and the holiday festivities run through December 23.
Story by Shanee Edwards.