Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger grabs his bagpipes and a quart of eggnog.
"I'll be home for Christmas!"—Toot
It isn't every day that you get a chance to watch the genesis of a new children's franchise. Holly Hobbie has created a handful of Toot and Puddle books, and now National Geographic has released the first Toot and Puddle movie. Can this animated 46-minute Christmas special seamlessly expand the Toot and Puddle universe?
Facts of the Case
Toot, a daring and adventerous pig, lives in Woodcock Pocket with his roommate Puddle, a gentle homebody. Toot periodically gets a jones to travel; no matter where he goes, or for how long, Puddle will keep the home fires burning.
This time, Toot is off to bonnie Scotland for his great Aunt Peg's 100th birthday. It falls uncomfortably close to Christmas, but Toot assures Puddle that they'll be together by Christmas Eve. While Toot learns about the joys of kilts and bagpipes, Puddle entertains young cousin Opal. When an icestorm hits Scotland, will Toot find a way to get home?
Hollie Hobby's original Toot and Puddle book is filled with spacious, funky images and is light on plot. Toot travels the world in near silence while Puddle stays home to read his postcards. Toot and Puddle: I'll Be Home for Christmas, based on the book of the same name, is essentially the same story.
The books work through an almost Spartan restraint; Holly Hobbie lets the majesty of the images speak for themselves. Aside from scant characterization and the odd sentiment here or there, we're mostly left to fill in the blanks. As in other transitions between children's lit and the screen, the writers and animators had to expand the world of the books while staying true to the characters. In this case, the characters aren't particularly deep.
National Geographic has solved this problem by getting back to basics. Toot and Puddle: I'll Be Home for Christmas is a pure distillation of The Christmas Special and the Travelogue. The domestic side of the special is filled with wreath hanging, baked gooding, tree chopping, light hanging, and cocoa guzzling scenes that slap Currier and Ives sentiment onto animated pigs. Meanwhile, Toot experiences Scottish life in the form of a kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing, wee-laddie-ing Uncle who happens to drive by Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Bridge, and Loch Lomond before arriving at an anscestral home complete with coats of arms, ancient portraits, and huge stone staircases. If these scenes lack creativity, at least they are gentle and warm without beeing saccharine. In fact, I rolled my eyes much less at Toot and Puddle's filler scenes than I have during similar interpretations of children's books.
By the time I'll Be Home for Christmas wrapped, my son and I had both laughed a few times and shared some quiet moments. I'll Be Home for Christmas concludes with a dramatic (if somewhat forced) cliffhanger that is designed to bring a lump into our throats. The movie pushes the right buttons, but I don't feel like I came away with a deeper understanding of Toot or Puddle, or what distinguishes them from other children's show characters. This may not matter at all if you simply want a heartwarming Christmas tale with a world-traveling spin.
The animation is impressive, particularly in the beginning minutes. A realistic snowstorm and fluid character movements reveal a careful touch from the animators. Some later scenes are more static, but the overall level of quality is high. The widescreen transfer is bright and bold, though the last half of the feature is plagued by blocking and mosquito noise around areas of contrast (such as "Santa's" hat). The DVD is presented in a clear Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that surrounds the listener at key times while staying mostly to the front. There is also a stereo mix with distinct separation.
National Geographic includes a basic singalong which adds subtitles to a song in the movie. There's also a brief discussion of the Scottish landmarks featured in the movie presented in a postcard metaphor that echoes the books.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So Toot and Puddle are turtleneck-wearing gourmets who share a bedroom. That's cool…inclusive, I get it. But did they have to nickname one of the characters "Pud" and have him live in Woodcock Pocket? It's just too much. Speaking of inclusive, you'll see every form of native dress from every major country in a scant 46 minutes. That's a lot of diversity to absorb in one sitting.
I'll Be Home for Christmas may not have cemented the Toot and Puddle franchise out of the starting gate, but it is a positive start. I wish some of Hobbie's funky brushwork had made it into the animation to spice things up a little. As a Christmas Special, I'll Be Home for Christmas is right on target. It presents a heartwarming message of hearth, home, and friendship with an über Scottish flair.
Tis nae contest, laddie; we'll let these two pigs flee.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: National Geographic
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