Elliot might be a miniature horse performing the goat run at Walter Whittick’s petting zoo, but that doesn’t stop him thinking big. You see, Whittick’s Witty Bitty Farm has a sideline in training reindeer, and with Santa Claus having fallen victim to a succession of last-minute retirements almost scuppering a number of Christmas deliveries, Elliot dreams of making it to the emergency reindeer trials where Walter is taking Elliot’s nemesis D.J. – son of Donner – in an attempt to secure a place on Santa’s team. Jennifer Westcott’s film isn’t remotely original (although it has nothing to do with any of the children’s books going by the same name), and might not be very expensive-looking either; the character movement, especially that involving the four-legged cast, is a little sketchy, and the modelling isn’t especially imaginative. But it’s far from being a write-off.
In the four-minute making-of featurette (the only extra feature included), Morena Baccarin describes the film as, ‘Really sweet, really cute and really funny,’ before going on to say, ‘I think there should be more material like this out in the world, especially right now’. And she rather has a point. Sure, there are plenty of other computer-generated kids’ pictures going through all the same motions, and really the question comes down to, ‘So is there room for one more?’ But the answer will always be ‘Yes’, as long as there’s enough jokes to keep the adults entertained – and there are; a couple of sub-plots involving the media and industrial streamlining, while not exactly inventive, at least show a little ambition beyond the most basic fundamentals – and enough thwarted ambition to keep the children engaged until the inevitable happy ending.
The opening act is a little heavy-handed, and huge signposts predict every setback and development along the way, but the cast is appealing and committed and that’s a big part of the battle. The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson is Elliot, but it’s his constant sidekick, a sarcastic but motivational Bowie-eyed goat called Hazel, who keeps things ticking over; similarly while Rob Tinkler’s farm-owner Walter is a somewhat two-dimensional ex-minor league baseball star whose career died after a case of the yips, it’s his romantic interest, an investigative journalist called Corkie (Baccarin) uncovering the scoop on Santa’s reindeer problems, who stops things getting boring. There are enough small touches – Hazel’s encounter with a tin can, for instance – to ensure this isn’t as by-the-numbers as it might have been.
This won’t bother the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks, then, but for a low-budget Canadian film it’s been picked up for US cinema distribution, and on home video over here it’ll doubtless keep many a child (and the occasional parent) entertained over the Christmas break.
Extras: making of
THE LITTLEST REINDEER / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JENNIFER WESTCOTT / SCREENPLAY: JENNIFER WESTCOTT / STARRING: JOSH HUTCHERSON, SAMANTHA BEE, MARTIN SHORT, ROB TINKLER, MORENA BACCARIN, JEFF DUNHAM, JOHN CLEESE / RELEASE DATE: 29TH OCTOBER