Judge Clark Douglas has been on the naughty list for ages.
Our review of Prep & Landing, published November 27th, 2011, is also available.
"This is it, people! 364 days of preparation, one night of perfect execution."
Creating a satisfying animated Christmas special is a tricky proposition. We receive a glut of new offerings every season, and yet the truly memorable ones are few and far between. While the Emmy-winning Prep & Landing doesn't quite match the charm of heavy hitters like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas, the simple fact that it's a rather pleasant way to spend 22 minutes permits it to stand out amidst a sea of obnoxious, clunky holiday specials (the reviewer said while shooting a stern glance at an ever-increasing pile of terrible Dreamworks holiday specials).
The premise is a moderately entertaining one: Santa Claus does indeed visit millions of houses every night, but there's an enormous amount of prep work which has to be done before his arrival. A burnt-out elf named Wayne (Dave Foley, A Bug's Life) has been part of Santa's "Prep & Landing" team for over 200 years. Before Santa arrives and slides down a chimney, Wayne has to ensure that all children and animals are asleep, that milk and cookies have been laid out and that the roof has been cleared for Santa's landing. Wayne has grown weary of this grunt work and is eager to receive his long-delayed promotion to a cushy office job. Alas, Santa promotes one of Wayne's co-workers instead and saddles Wayne with an overeager rookie partner named Lanny (Derek Richardson, Men in Trees). In response, Wayne determines that he's just not going to put any effort into his work anymore, but fails to realize the potentially disastrous consequences of his choice.
Every story beat of Prep & Landing is thoroughly predictable, but the characters are appealing and the tale's playful sense of humor goes a long way towards keeping things interesting. Buoyed by surprisingly strong animation and a seasonally-themed Michael Giacchino score, the special manages to deliver more than enough charm to sustain its brief running time. In a lot of ways, it feels like a distilled version of the 2011 animated feature Arthur Christmas (it's hard to say whether the latter borrowed from the former given the lengthy pre-production process in the world of animation), and I suspect your feelings towards that pleasant feature will largely mirror your reaction to Prep & Landing.
In another pleasant development which further bucks the Christmas special trend, the sequel Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice manages to be just as appealing as its predecessor. The story concerns Wayne being forced to team up with his rowdy younger brother Noel (Rob Riggle, 21 Jump Street). The special finds a nice balance between recapturing much of what made the original appealing while managing to develop its own identity. The tone is slightly more frantic the second time around, but it's subtle enough that the special doesn't really feel like a jarring change-of-pace for the series.
Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection (Blu-ray) has received a decent 1080p/1.78:1 transfer which highlights the "above-average-for-television" animation and playful visual design. Colors have a lot of pop, though it's the darker scenes which make a strong impression (this is a series which embraces shadows and nighttime atmosphere in its visual design). There are moments of banding, but they're less prominent than the similar moments found on the transfer of many animated TV shows. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is pristine, though the mix isn't particularly energetic or striking given the small-screen roots of the specials being featured. Supplements include the animated short film "Operation: Secret Santa" (a 7-minute piece featuring guest star Betty White), a handful of "North Pole Commercials," a 1-minute short detailing "Tiny's Big Adventure," a 2-minute "Behind the Jingle" featurette spotlighting singer Grace Potter, some fake North pole orientation videos, fake newsreels, some TV spots and a DVD Copy.
Considering the generally dire options on store shelves which tend to appear during the holidays, Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection is one of the better choices available in its category. Disney's Blu-ray release is a good one which should provide youngsters with an hour or so of genuine fun.
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