*** This is a reader-submitted post by Rachel Wagner. ***
Many of us older animation addicts have great memories of watching the great stop motion Rankin/Bass Christmas specials from the 70s. These are not the greatest animation, but they have an energy and charm to them that make them great for the holiday season.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much new material for kids today with a similar look and feel. That is one reason why I found the recently released on Blu-ray for the stop-motion special Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas so charming. It is basically a remake of the popular 2003 Will Ferrell live action comedy, Elf. But in this case it is told through stop motion, which – in a world of CG everything – is very refreshing.
It also uses the songs from the Broadway musical Elf: The Musical, which gives all the songs a more polished feel than you might expect from a TV production like this.
Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas stars Jim Parsons as Buddy, Mark Hamill as his Dad (Mr. Hobbs), Ed Asner as Santa, Kate Micucci as Jovie, and in smaller parts Fred Armisen, Jay Leno, Matt Lauer and Gilbert Gottfried. Parsons and Hamill are the particular standouts as Buddy and his Scrooge-like Dad. I know a lot of people, including myself, did not care for Parsons’ vocal performance in Home, but I found it much more palatable here. It fit the innocent nature of Buddy and the energetic spirit of the movie.
Having only heard Mark Hamill as the Joker in an animated production I was really thrilled to hear his unique take on the character of Walter Hobbs. I love James Caan in the original, but here Walter is a bit less shouty and more disappointed at having to work on Christmas Eve to sell a book.
If you are not a fan of the original film you are unlikely to be won over by this film, but the stop-motion animation is fun to watch- much better than I expected it to be. It’s smooth and fluid and full of interesting color choices. Often everyone but Buddy is blue or gray in tone. The way filmmakers created smoke, water, tears, fire and everything else feels very old school – as good stop-motion animation should be. One could say it is a loving homage to the Rankin/Bass shorts.
The other standout for me is the songs. Since the story is identical to the original movie, the songs brought something new and fresh to the table. Some standouts are:
“Happy All the Time” – Ed Asner as Santa
“I’ll Believe in You” – Max Charles as Michael Hobbs and Rachael MacFarlane as Emily Hobbs
“A Christmas Song” – Jim Parsons as Buddy and Kate Micucci as Jovie
“Nobody Cares About Sant” a- sung by the fake Santas including Kevin Michael Richardson, Kevin Shinick, and Jay Leon
Christopher Guardino and Matthew Sklar do a great job with the songs along with the score. When combined with the animation they gave the film a cute, optimistic, energetic tone. I particularly liked the “Nobody Cares About Santa” number sung by the fake Santas. It was a clever way to bring in the fake Santa laugh from the original film without having to have Buddy work at the department store, which would be more difficult to animate.
The only vocal performance I struggled with was Gilbert Gottfried as the Mr Greenway, Mr Hobbs’ hard-nosed boss. He’s very shrill and shrieky here, but luckily we don’t get too much of him so it all works out.
I also wished sometimes that they told a few more new jokes and didn’t make such an exact recreation or remake of the original source material, just to keep things from feeling stale and tired. The “Happy All the Time” number is probably one of the most creative in this regard, because it gives us a funny song about Santa being tired of Christmas.
Over all I really enjoyed the short. It had some great stop motion animation, good songs, and a cheerful message for the holidays. I think kids will really like it (maybe even more so than the original movie). It will certainly entertain small children much more than the original film.
As far as the Blu-ray goes, you can get it on DVD/Blu-ray combo pack with a digital code along with it. I wish there were more special features, but I am afraid it is only a 5 minute behind the scenes featurette about mostly the voice cast and their experience with the piece.
In the end, I think this will be a film you can add to your Christmas movie watching list. It’s not spectacular, but with good songs, vocal performances, and funny story it is definitely worth checking out.
What do you think of Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas? Let us know in the comments!
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes