A large number of the rules surrounding Santa and his elves are, at this point, very well understood. From the naughty and nice lists to the beauty of tinsel to the number of creatures allowed to be stirring on any given Christmas eve, many of the big questions have been covered. Any movie or television show that is successfully able to acknowledge those conventions, honoring and (potentially) subverting them at the same time, and wrapping it all around a fun story, stands a pretty good chance of success. Such is the case with one of Disney’s newer holiday classics, Prep & Landing. Less successful is its sequel, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice. Both are now available on Blu-ray in a “Totally Tinsel Collection.”
Originally airing on ABC during the 2009 holiday season, Prep & Landing introduces us to Lanny and Wayne, two Christmas elves on the “prep & landing team.” It is their job, as the name indicates, to prepare homes for the arrival (and landing) of Santa Claus. Wayne, voiced by Dave Foley, is a little irked to be in the job, feeling as though he’s been passed over for promotion. Lanny (Derek Richardson) is Wayne’s new recruit. He is the exact sort of overeager person anyone with a number of years under their belt hates to have to train (picture Kenneth from an early episode of 30 Rock).
The original Prep & Landing is, in a word, hysterical. It beautifully takes any number of conventional Santa-related notions and winks and nods at them. The elves of the Prep and Landing team have little computerized gingerbread men which not only scan to take the temperature of the milk but can also determine the number of “creatures stirring.” The cartoon deftly illustrates just how it is that Santa can get around the world in one night and from where all the various phrases arise.
Beyond that, the story it tells is heart-warming too. Wayne, upon being passed over for promotion, is more than a little miffed and is close to winding up on the Naughty List himself. It takes Lanny to open his eyes to what’s important. By the end of the half-hour (or what would be a half-hour were there commercials), order is restored and Wayne is happy with his lot in life.
The show uses so many Christmas conventions that one wonders just how the series could top itself and, watching Naughty vs. Nice, it’s clear that it doesn’t. For Naughty vs. Nice, the franchise seems to decide that everything worked so well in the first special that they may as well repeat it in the second. Consequently, our newly happy Wayne is returned to his former miserable state and Lanny is just as naïve and foolish. Because the entire episode can’t operate in exactly the same manner, we’re introduced to a new reason for Wayne to be miserable, his brother Noel (one syllable, not two, and voiced by Rob Riggle). Noel, like Lanny, doesn’t quite realize the upset he causes Wayne. Perhaps unlike Lanny though, Noel is actually fantastic at his job working the Naughty List. The brothers (with Lanny) are tasked with retrieving a lost device that will allow a child to hack Santa’s naughty list and clear his/her name, allowing presents to be delivered.
The second special truly manages to be ho-hum in the face of the first’s ho ho ho. While the first special isn’t the most tightly plotted of escapades, it has a bunch of little things that make it work, and, as stated, they use so many Christmas tropes that there are very few left over for the less tightly plotted sequel. Without all those bits of funny that work in the first to distract you in the second, the plot flaws are that much more glaring and that much more upsetting.
Perhaps it is foolish to speak of plot flaws in a child’s cartoon such as this, but then again, perhaps not. The first special is a true Christmas gift, and the second more of a re-gift. It features the same voice cast (which includes Sarah Chalke), and adds Riggle, Chris Parnell, and more in order to make it seem bigger, but it feels much more like an idea that was rushed into production based upon the success of the first than an idea which was given the time it needed to flourish. Younger audiences will be very happy with both, and while the second will prove diverting for older audiences, the first is truly enjoyable.
Disney has loaded the Blu-ray with special features. These tend to be of the EPK-style interview, but they do still provide some illumination into what took place behind the scenes (but, as with the sequel, some of it is undercut hearing the same things more than once). More interesting to the younger set will be the various intra-fictional world Prep & Landing commercials and news pieces. And, even better than those are the actual Prep & Landing shorts, Operation: Secret Santa and Tiny’s Big Adventure. A DVD is also included
One thing that neither special lets the audience down with is the presentation. The Blu-ray is absolutely fantastic in terms of both the visuals. Every detail is well considered here, even if its just soot coming off of a coal elf, forgive us, it brings the holidays to life. You will find yourself immersed visually and aurally in the world of Prep & Landing, whether you’re in the control room back on the North Pole, on Santa’s sleigh, or with Lanny and Wayne fending off the evils of your average suburban home. At least, you’ll be as aurally immersed as with any television show — don’t expect it to sound like a 100 million dollar blockbuster and you won’t be disappointed. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track uses the surrounds for effects and everything is crisp and clear, it just isn’t quite as full as other presentations.
In the end, Naughty vs. Nice is a let down being the first Prep & Landing sets the bar far too high. It is a special created without, it seems, the thought of a sequel coming down the line. Said sequel isn’t so terribly bad as it is astoundingly mediocre. The original though deserves a place on your shelf alongside Christmas classics like Rudolph, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. Naughty vs. Nice is more of a Frosty’s Return or Rudolph’s Shiny New Year – your Christmas specials thirst can be slaked without seeing it.