"Let's kick some Christmas butt!"—Santa Claus
One of my favorite headlines from The Onion is one that goes, "Everyone Involved in Pizza's Preparation, Delivery, Purchase Extremely High." If you replace "pizza" with "holiday special," you might have a plausible explanation of how something this tediously inept was conceived and executed.
Facts of the Case
In this animated holiday special, Christmas, that most beleaguered of holidays, is threatened once again, this time by Sualc Atnas (get it?), an evil toy tycoon with an eerie resemblance to Josef Stalin, who's irate that Santa's cutting into his profits by giving away toys (apparently the toy industry has the same problems as the RIAA). Luckily for Gentile children everywhere, a down-on-his-luck ice cream truck driver and his penguin pal come to Santa's rescue. With the help of some…magic flying dust. And a biochemical engineering student. Seriously.
A Freezerburnt Christmas is animated with a combination of claymation and digital animation, and for the most part it looks pretty good (the main exception being the characters' eyebrows, which look like relatives of Mr. Hankey from South Park). While it's obviously a low-budget production, lacking the highly polished dazzle of, say, a Wallace & Gromit film, it's clear that a great deal of care and attention was put into the sets, models, and storyboards. If a similar level of talent had been lavished on the story and voice performances, this could have been an entertaining show. As it is, A Freezerburnt Christmas is a lifeless bore, one that's as unlikely to appeal to its kiddie target audience as to any parents who unwittingly purchase this dud.
In fact, it's hard to tell sometimes just what age group the creators of this special were aiming for. The story is clearly intended for young children, yet the dialogue and jokes are most often pitched at an adult level. Evidently the intent was to appeal to all ages the way Toy Story and Shrek do, folding grown-up humor into the kid stuff, but here it comes across as merely dull and incomprehensible. I can imagine some unfortunate child's eyes glazing over during such brain-numbing lines as "I don't believe you've met my niece, Anna. She's staying with me while she finishes her biochemical engineering thesis on cryogenics." Zzzzz.
A Freezerburnt Christmas obviously aspires to the level of the beloved Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated specials, such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without a Santa Claus, but those family favorites had a few things this production lacks: memorable characters, excellent voice acting, and hummable songs. I'm sorry, but a story about an ice cream truck driver and a college student saving Christmas just doesn't spark the imagination the way, for instance, a living snowman or a reindeer with a radioactive nose do. And a musical number about how our hero can't make his rent isn't likely to get children singing along.
Although the special features the voices of SNL veterans Darrell Hammond and Horatio Sanz, their talent is nowhere on display in the wooden, lifeless vocal performances. The voice acting is by far the worst I've heard in any animated work; it sounds like it was translated into Russian and then back into English, and read off a whiteboard by a panel of insurance claims adjusters.
This MGM disc offers a full-screen transfer that is easy to look at, mostly vivid and bright, except for some noticeable flickering and occasional print defects. Audio is basic Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and is clean and energetic if unremarkable.
Extras include a making-of featurette that will appeal solely to adults, and is in fact probably the most entertaining thing on the disc, consisting of interviews with the directors and animators and giving viewers a glimpse into the painstaking process of stop-motion animation. It's actually kind of sad to hear the animators talking about their work with such enthusiasm, knowing what a dog the end result turned out to be. All I could think of while watching this was how one could work on something this labor-intensive, day after day, knowing how mediocre the material was.
Also included is a trivia game which ranks among the most pointless I have ever encountered on a DVD (sample question: "What is Freezerburn's apartment number?"), and a selection of trailers for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hamilton Mattress, Second Star to the Left, It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and Christmas Carol: The Movie. You know you've seen a lousy DVD when the trailers for other movies are more memorable than the main feature.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
About all I can say in this special's defense is that the sets and figures are creatively designed and look appealing (except for the aforementioned fecal eyebrows), and at 22 minutes, it's mercifully brief.
Visuals aside, A Freezerburnt Christmas fails on every level. An uninvolving, overstuffed story throws character after character at the viewer without providing them with any memorable moments. The performances are flat and wooden; the writing is clumsy and unlikely to keep any child interested for more than a few minutes. There may be worse ways to spend 22 minutes of your life, but with the wealth of classic holiday favorites out there, there is no reason to subject yourself or your loved ones to this utterly forgettable bore.
That said, I would love to see this animation company tackle a claymation version of the life of Stalin. Now that would be worth watching.
Everyone associated with this mess is sentenced to repeat viewings of A Year Without a Santa Claus until they learn how it's supposed to be done.
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Scales of Justice
• Making-of Featurette
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