Nov 20, 2012 08:05 AM EST

Disney's Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection Is A Great Holiday Treat

Disney's Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection Is A Great Holiday Treat
Holiday TV specials come in three flavors: cute, clever and classic. The classic specials are the easiest to spot, even if they're sometimes the hardest to track down, and have the least to prove. They typically have some gray in their beards too, come with an insistent parent desperately assuring their kids "you'll love it!", and CG is rarely in play. See A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty The Snowman and A Muppet Family Christmas. Cute specials are far greater in number but shorter supply, and kept alive by sugar plum type nostalgia rather than virtue or merit. For example: A Chipmunk Christmas, Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too, Nestor, The Long-Eared Donkey and, lest we forget, He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special. Which brings us to clever specials, a far more recent evolution in holiday specials that deals almost exclusively in pop culture references, copious nods to classics of old, shiny new CG animation, and sudden, last-minute surges of syrupy sentiment. Enter Shrek the Halls, Merry Madagascar, Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special, Gift of the Night Fury, The Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special and other December confections. Funny? Sure. Classic? Eh, not so much.
Both Prep & Landing specials land squarely in the clever camp, even if each one wears its heart on its sleeve from the get-go. Will either one be remembered in twenty, forty, sixty years? Not a chance. Should that stop families from enjoying its elves-on-a-mission merriment in the meantime? Not at all. Classics are becoming tougher to come by thanks to over- saturation and ever-shortening attention spans, but there's no reason to miss out on a few good family friendly laughs and some good-natured fun while lamenting the relative obscurity of the Specials of Christmas Past.
Have you ever wondered how it all gets done? How Santa gets in and out of millions of homes, all in one night? Let's just say he has a little help. The operation has its challenges but we're always prepared. Our mission statement, get in, get out, never be noticed. I'm part of Prep & Landing: an elite unit of elves getting houses around the world ready for the Big Guy's arrival.
Originally pitched as a Walt Disney Animation theatrical short, the first Prep & Landing adventure earned a quick upgrade to full-fledged ABC television special from man-with-the-Disney-Animation-plan, John Lasseter. And while the resulting 23-minute midnight misadventure isn't quite as clever as it seems to think, especially early on, it has its Christmas charms. Dave Foley, for starters, as beleaguered elf Wayne, a veteran Prep & Lander who gets passed over for a coveted promotion, assigned to Nice List duties for yet another year and, to top it all off, saddled with an overly eager new recruit, Lanny (Derek Richardson). That all becomes the least of Wayne's worries, though, when a young boy wakes up and catches the elves mid-mission, forcing the unlikely duo to set things right so Santa (W. Morgan Sheppard) can touch down. Sure, it's all a bit by the numbers, much as it tries and, every now and then, manages to skew Christmas convention. But the elves are a lovable bunch, Wayne's life lessons will warm the iciest hearts, and the first special sets the stage for the best gift in the Prep & Landing bag o' goodies: Naughty vs. Nice, a superior follow up in almost every way.
Like the song says, Santa knows who's been naughty and who's been nice. Make it on the Nice List, and you can expect a visit from Prep & Landing. But end up on the Naughty List? Get ready for a whole different crew: the Coal Elf Brigade. Their job? Confirm and deliver. Their goal? To rehabilitate children... one lump of coal at a time. These guys are tough, always prepared for those naughty kids. Well, almost always.
How superior is this sequel? The comedy is sharper, the script is tighter, the stakes are higher, the animation is more satisfying and the chewy moral center of the Prep & Landing cookie is more filling. This time around, Wayne and Lanny team up with Wayne's younger brother, Coal Brigade legend Noel (Rob Riggle), to retrieve a stolen elf device from a computer savvy kid genius (Emily Alyn Lind) determined to hack into the North Pole network and remove herself from the Naughty mainframe. Tack "more clever" to the previous checklist. It's not clever for clever's sake either, and expected gags are soon shelved in favor of two interlocking, semi-touching lessons in brotherly and sisterly love. It's all too on the nose and the fast and loose action movie genre-teering grows heavy handed, but kids will have an out and out blast, parents won't begrudge the 20- minute holiday treat, and Naughty vs. Nice will get plenty of repeat viewings in the coming months. Classic? Not so much. But who's to say what specials our children will pass onto their kids? They could certainly do a lot worse.
Out now on Blu-ray, the video quality does well on the small screen. Given this is a holiday special, you can't expect too much. Reds and greens have an extra flair, but otherwise what you see is what you get. The audio is decent, certainly no sonic blast from the speakers, but it will keep the kids happy. As for extras, there are as follows; Operation: Secret Santa: An animated short which finds Wayne and Lanny on a secret mission assigned to them by the boss lady herself, Mrs. Claus (voiced by Betty White).
  • North Pole Commercials: Ten animated commercials steal the show: "Elf-," "The Fruitcake Factory," Spa Navidad," "Christmas Carol's," "Yuletide Tech," B.U.L.B. Transit," "Captain Avalanche's Super Sled," "Kringle County Christmas Fair," "Super Elf Mart" and "Yuletide Joe."
  • Tiny's Big Adventure: Pint-sized elf Tiny tackles a deadly mission of his own: making coffee.
  • Behind the Jingle: Singer/songwriter Grace Potter discusses her role in Naughty & Nice.
  • Kringle Academy: A series of orientation videos for elves in training.
  • North Pole News: Two amusing black and white North Pole news reels. And finally, Promotional Pieces: TV promos.
You could ask any "average joe" about what makes a Christmas classic a Christmas classic and prevents a clever holiday special from earning such high praise. Clever, funny, heartwarming and relatively easy to watch more than once (for those of you with kids who keep the same five movies in constant circulation), the duo -- Naughty vs. Nice especially -- is better than most of the December drivel desperately hoping to be declared The Next Great Christmas Classic. What've you got to lose? Your kids will love it, you'll let loose a few light laughs, and the family will be treated to a fun evening with Wayne, Lanny and the Prep & Landing crew. 

Purchase your copy of  Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection at

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