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Prep & Landing and Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice - Totally Tinsel Collection Blu-ray + DVD Review

Prep & Landing and Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice - Totally Tinsel Collection Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Specials, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Writers/Directors: Stevie Wermers-Skelton, Kevin Deters / Producer: Dorothy McKim / Executive Producers: John Lasseter; original only: Chris Williams (also original story) / Music: Michael Giacchino

Prep & Landing

Voice Cast: Dave Foley (Wayne), Derek Richardson (Lanny), Sarah Chalke (Magee), W. Morgan Sheppard (The Big Guy), Mason Vale Cotton (Timmy Terwelp), Nathan Greno (Dasher), David DeLuise (Dancer), Hayes Macarthur (Thrasher), Peter Jacobson (Waterkotte), Kasha Kropinski (Miss Holly), Lino DiSalvo (Gristletoe Joe "Nancy"), Adam Shapiro (Coal Elf #1), Kevin Deters (Brian), Stevie Wermers-Skelton (Rev-up Elf)

Songs: Nat King Cole - "The Christmas Song", "Carol of the Bells"

Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice

Voice Cast: Dave Foley (Wayne), Derek Richardson (Lanny), Sarah Chalke (Magee), Rob Riggle (Noel), Chris Parnell (Mr. Thistleton), W. Morgan Sheppard (The Big Guy), Emily Alyn Lind (Grace Goodwin), Hayes Macarthur (Thrasher), Phil LaMarr (Crumbles), Christopher Harrison (Gene the Salesman), Grace Potter (Carol), Kevin Deters (Hop With Me Bunny), Dorothy McKim (Miscellaneous Elves), Stevie Wermers-Skelton (Miscellaneous Elves)

Songs: Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters - "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town", Plain White T's - "Nuttin' for Christmas", Grace Potter - "Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Actin' Nice)"

Total Running Time: 43 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic) / Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese; DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 6, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $20.00
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9) / Blue Keepcase in Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($19.99 SRP)
Prep & Landing previously released as DVD ($19.99 SRP; November 22, 2011)

Buy Prep & Landing: Totally Tinsel Collection from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD DVD

Question: What was big enough to get Disney to make their first new animated short and half-hour network television special in a very long time? Answer: Christmas. Or Shrek. Maybe a little bit of both. Certainly, the astounding Nielsen ratings drawn by DreamWorks' 2007 Christmas special Shrek the Halls were a factor in
inspiring Walt Disney Animation Studios and ABC to collaborate on Prep & Landing, an original CGI 'toon that premiered on the alphabet network in December 2009.

With Disney under the management of Bob Iger and its Animation division under the leadership of John Lasseter, there was no chance that Prep & Landing would be some lowly, curious one-off. Iger's belief in franchises ensured there would be merchandising and spin-off potential, while Lasseter's artistic pride developed over decades at Pixar demanded this special be a quality product. Prep & Landing won its timeslot and came second in 18-49 viewership on the Tuesday night of its debut, although its 12 million viewers were little more than half of Shrek the Halls' initial audience. Of course, that wasn't a fair comparison. Shrek and friends were the stars of a billion dollar movie franchise that the public had not yet tired of. Prep & Landing centered on new characters not even known from general folklore or a popular Christmas song.

Since today's half-hour network timeslots amount to just 21 minutes and change after accounting for the ever-growing volume of commercials, Prep (21:33; Originally aired December 8, 2009) had a very difficult task to lay out its premise and personalities, present conflict, and resolve it in such a short time. You can argue that in the heyday of cartoon shorts, animators could complete that itinerary in half the time or less. But the rules change when dealing with 6-10 minutes or so. The task then was merely to entertain with gags. There were no acts or commercial breaks and the animators didn't expect their short to become a holiday season staple.

North Pole elf Wayne (center) is not happy to spend another Christmas in Prep & Landing, this one with his wide-eyed new partner Lanny.

Prep sets its sights higher, aiming for more sophistication and substance. But it all goes by so fast that you can barely even process what occurs. You might be tempted to compare an original half-hour television special to a pilot episode. But, these aren't characters we'll be joining on a weekly basis and there is no room for loose ends, laid groundwork, and potential growth. Considering the tall order at hand, it's not all that surprising that Prep & Landing felt underwhelming.

Like many creative works, repeat viewings are in its favor, as once you've become acquainted with the story and characters, you can pay more attention to how the special unfolds and appreciate its visuals and smaller moments. I'm not about to rank this special alongside works like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or even "ALF's Special Christmas", but those programs have had decades to win me over and the benefit of reaching me at a young, uncynical age. An adult critic who watches and reviews something almost every day is not an easy target for something to sweep up in magic. I feel like the past comparisons I've made of Prep to Bolt are fitting and if I was revisiting that middling Disney feature (whose director conceived this special) for the second time in two years, my opinion of it would probably rise to around a 7 out of 10.

I suppose I should shed some light on just what I've been talking about for the past five paragraphs. Prep & Landing focuses on the elves who assist Santa Claus on his annual night of gift delivery. These elves aren't just hanging back at the North Pole making rocking horses and the such. They're dropping into houses like little spies, using gadgets and sparkle dust to remove potential hazards and clear room under the tree in anticipation of Santa's arrival.

While Lanny dutifully tries to clear space under the Christmas tree for a bicycle... ...Wayne is being discovered by young Timmy Terwelp.

Santa is limited to a minor supporting role here and never clearly seen. Our attention is fixed on the hard-working, highly-skilled elves. Specifically, Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley) is a longtime Prep & Landing elf who expected this Christmas to be the year he was promoted to something bigger. Instead, he has been assigned a naive newbie named Lanny (Derek Richardson) as his partner.
It's enough to make Wayne dejected and neglect his duties in favor of channel-surfing and a comforting mug of hot cocoa. Slacking off creates a desperate situation where the boy at Lanny and Wayne's assignment, Timmy Terwelp, may not get the bike he was supposed to. Overcaffeinated North Pole mission control elf Magee ("Scrubs"' Sarah Chalke) scrambles to correct the potential miss.

The special is big on Christmas puns, a task it performs adequately. It's a pleasant enough diversion whose unpromising concept does not stifle much. You can't really fault the special on any solid ground. It simply doesn't have the time to do much more than it does. A one-hour timeslot probably would have been more suitable in these days when commercials claim nearly 30% of network airtime. Accustomed to that reality, the Primetime Emmy Awards didn't seem concerned. They nominated Prep for five awards and it won all but one of them. I don't know if we can place too much stock in those honors, which curiously pit this special against individual episodes of long-running animated series like "The Simpsons", "Family Guy", and "South Park." Still, it's enough of a feat to draw a mention on the rear cover.

Prep & Landing made its DVD debut last year, November 2011, and the timing seemed awfully questionable because its sequel, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice was just weeks away from airing. If you bought that lightweight disc last year, hopefully you enjoyed it, because otherwise it feels like a pointless release (an already discontinued one) and unnecessary purchase now that the two specials have come together in a Totally Tinsel Collection DVD carrying the same list price and a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack retailing for just a penny more.

"Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice" introduces Wayne's mutton-chopped younger brother Noel, a coal elf voiced by Rob Riggle. In "Naughty vs. Nice", Lanny is tied up by one computer-savvy naughty girl named Grace Goodwin.

Naughty vs. Nice (21:34; Originally aired December 5, 2011) is as good as its predecessor and maybe even slightly better. Its workload is lightened by not having to introduce a concept, universe, and cast. Wayne and Lanny are back and this time they're appointed by Santa to retrieve one of the North Pole's devices stolen by a naughty girl who is trying to hack into their database. Again, not the most promising of premises, but Wayne is joined by his younger brother Noel (voiced by Rob Riggle), a member of the working class Coal Elf Brigade.
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Their strained relationship of contrasts complicates the mission while yielding some amusing sibling rivalry. It's more of the same, going slightly lighter on the holiday puns and coasting more on character comedy. It won one Primetime Emmy from three nominations, a minor technical category that seems to award all nominees (the same honor gave the original special three of its perhaps asterisk-worthy wins).

VIDEO and AUDIO

This section is virtually irrelevant on brand new digital animation because their direct computer-to-disc transfer process yields the most perfection that the format will allow. On Blu-ray, that perfection is considerable and these shorts are plenty impressive visually. It is kind of strange that with the computer emerging as the dominant medium in animation, character design has grown quite homogenous. Since Lasseter entered the fray, Walt Disney Animation Studios' CGI has looked a lot like Pixar's animation, only not as breathtaking. Wreck-It Ralph looks like an exception, although without having yet seen it, I can only speculate that it might support an argument that Disney Animation's storytelling sensibilities have also come to resemble Pixar's. But that's a topic for another time and place.

Yes, the Blu-ray's 1.78:1 widescreen picture and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio are both terrific and unlikely to ever be improved upon on this format. In sampling, the anamorphic DVD seemed to offer its own standard definition version of perfection.

Lanny and Wayne get a special assignment from the mostly unseen Mrs. Claus in "Operation: Secret Santa." Magee's short assistant struggles to get coffee for his boss in "Tiny's Big Adventure."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

With their identical contents (other than the BD's all being in HD), both the Blu-ray and new DVD expand considerably on the extras of Prep & Landing's solo DVD without losing anything.

First up is Operation: Secret Santa (6:53), 2010's short addition to this franchise. A Primetime Emmy winner like the two longer specials on either side of it, this "Stocking Stuffer" 'toon has Mrs. Claus (voiced by Betty White) asking Wayne and Lanny to retrieve a box from Santa Claus' office. It's on the order of the full specials and retains the participation of Foley, Chalke, and Richardson.

An even shorter short, Tiny's Big Adventure (1:07), follows Magee's silent, diminutive assistant Tiny into the break room where he gets her coffee and makes a mess, while remaining as always mostly off-camera.

North Pole News shorts report on Elf of the Year and other such matters. Super Elf Mart is one of ten businesses advertised in creative North Pole commercials.

Three Kringle Academy shorts (4:56) are Flash-animated works designed to look aged and falling in and out of focus. Modeled like work orientation and educational videos, they are unremarkable.

In the same vein come two black and white North Pole News shorts (2:43) fashioned after old newsreels about Elf of the Year and other current elf happenings.

Better are ten North Pole commercials (6:53), expanding on the three from the previous DVD. These are made in the same simple Flash format, but amuse with their bizarre services and sometimes amateurish production values. Interestingly, one of the commercials continues to promote Elf-Date.com, a domain that has since been bought (not by Disney) but remains underdeveloped. One Texas man has the power to create another scenario for Disney like The Santa Clause's 1-800-SPANK-ME fiasco.

Sarah Chalke discusses voicing Magee and shares her admiration of John Lasseter in "Recording Process." "Animation Process" shows us a "Bolt" poster gladly cut from the special itself.

The heading Promotional Pieces prompts expectations of like 30-second TV spots promoting the specials. Instead, we get five surprisingly detailed shorts on the specials' creation. They don't defy that heading; they are promotional, but they're also the set's most substantial extras and only behind-the-scenes content.

"Recording Process" (4:23) has the three lead voice cast members and David DeLuise sound off on their easy work
and directors Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton sound off on them. "Animation Process" (5:45) collects thoughts from the directors, John Lasseter, a producer, and an art director. They discuss, with complimentary visuals, the stages of animation from storyboards to effects. "The Characters" (3:16) brings back voice actors Foley, Chalke, and Richardson and lets them talk about their elves.

"Christmas Unwrapped" (3:36) is the only one that deals with Naughty vs. Nice; it offers more of the voice cast and the directors, with Rob Riggle added to the mix. Finally, "Behind the Scenes" (3:02) returns us to the original special for more general thoughts from Lasseter et al. The content is nothing groundbreaking, but it's really all you could hope for and it is more than what has joined most of the comparable DreamWorks and Blue Sky holiday specials.

"Behind the Jingle with Grace Potter" (2:07) lets the singer/songwriter who fronts a band you don't know called Grace Potter and the Nocturnals share her excitement at lending her voice to a Disney movie, which she does for the minor non-verbal role of coal elf bartender Carol. Ah, the perks of being on Disney's Hollywood Records label!

Rounding out the discs are a standard promo for digital copies, a four-year-old promo that uses the quietly retired "DisneyFile" name and bears no relevance to the set at hand (though digital copies might have been welcome and probably could have fit on the DVD without dropping anything).

The discs open with trailers for Peter Pan: Diamond Edition, Monsters University, and Brave. The menus' Sneak Peeks listing repeats those, followed by promos for Disney Movie Rewards, The Band Perry's "25 Days of Christmas" ABC Family music video, Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups, the Cinderella sequels, Finding Nemo, Mulan's 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray coming spring 2013 (hey, that's news!), and Planes.

The menus employ North Pole gadgetry, with the Blu-ray's screen animated and the DVD's not. As usual, the Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume playback. Oddly, neither disc's menu gives you the option to watch both shorts back-to-back, although the DVD's FastPlay mode achieves that for you.

Topped by an embossed, holographic cardboard slipcover, the side-snapped Blu-ray keepcase holds a Disney Movie Rewards code booklet as its only insert.

Noel shows off his wrapping paper gun to Wayne and Lanny.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I'm not ready to call Prep & Landing and its sequel new classics, but they are reasonably enjoyable entries to the storied class of holiday television specials. They're also a great deal easier to recommend buying in this robust new combo pack than last year's welterweight one-special DVD. There are obviously tons of Christmas cartoons more worthy of a purchase, but this modestly priced, reasonably filling set makes for a decent addition to any Disney animation or holiday TV collection.

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Reviewed November 16, 2012.



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