It's that reindeer time of year! Jerry Beck kicks off the holiday season with some reindeer reviews!
Warner Home Video has released a disparate duo of DVDs in time for the Christmas season, and while both are animated and have the word "reindeer" in the title, their similarities end right there.
Robbie to the Rescue
Robbie The Reindeer In Hooves Of Fire is a modern stop-motion holiday masterpiece. It's a zany British sequel-of-sorts to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer -- though use of Rudolf's name is purposely avoided, and its avoidance is used as a running joke.
Though the animation and design is from the Aardman school, this is an independent BBC production for Comic Relief. The story by Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary) is very clever and loaded with witty observations, MAD magazine-like gags and sharp dialogue.
The story concerns the arrival of Robbie at the training camp of Santa's reindeer. Robbie, who inherited an incredible sense of direction from his dad, was sent there by Rudolph to take his place at the lead of Santa's sleigh (apparently his red-nosed papa has gone off to considerable fame and fortune). There he meets the crew, including Blitzen, the captain of the team who has no use for Robbie's special talents, the sexy Vixen and the sweet Donner who eventually becomes his girlfriend. When Santa introduces his souped-up "Sled Mark 2," which includes an automatic navigational system, Robbie sees no use in staying and leaves the squad.
After a disastrous try at toy making with some wacky elves, Robbie decides to seek his true destiny and enter the Reindeer Games with the help of his wacky trainer, Old Jingle. The games themselves are treated as a spoof of the Olympics with the legendary Bigfoot, and a Snowman companion, as the sportscasters ("Brought to you by HAY, the official snack food of the Reindeer Games!"). Needless to say, Robbie wins by a nose and rejoins the team to deliver toys on Christmas night.
This simple plot is enhanced by an excellent British voice cast (think Wallace & Gromit quality) and superb stop-motion models, sets and animation. The DVD contains a great behind-the-scenes video and audio track commentary by director Richard Goleszowski. This is a superb holiday special for all ages.
Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer is a 60 minute, drawn animation (or, as they say these days, "2D") film based on a hit novelty song by country singer Randy Brooks.
Animation vet Phil Roman certainly directed this direct-to-video show with enthusiasm. It's obvious the writers, actors and crew did the best they could with the (low) budget and considering the source material is a comedy record about a dead grandma, they succeeded in creating a mildly entertaining family video.
In their scenario, Grandma (Sue Blu) doesn't exactly die -- she gets amnesia and is cared for by Santa at the North Pole. Grandson Jake is the only one in town who still believes in Santa -- and believes that Grandma is alive -- and must prove both before his wicked Cousin Mel (Michele Lee) can take over the family business.
There are echoes of It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th Street in the script, and lots of good old-fashioned American values intertwined into the plot. None of this is very original, and considering the Randy Brooks hit was especially clever, it may disappoint a few adults. But small kids, the ones who know Santa is real, should enjoy all the goings on just fine.
As for me, how can I hate a cartoon where the biggest laugh is the sight of Grandma, face down, knocked out in the snow by a hit and run Santa.
So if you are getting tired of Charlie Brown and Rankin Bass this season, these animated reindeers may renew your Holiday spirit -- and provide a few well deserved laughs.
Jerry Beck is an animation producer and cartoon historian who is simultaneously developing a show with MTV Animation and writing a book for Harry N. Abrams Publishers. He also has a cool Website at www.cartoonresearch.com.