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Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas (2014)
Special, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Directors: Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh / Writers: Thomas Meehan, Bob Martin, Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic (teleplay); Matthew Sklar (music); Chad Beguelin (lyrics); David Berenbaum (New Line Cinema theatrical motion picture Elf); Thomas Meehan, Bob Martin (Broadway musical Elf book)

Voice Cast: Jim Parsons (Buddy the Elf), Mark Hamill (Walter Hobbs), Rachael MacFarlane (Emily Hobbs), Max Charles (Michael Hobbs), Kate Micucci (Jovie), Gilbert Gottfried (Mr. Greenway), Jay Leno (Fake Santa), Fred Armisen (Matthews), Steve Higgins (Chadwick), Matt Lauer (Mr. Sea Serpent), Ed Asner (Santa Claus)

Original Air Date: December 16, 2014 / Running Time: 44 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Songs: "Happy All the Time", "World's Greatest Dad", "I'll Believe in You", "There Is a Santa Claus", "Sparklejollytwinklejingley", "A Christmas Song", "Nobody Cares About Santa", "A Christmas Song (Reprise)", "The Story of Buddy"

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic) / Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French; Extra Not Subtitled
Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: November 3, 2015 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (BD-25 & DVD-5) / Eco-Friendly Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD + Digital Copy Instant Video

Elf is the closest the 21st century has to a classic Christmas movie. The hit 2003 comedy advanced the careers of stars Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel, each of whom has enjoyed plenty of success since, and director Jon Favreau, who went on to direct the first two Iron Man blockbusters. If there is a recent holiday film that people are making it a tradition to revisit each year, it isn't Fred Claus, Four Christmases, or Arthur Christmas. It's Elf that follows in the footsteps of rewatchable movies like It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

All the goodwill that people continue to hold towards Elf hasn't really produced the opulent revenue stream expected of other successful franchises these days. Will Ferrell rejected a $29 million offer to make a sequel, ending that conversation in a hurry. The film hasn't entered retail's stable of reliable holiday season merchandise brands born out of other beloved movies and specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story, and the original Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And there are only so many times that people will buy a movie; although Elf has endured better than the rest, selling for instance 128,000 copies in the UK last holiday season to outpace every other Christmas title there ten years after placing 8th in the US among top-selling DVDS during the format's peak.

Ferrell's admirable refusal to reprise the character at any cost has left New Line Cinema's parent company Warner Bros. to instead develop the film for other venues. A Broadway musical arrived in 2010, was revived two Christmases later, has toured the nation twice, and just opened on London's West End. That stage show is the foundation for Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas, a one-hour stop-motion animated TV special that premiered on NBC last December and hit DVD and Blu-ray last Tuesday.

The special seems like a most suitable venue: not only is there Rankin-Bass' storied tradition of stop-motion holiday musicals, but the original Elf even modeled itself on them a little bit in the titles and design of some briefly seen fantastical characters.

Buddy the Elf is surprised to learn of his real origins from Santa Claus in "Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas."

Buddy's Musical Christmas is basically the original movie in stop-motion animation, condensed to 45 minutes and featuring original (for Broadway) songs. Bob Newhart's role of Papa Elf has been folded into Santa Claus (gladly voiced by Ed Asner, the lone holdover from the film), who serves as our storyteller and narrator. He quickly moves through Buddy's story, a baby who wandered into Santa's toy bag one Christmas and has been raised as an elf ever since. Buddy (voiced by four-time Emmy-winning "The Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons) stands out even more than his film counterpart. Not only does he tower over his fellow elves, but he is peach-skinned and red-haired whereas they all sport a blue goblin-like appearance here.

Santa tells Buddy of his origins, gives him a snow globe of New York City, and sends him on his way to find his biological father, grumpy publisher Walter Hobbs (Mark Hamill). Walter has been on the Naughty List for fifty years and his cynical, commercial attitude towards the holiday is indicative of a bigger problem facing the city and the world. A lack of Christmas spirit is keeping Santa's sleigh from taking flight.

As Buddy gets acclimated with his dad as well as Dad's friendlier new wife and son, he also encounters Jovie (Kate Micucci), who in this incarnation wears an elf costume to ring a bell outside a diner. The whole Gimbels department store angle is dropped and missed, but this presentation is so streamlined, there's hardly room for it.

Buddy still takes interest in Jovie, but in this special they work together outside a diner not in a department store.

With rhyming verses that end with "Jewish" and "diabetic", the opening number by Santa sets expectations for an Avenue Q level of irreverence.
The rest of the songs don't get that snarky and ironic. The principals all get a chance to sing and the most inventive tune finds a series of dejected sidewalk Santas bemoaning the cynical state of the modern world.

Ferrell's inimitable comic voice is sorely missed here. His objection to a sequel has been on the grounds that he wouldn't want to play Buddy middle-aged and wouldn't want to make something that didn't stand up to the original film. It seems like he could have returned for this and they could have gotten someone with a more honed singing voice if they weren't comfortable with his sound. Admittedly, this production is already a retread so even if Ferrell accepted that this wasn't beneath him (it is), then it might have seemed even less necessary. At least Parsons brings a new interpretation to the character, albeit one that is more gawky and less lovable than Ferrell's sugary sweet naif.

The visuals, the work of "Robot Chicken" makers Screen Novelties, are a bit underwhelming. Frugality has always been an essential element of TV animation, especially for one-offs that aren't mass produced. But things have been getting better, as evidenced by recent works like Prep & Landing, Shrek the Halls, and the Toy Story specials. While Buddy's Musical Christmas deliberately opts for a cartoony old-fashioned Rankin-Bass aesthetic instead of the more sophisticated CGI of the aforementioned, the cost-cutting and hastiness are rampant and distracting. Most of the background characters are just cardboard standees or puppets that almost never move. They, like the buildings of Manhattan and almost every other supporting character, are blue in color, an odd choice that contrasts with the warm, vibrant movie it's based on. Of course, mouth movements are CG-animated to spare the makers the painstaking and meticulous work of changing mouth pieces for dozens of frames within every second of animation.

Well in time for Christmas, Buddy's Musical Christmas is now available to own in the lightweight Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though you can take issue with the animation of Buddy's Musical Christmas, you can't fault its Blu-ray for the way it presents it. The 1.78:1 widescreen picture is sharp and flawless, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is suitably immersive. You expect nothing less from a 2014 network production in high definition from one of the biggest movie studios out there.

Mark Hamill discusses voicing Walter Hobbs in "Elf-in' All the Way." The DVD main menu of Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas retools its cover art to fill the 16:9 screen.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only legitimate bonus feature is "Elf-in' All the Way: Inside Buddy's Recording Sessions" (5:20),
a short making-of which gathers remarks from voice cast members and co-director Mark Caballero, along with some looks at the cast's dialogue and song recordings.

A trailers section holds ads for Peanuts Holiday Collection, Scooby-Doo! and Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery, and LEGO Ninjago. The discs open with trailers for the video game LEGO Dimensions and the interminably-titled direct-to-video movie LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League - Attack of the Legion of Doom.

An insert supplying the Digital HD with UltraViolet code and directions accompanies the two illustrated silver discs inside a slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

On both DVD and Blu-ray, the basic main menu attaches score to a static reformatting of the cover art.

Buddy draws himself into this Hobbs family portrait.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas does nothing better than the excellent movie on which it's based,
but it's interesting to see the story told in stop-motion animation with songs in just under 45 minutes. You'll still be more inclined to revisit the movie, even if you'll have to carve out twice as much time for it. But this is worth seeing, especially if you enjoyed the Broadway musical or are generally a fan of that format.

Warner's combo pack is light on extras, but presents this rushed production with the best picture and sound available and at a reasonable price.

Buy Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas from Amazon:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Elf (Ultimate Collector's Edition) | New to Blu-ray: Inside Out
Holiday Specials: Prep & Landing A Miser Brothers' Christmas DreamWorks Holiday Classics A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa
Holiday Movies: The Muppet Christmas Carol Arthur Christmas A Christmas Carol (2009) Fred Claus Four Christmases Scrooged Frozen
Holiday Classics: Peanuts: Holiday Collection Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set Mickey's Christmas Carol Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Ed Asner: The Christmas Star Up Gus Gargoyles: The Complete First Season Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

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Reviewed November 8, 2015.



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