We hate to root against an underdog, but if Elliot is picked to help guide Santa’s sleigh, it will throw off the rhyme scheme for everyone’s favorite Christmas carol. Frankly, he hardly stands a chance. For starters, he isn’t even a reindeer. He is a miniature horse—and some of the other reindeer cheat. Still, the little guy has moxie in Jennifer Westcott’s Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer (trailer here), which opens today in New York.
Elliot trains hard on the reindeer run in his petty zoo, but Walter the owner concentrates his attention the hot-dogging DJ, who has the advantage of being a reindeer. The closest thing Elliot has to a coach is his best friend, Hazel the constantly eating goat. Thanks to a sudden retirement, Santa has an unexpected vacancy, so he convenes an emergency try-out. With Hazel’s encouragement, Elliot stows away to the North Pole, where he disguises himself as reindeer and enters the training camp as a free agent walk-on. He even makes the initial cut, before Hazel uncovers a nefarious, Christmas-jeopardizing plot among the elves.
It should be stipulated many of the film’s sports references are quite clever. You have to laugh a little when Corkie, the human reporter, busts on Walter, a former pro baseball player, for getting the yips. Unfortunately, that is about as memorable as the film gets. Elliot and Hazel are kind of cute, but the animation wilts when compared to Mamoru Hosoda’s artistically composed Mirai, also opening today. In fact, little Elliot can be a little whiner at times.
Undoubtedly, the most commercial aspect of the film is the big-name vocal cast, including John Cleese as the retiring Donner and Martin Short as the scheming elf Lemondrop and Ludzinka, a cliched Eastern European cousin to Natasha Fatale from Rocky & Bullwinkle, who plans to buy the petty zoo and turn all the animals into jerky. Sadly, a little bit of Samantha Bee’s Hazel goes a long, long way (man, does she ever shut up?), but Morena Baccarin snappily delivers some of the film’s best lines as Corkie.
There is nothing terribly bad about Littlest Reindeer. It just isn’t good enough to justify your time. Even if you are craving an animated sports film, you are probably better off re-watching Animalypics. Not recommended, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer opens today (11/30) in New York, at the Village East and there will be a special nationwide screening on Saturday (12/1).