New Video // 2009 // 24 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 26th, 2010
Based on a true story.
So here's the deal: back in 1897, a little girl named Virginia O'Hanlon sent a letter to the The Sun, a prominent New York newspaper of the era. Some of Virginia's friends had told her that there was no such person as Santa Claus, and she wanted to know whether this was actually true. According to her father, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." The letter was received by an editor named Francis Pharcellus Church, who wrote an elegant, touching reply that contained the immortal line, "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." Today, that editorial has been reprinted more times than any other in the history of the English language.
This is a very simple story that would take perhaps five minutes to tell at most under normal circumstances, but this animated television production of Yes, Virginia pads the running time to 25 minutes in the expected manner: by making a bunch of stuff up. What results is a lightweight, predictable, silly but charming piece of historical fiction that should keep the kids occupied for a half-hour during the holidays.
In this version of the story, Virginia (Beatrice Miller, Toy Story 3) spends most of her time with a little kid named Ollie (Kieran Patrick Campbell). They're both really excited about Christmas, and Ollie claims that he's seen Santa Claus in the flesh. In this instance, "Santa" (Micheal Buscemi, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) is really a scrawny homeless man with a fake beard ringing a bell and collecting money for charity. Virginia and Ollie are mocked by their snooty friend Charlotte (Julian Franco) for thinking that Santa even exists, and soon Virginia's belief starts to wane.
When Virginia questions her father (Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother) and mother (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ghost Whisperer) about the matter, they advise her to write a letter to the newspaper. The letter is received by Francis Church (Alfred Molina, An Education), a mean old Scrooge of a man who initially crumples the letter up and tosses in it in the trash, muttering something about how children need to grow up and stop being stupid. Fortunately, Scraggly Santa intervenes, demands that Church take action, and forces the grumpy editor to write a response. Virginia's faith is restored, Scraggly Santa gets some new clothes and a lot of money to distribute to the poor, everyone hugs each other, and the real Santa Claus turns up to make a special cameo at the end.
Obviously, Yes, Virginia is only loosely rooted in fact, but the flimsy artificial drama does nothing to dampen the powerful editorial's impact when Molina reads it at the special's conclusion. The somewhat uncomfortable fusion between recapturing a real historical era and randomly inserting bits of pure fantasy may seem a bit odd to adults (I was particularly thrown by the "believe-o-meter" in the middle of town that goes up or down based on Virginia's faith in Santa), but kids will likely accept it and enjoy it without raising an eyebrow. It's sweet and sincere, and I suppose that's all you can really ask for.
The DVD transfer is excellent, though the animation itself is quite low-budget. Audio is fine as well, with a sweeping Nicholas Hooper score (vastly better than the usual cheap synthesizer stuff) getting a sturdy mix and blending well with the dialogue. Supplements include a commentary with director Pete Circuitt, a commentary with the pint-sized members of the cast and a brief making-of featurette.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 24 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated