The world's most famous case of hit and run!
I was but a wee lad when the song "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" first started making the rounds. I first heard it in Billings, Montana, where we had traveled to spend Christmas with my dad's relatives, including, coincidentally, my grandmother. Needless to say, for pre-teens such as myself and my sister at that time the song was pure gold, and we immediately got a cassette tape of it. We then proceeded to drive our parents insane by playing it almost non-stop across four states on the way home.
But after I while, I grew up. Well, that may be stretching things—it may be more accurate to say that I aged a bit. In any case, the song aged even quicker. It's good for a mild laugh the first few times you hear it, but after the 80,000th time it becomes quite old. It was cute for a while, but now one wishes that people would just give it a rest, already.
Of course, that's not going to happen. Instead, we now have a 60 minute animated movie that tells us the story in excruciating detail, and adds a whole new series of plot twists and machinations.
Facts of the Case
Grandma Spankenheimer (prolific voice actress Susan Blu) runs a sweet little general store in the metropolis of Cityville. At Christmastime, everyone for miles around comes to buy her baked goods, as well as ornaments and other Christmas necessities. She even dresses up as an elf to read Christmas stories to visiting children.
Things are going pretty well, but not as well as the curvaceous, avaricious Cousin Mel (voice of Michelle Lee—Idiot Box) would like. She sees the opportunity to sell the store to a big corporate developer for millions of dollars. In order to get Grandma to sell the store she will do anything, including sabotaging Grandma's famous fruitcake with unauthorized ingredients.
Meanwhile, young Jake Spankenheimer is having a personal crisis. Not only does he want Grandma to keep the store, but he feels that he is the only one in his family who knows what Christmas is all about. He is also struggling to keep his belief in Santa Claus alive.
Well, as you can predict if you have heard the song, Grandma walks out of the house on Christmas Eve with a cup of eggnog in one hand and the tainted fruitcake in the other, and is promptly clobbered by a flying team of reindeer. The family can find no trace of her, and it is up to young Jake to make contact with Santa, find Grandma, and keep Cousin Mel from selling the store and stealing all the money. Along the way, we are treated to scenes and dialogue that re-create moments from the song with agonizing precision. Oh yeah, and a scene where Santa goes on trial, lifted directly from Miracle on 34th Street.
This DVD from Warner Brothers has excellent picture quality. Aside from some bad aliasing and the occasional moiré problem, I could detect no digital flaws at all. The picture is solid, with no grain. Colors are beautiful and vibrant; the all-important reds and blacks are handled with ease. This is a very good transfer.
The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround. You will detect most of the sound front-and-center, with very little use of the supporting channels. There is the occasional whisper of music that makes its way to the rear speakers, but even that does not happen very often. Overall the sound is sharp and clear, with dialogue crisp and easily understood.
Extra content is somewhat limited, as one might expect. Still, there are a few appropriate features. First, there is a cast listing showing each character and a headshot of the real person playing that character. There is a feature called "Jump to a Song" which lets you access "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" or any of the other songs written especially for this program. There is a costume gallery, showing each character in the variety of outfits he or she wears during the cartoon. There is "Grandma's Guessing Game," a series of five multiple-choice questions regarding the movie. Finally, there is a preview trailer for Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Not a lot of extra content, but it does show some effort.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It takes a lot of padding to turn a three-minute song into an hour-long cartoon, and it shows. The effort to concoct a plot based on the song was not entirely successful, leaving us with a storyline that is unbelievable and unoriginal at the same time. The additional songs written for this Christmas special lack any sort of punch or humor, and fail to have even the limited appeal of the original "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Adding to the pain of the plot is the apparent need to shoehorn every last detail from the song into odd places in the movie. As if this wasn't bad enough, once this is done the characters recite dialogue to point these things out, making sure we know how clever the writers were to get those precious jokes into the show. It's like being beaten over the head with an inside joke that was neither terribly inside nor terribly funny to begin with.
The quality of the animation leaves a lot to be desired as well. It is all fairly crudely done, looking a bit like the worst of Hanna-Barbera. There are a number of instances where still frames are used, with camera pans across the picture to give a false sense of motion. Overall, the animation is flat and unimaginative, with few sharp details and none of the sense of perspective that one gets from Disney or DreamWorks or even the old Warner Brothers cartoons with Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner.
The voice acting is passable but nothing great. It does seem that some characters changed voices, or speech patterns, or inflections, often from one sentence to the next. The characters as written are pretty much one-note sketches anyway, so there was not a lot there for the actors to work with in the first place.
As we have learned so often from Saturday Night Live, what is hilarious at three minutes often becomes unbearable at greater length. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer is not the worst kiddie Christmas special ever, but it certainly is nowhere near the best, and lags far behind even the middle of the pack. There was really no reason that it needed to be made, and there is even less reason to watch it. I'm sure there are some of you that won't be able to pass this DVD up, but I encourage you to try.
I suppose a guilty verdict is in order, but since the Christmas season is approaching I'll let Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer off with a warning this time. It hasn't really committed any crimes, but it hasn't done anything worthwhile, either.
We stand adjourned.
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