With the Christmas season comes TV specials, and while the 90s seemed content to just rehash a few of the classics, the 2000s and onward have seen an upsurge in new specials. Most of them are unabashedly for children, and that’s as it should be. Most of them are also unabashedly just an attempt to get a bit more use out of the 3D models created for movies that have nothing to do with Christmas, and I’m not so sure how to feel about that. While two of the best Christmas specials were based on already-existing franchises (A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Garfield Christmas), I’m not sure the sentiment of the season translates so well to a fantasy land (Shrek the Halls) or animals several millennia before the birth of Christ (Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas). Of course, Ice Age has always had chronological irregularities (Dawn of the Dinosaurs?), and as I said, these are meant for kids, and kids will enjoy them regardless of any logical flaws or lack of narrative integrity.
With all that, it’s nice to have a new Christmas special that is its own thing, actually built around Christmas, and which acknowledges with a wink and a nod that adults will be watching it with their kids. I don’t have a kid, but my inner child is alive and well, and often demands cartoons, and I enjoyed the original 2009 Disney cartoon, Prep & Landing. Two years later, they’ve made a second full special, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, and I thought I’d check it out.
Prep & Landing was a story about the elves that help Santa Claus make it from house to house in a smooth orderly fashion. It introduced us to Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley), a senior prep & landing elf who has become just slightly jaded, and his eager and naive new partner Lanny (Derek Richardson). They make sure all kids are sound asleep, the fireplace is extinguished, and that there are running lights to guide the reindeer during landing. Mission control consists of the highly caffeinated Magee (Sarah Chalke) and tech elf Mr. Thistleton (Chris Parnell).
I count at least four cups there.
Naughty vs. Nice introduces another element to the story, that of the “coal elves”. You can probably guess their job. During one mission, however, a pair of coal elves finds themselves chased by the naughty kid they’re “gifting” and accidentally leave behind a “Fruitcake” — a piece of elf tech that communicates with the central database. The following year, that kid is attempting to use the Fruitcake to hack into the database and get changed from the naughty list to the nice list. Magee assigns Wayne and Lanny to recover the Fruitcake, along with one of the coal elves as an expert in naughty children — Wayne’s larger little brother, Noel (Rob Riggle). Where Wayne is restrained and prone to occasional bits of deadpan quips, Noel is brash and outgoing. Sibling rivalry ensues.
Naughty vs. Nice isn’t quite up to the level of the first one, being just a bit more predictable and a bit more shallow. (Not that the first was Charles Dickens or anything.) But it’s reasonably fun, and I doubt there’s a kid who wouldn’t be entertained. And like the first one, there are little jokes thrown in for the adults in the audience. Some of it is as simple as the rather obvious substitute swearing the characters use, and some of it is going to go way over the heads of the children, such as when Lanny, caught on the wrong end of his own sparkle dust, is acting both sleepy and dopey and demanding pizza.
“Oh, frostbite” manages to sound positively filthy.
The animation quality is fairly high; characters move naturally and have believable, readable expressions. Local lights, not always the easiest thing to portray well in 3D animation, sparkle and twinkle the way they’re supposed to. And all of the voice actors do their jobs well enough that it’s easy to believe that this character would have that voice and mannerisms.
While I think the original was slightly better in terms of plot, and both are definitely kid fare (again, as it should be), Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice is a reasonably fun short Christmas special.