tek's rating:

Prancer (G)
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 1989, but I didn't see it until 2016. (And when I did, I thought it seemed like something that would have come out in the early to mid-80s, rather than the late 80s.) Um... so like, sometime prior to Christmas 2015, I saw this DVD in Rite-Aid, in fact I must have seen it a few different times, and always thought I'd buy it there sometime. Because Ariana Richards was in it, and that summer "Jurassic World" had been in theaters. I didn't get to see that movie, but I did watch the older Jurassic Park movies on DVD, and of course she was in the first one. So I thought it would be an apt year for me to watch this movie. But by the time I was ready to buy it on my next visit to the store, it was gone. And then in January 2016, I saw it in K-Mart, so I bought it there, and waited until December to watch it. (I was going to watch it on Christmas, but ended up watching a different DVD, and didn't get to this until the 29th, but... I figure anything up to and including January 1 is still the holiday season.) Anyway, Richards's role in the movie was actually pretty minor, but that's okay. It was still a better movie than I expected it to be.

It begins in an elementary school classroom in the small town of Three Oaks, Michigan. The school kids are being led by their teacher in singing a Christmas hymn, in preparation for an upcoming Christmas pageant. Because eight-year-old Jessica Riggs is singing too loudly, we quickly learn that she's perhaps a little too enthusiastic about Christmas, an assumption that's soon borne out by... well, pretty much everything else that happens in the movie. (I don't want to get into every detail.) Her best friend is a girl named Carol (Richards), though their friendship has its ups and downs, for reasons I don't want to spoil. More importantly, I should say that Jessica's mother is dead, and her father, John (Sam Elliott), doesn't have much time to spend with Jessie, or her older brother, Steve (with whom she doesn't get along). Their farm has fallen on hard times, and John spends most of his time doing whatever he can to get by financially. And the stress of that makes it hard to deal with Jessica being all Jessica-ish. In fact, we eventually learn that he's planning on sending her to live with her aunt Sarah, which Jessica doesn't want to do. (Not that she has anything against Sarah, she just doesn't want to leave her father, despite the fact that he can be rather brusque and standoffish.)

Anyway... one day, Jessica meets a reindeer, which, for reasons that don't bear explanation, she believes is one of Santa's reindeer, Prancer. It's wounded, and she eventually ends up hiding it in a shed on the farm, and nursing it back to health. She intends to return it to Santa on the night before Christmas Eve, and writes a letter telling him so, which she gives to a mall Santa to deliver to the real one. Well, he gives her letter to the editor of the local newspaper, and I must say I quite liked the headline of the story. And... well, other things happen, which I'm kind of saying out of order. Like Jessica befriending a reclusive old woman played by Cloris Leachman, and a veterinarian played by Abe Vigoda. (The DVD case gives them top billing, along with Elliott, because they're the most famous actors in the movie, though Leachman and Vigoda's roles are even smaller than Richards's.) I really think they're just in the movie to give a personal sense of the townsfolk having particular reasons to care about Jessica, though really everyone ends up caring about both Jessica and "Prancer" because of the newspaper article. And... other stuff happens that I don't want to spoil, but I will say that towards the end, the movie has a scene with a feeling that I thought was quite similar to the end of It's a Wonderful Life. (And incidentally, the movie even has a cop named Bert.)

So, for much of the film, I thought it was... well, vaguely boring. I mean, not really boring, but... not particularly entertaining. I kind of liked it, just because Jessica was such an adorable little kid. But before the end, I found myself liking it more than that. I suppose it was partly the emotional similarity to "It's a Wonderful Life" (though this movie is lightyears removed from the quality of that film). I dunno... it definitely has some funny bits, and some solid emotional beats, even before the end. (It was clear fairly early on that John loved Jessica, even if he wasn't good at showing it. And there's a scene where I expected- or hoped- Steve would tell his sister he loved her, and he did. So any demonstration of love between Jessica and her father or her brother had some real impact, because of how different from the norm it was, even if it was expected.) As for how things ultimately end with regard to the reindeer... that I definitely don't want to spoil. Is he really Santa's? Or is he just a regular reindeer? The film does seem to answer that, but I don't think it's really that important. I think the story is just as magical, either way.

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