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MGM Studios DVD presents
Prancer (1989)

Carol: I've never seen Santa Claus, and I've done a lot of looking.
Jessie: Well, you've never seen God. Suddenly there's no God?

- Ariana Richards, Rebecca Harrell

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: October 01, 2001

Stars: Sam Elliott, Rebecca Harrell
Other Stars: Abe Vigoda, Cloris Leachman
Director: John Hancock

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: G for (nothing offensive)
Run Time: 01h:43m:05s
Release Date: October 02, 2001
UPC: 027616865885
Genre: family


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BB-B- D-

DVD Review

Christmas seems to bring out the best in people and the worst in filmmakers. True, there are genuine holiday classics like A Christmas Story, the 1947 version of A Miracle on 34th Street, and It's a Wonderful Life, but especially of late, family targeted Christmas films have gone for cheap sentimentality (I'm looking at you, Chris Home Alone Columbus). Let's face it, the Christmas season is overhyped anyway. Marketing has packaged love and goodwill to be sold in convenient, once-a-year bundles, and it's all too easy for a filmmaker to tap into the same hollow sentimentality. Prancer, the 1989 film about a girl convinced she must save one of Santa's reindeer, somehow escapes this trap to become a genuine, honest-to-goodness reflection of the Christmas spirit.

Jessica Riggs (Harrell) lives on a farm with her older brother and her father John (Elliott). Jessica's mother is dead, and though she loves her father, he often has trouble relating to the flights of fancy of little girl. Moreover, the farm has fallen on hard times, and John fears he may have to send his daughter to live with her aunt. A few days before Christmas, Jessica is walking home from school when she witnesses a near-accident, as a wooden reindeer falls from a Santa display, almost hitting a passing car. Jessica, of course, calls for its replacement, because Santa can't fly without all eight deer. Later, in the woods, she encounters a reindeer, one surprisingly unafraid of humans, nursing a hurt leg, damaged in the same place as the fallen decoration. She becomes convinced that this is the real Prancer, and sets out to nurse him back to health and return him to the North Pole.

The story sounds rather corny, and is certainly ripe for some overdone, heartwarming moralizing on the faith of a child, ect. Fortunately, director John Hancock and screenwriter Greg Taylor have taken a more subtle approach with the proceedings. Magical elements are kept to a minimum, and the sentimentalism of the girl's story is nicely balanced by the weight of the family drama. John's character is also dealt with sympathetically. Even when he plans to sell the deer to a local butcher, he is never treated as the villain. The only real stumbling points are several subplots that do nothing but pad the running time, especially Jessica's run-in with the local "weird old lady," who inevitably turns out to have a heart of gold.

Child actors are often hit or miss, and when they are required to carry a film, the results are wildly mixed. Rebecca Harrell is very good as Jessica. She doesn't seem to be acting, per se. Rather, she seems to capture the reality of childhood, the sometimes random bursts of energy and emotion. She is very natural onscreen. Sam Elliot isn't bad either, and he does nice work in forming a character that is both sympathetic and realistic.

Prancer might be a bit cheesy for cynical teenagers, but young ones and parents should enjoy it. It's nice to have something to watch as Christmas other than Charlie Brown.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This transfer is decent, but not quite perfect. On the plus side, the print used was in excellent shape, especially for an 1980s' film, and there are few noticeable scratches or lines. Colors appear to be a bit muted, but that seems to be the intended look. Though blacks are rock solid, shadow detail is only fair, and some scenes are a bit hard to make out. Fine detail is only fair, with some shots appearing a bit soft. Though I noticed no artifacting, even in snow scenes (which were a real problem on MGM's Fargo disc), some shots of the sky appear overly grainy.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio mix is fairly standard, and well suited to a low-key family drama. Surrounds are mostly inactive throughout, but the film doesn't really call for their use (though they do provide some ambiance, like the sound of wind in a storm). Other than that, the dialogue is well supported by the front mains, but at times, it sounds a little harsh or over-modulated. The front soundstage feels a bit narrow, with limited directionality. The score is well represented, with nice use of LFE.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As with most of MGM's budget titles, the only extra included in the theatrical trailer, in widescreen. No English subtitles.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

When it comes to family fare, Prancer isn't bad. It more or less avoids the sentimental treacle that overpowers most children's entertainment to deliver an honest, affecting look at childhood innocence. DVD quality is fair when it comes to the audio and video transfers, and the $14.99 price tag makes it worth picking up for the kids' holiday viewing.

 


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