Though he's prone to visits from magic pixies in the wee hours of the morning, Judge Bill Gibron says this particular imp would give even the sturdiest of Christmas constitutions the holiday heebie-jeebies.
Undersized Imp Goes Noel Nutzoid!
It's the week before Christmas and the North Pole is buzzing. As toys are painted and flight plans prepared, the elves have a problem on their hands…and his name is Eubie. With a personality driven by an undying ember of absolute unbridled happiness, this overly joyful sprite is making life amongst his fellow workers miserable. He's driving everyone nuts. Santa finally assigns him to a dark desk job in the Naughty and Nice division of the CIA—Claus Intelligence Agency. There, Eubie learns of a small town at the bottom of a dark valley were every kid is bad. In this place, called Bluesville, no one celebrates the holidays. Instead, they live lives of sour, glum disappointment. Ever optimistic, the hyper little helper decides to travel to this mean, melancholy burg in hopes of cheering everyone up. But this is one unhappy town, and even a Happy Elf like Eubie might have trouble inspiring glee.
The Happy Elf walks the always dangerous winter wonderland border between sweet and saccharine so sloppily that you half expect the movie to give up and drop into the syrupy sludge of a dozen dopier holiday happenings that have come before. After all, the storyline keeps slipping into that quagmire of queasiness that usually accompanies any attempt at a modern Yuletide treat—and besides, Harry Connick, Jr. is also on hand to add his New Orleans Noel nausea to the mix. But for all its efforts to reek of unclean reindeer stables, for its muddled message and heavy-handed approach to animated mayhem, this is still a cute little Xmas extravaganza that produces more joy to the viewing world than sullen, silent nights.
Some of the success rests squarely on the lunatic shoulders of the lead character, Eubie, who is not just happy but manic. He's a bipolar North Poler with a goofy grin so permanently plastered across his merry mug that you think he's moments away from going on a workshop-wide killing spree. He outperks daytime talk show hosts and moves like a spastic with 1,000,000 CCs of caffeine surging through his sugar-plummed bloodstream. Drawing obvious inspiration from Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey, Martin Short (namely, his king geek Ed Grimley), and Alfred E. Newman, the animators have crafted a real demon of delirium. He is an insane Santa's little helper who functions equally well as both a Christmas creation and the fictional-character equivalent of biting down on a razor blade. If Herbie, the elfin dentist wannabe from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, still gives you the wicked willies, steer clear of Eubie. One glimpse of his amphetamine antics, complete with a total lack of internal monologue, and you will be frightened of any halfling—including the severely non-threatening fairy—for the rest of your natural-born days.
But it is precisely this prickliness that makes The Happy Elf ersatz endearing. Unlike so many other unlikely holiday heroes who are just misunderstood (the Winter Warlock, the ever-bouncing Bumble), Eubie is genuinely irritating, a super-sunny leprechaun with a personality that would peel paint off nutcrackers. His efforts are honest but woefully misplaced, and when he sets out to help Bluesville, his focus is so fierce he's like a lethal laser beam with oversized elephant ears. And just like all persistent pests that make life more than a tad exasperating, we feel like seeing Eubie appeased, if only to calm him down and shut him up. So we follow his story and surrender to some of the wonderfully inventive animated work that accompanies our overly cheerful cherub.
A few of the supporting players stand out as well. Carol Kane has more or less mastered the sonic equivalent of massive retardation in her reading of Eubie's elfin "love interest" and The Daily Show's Lewis Black gets to vent in a decidedly PG mode as the Head of the Naughty and Nice Intelligence Department, who is stuck having to house Eubie during the seasonal rush. While it's a nice homage to have Mickey Rooney playing Kris Kringle—again (he did it first for Rankin-Bass in 1970's Santa Claus is Coming to Town), the rest of the voice work is merely adequate. Some of it is rather stale, while at other times, we can predict (with relative—and ethnic—accuracy) how a certain person will speak. What is flawless though is the look of the film. The 3D environment is rich and detailed; aside from having a few too many teeth in their already overstretched mouths, the figures are rendered with a fluidity and an eccentricity that keeps us visually engaged.
It's just too bad that the story stumbles. Eubie spends so much time being established as a nuisance that his eventual trip to Bluesville is rushed and rather uneventful. The people of the pitiful place are also underserved by the narrative, given a general grouchiness while supposedly suffering for decades with a lack of life-giving sun. The conclusion is convoluted, the songs are uninspired, and there is an atmosphere of trying too hard that hinders the entire concept. Eubie is indeed a devious little pixie. Perhaps a cartoon not so settled in the "glad tidings of great joy" ideal would work better next time. Bad Santa proved that Christmas can handle a little cynical insanity. The Happy Elf's chipper main character would be a perfect foil for a callous commercialized holiday season. Here's hoping he finds a less loopy scenario the next time ou.
For this DVD release, Anchor Bay delivers an interesting digital package. First up, one is given a) or in a TV-friendly 1.33:1 full frame dynamic. In either version, the animation looks excellent. The colors are correct and the contrasts are tight and controlled. On the sonic side, the Dolby Digital Surround—in either 2.0 or a much better 5.1 mix—is clear and crisp. Dialogue is easily discernible and the music—while mediocre—is handled with depth and aplomb.
As for extras, most of the material on this disc is oriented toward the wee ones—and it should be. Aside from a nice EPK style "Making Of" (no real production insight, but lots of shots of trds, we are treated to a color book, printable holiday cards, a recipe for "Eubie's Holiday Treat," and three games ("Eugie's Gift Grab," "North Pole Puzzle Fun," and "Build an Elf"). Nothing here is exceptional or solely supplementary of the cartoon experience, but it's nice to see that the target audience is being considered when a film like this is released.
It's hard to imagine Eubie snuggling up to Frosty, Rudolph, or Good King Wenceslas in the pantheon of classic Christmas characters. Heck, even Hardrock, Coco and Joe seem destined to have more seasonal staying power than this blissed-out bucktoothed blabbermouth. Still, as an alternative to the annual abomination of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, this CGI spectacle is a fun, frenzied offering. Just make sure to stand clear of Eubie when he's on a Yuletide roll. He's prone to episodic fits.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• "The Making Of The Happy Elf: An Interview with Harry Connick, Jr."
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