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Prep & Landing DVD Review

Prep & Landing and Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click for larger view and our review
Disney has discontinued the Prep & Landing DVD reviewed here and replaced it with a Totally
Tinsel Collection
that adds the sequel Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice and many more bonus features.
Click here for our review of that edition.

Disney's Prep & Landing DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Prep & Landing
Special & DVD Details

Directors: Stevie Wermers-Skelton, Kevin Deters / Writers: Stevie Wermers-Skelton, Kevin Deters (teleplay); Chris Williams (story); Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Reid Harrison (additional story material) / Executive Producers: John Lasseter, Chris Williams / Producer: Dorothy McKim

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

Original Air Date: December 8, 2009 / Running Time: 22 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Hi-Def Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
DVD Release Date: November 22, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Keepcase

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

Disney fans either know about or remember a time not too long ago when every animated thing the studio touched turned to gold. Whether you mark 1988 or 1989 as the start and anywhere from 1994 to 1999 as the finish, the period represented what is now considered a Disney Renaissance,
and everything from awareness and accolades to tickets and merchandise seemed to be at all-time highs. This creative boom gave rise to many enterprises, including spin-off TV series, stage adaptations, and direct-to-video sequels. One format not in use since near the beginning of the era was the animated featurette.

If you consider the featurette a mere extension of the cartoon short, then its absence was anything but strange. With some prominent exceptions, shorts basically disappeared from the moviegoing experience back in the 1960s. But even after retiring the 5-10-minute 'toon, Disney went on to produce some significant animated films running about one-third the length of a standard feature. There were the original Winnie the Pooh featurettes, the second of which won Walt Disney his final Oscar. There were the 25-minute holiday cartoons The Small One (1978) and the Academy Award-nominated Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983). The Michael Eisner years further employed classic characters in Goofy's Soccermania (1987) and Mickey Mouse's The Prince and the Pauper (1990).

Nineteen years later, the format was resurrected with Prep & Landing, an original half-hour ABC Christmas special produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. That was reason to celebrate: the storied division was doing something and something different. Alas, Prep & Landing seems to be a product of the department's period of self-discovery. After just about hitting rock bottom both creatively and financially with Home on the Range, Disney tried reinventing itself, swearing off hand-drawn animation and embracing computer techniques that had caught on and left them behind. The first in-house all-CGI feature was the financially formidable and artistically reviled Chicken Little.

Just after that was released, Robert Iger succeeded Eisner as company CEO and among his first tasks were to buy Pixar and put its creative leader John Lasseter in charge of Disney's own animation studio as well. The CG-animated films that followed, Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, improved upon Chicken Little, but both of them and especially the latter had the feel of a studio unclear of its identity and unaware of its legacy. Those issues have since been satisfyingly addressed three times in the past three years, with the traditionally-animated The Princess and the Frog, the more traditional than advertised Tangled, and the simple but sweet Winnie the Pooh. Disney Animation seems to be on the right track again, neither resting on its laurels nor trying to follow trends.

Newly-assigned partners Lanny and Wayne meet for the first time. High-tech prep & landing elves secure the living room and trim the tree to fit presents underneath.

Though it premiered just three days before The Princess and the Frog opened nationwide, Prep & Landing has the same Diet Pixar feel as Bolt. That is not a coincidence because they were in production at the same time and because this special was conceived and executive produced by Bolt co-writer and co-director Chris Williams.

Prep & Landing teaches us about an aspect of Santa Claus' annual deliveries heretofore overlooked in Christmas lore: the unit of high-tech elves who perform reconaissance missions on houses, preparing the inside and rooftop for Santa and his reindeer's landing. Consisting of a check on stirring creatures and making sure there is adequate space under the tree to allow for presents, it's a job that Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley) views as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. When he doesn't get the promotion he expected and is instead paired up with green, enthusiastic Lanny (Derek Richardson), Wayne is not in the best of spirits this holiday. Sloppy and weary, he breaks protocol and in the process gets caught by Timmy, a child awoken from his sleep. With Santa rerouted and this boy's Christmas very likely ruined, Wayne and Lanny rise to heroism.

These days, network television requires nine minutes of commercials for every half-hour of airtime. That leaves Prep & Landing with just 21 minutes and 32 seconds counting credits and studio logos. That is not much time for it to do anything, particularly since it first has to introduce us to its universe and characters. It seems to me that some additional time would have benefitted the production considerably. Even if forty-three minutes was deemed excessive, seven of those minutes could have easily gone to showing the 1952 short Pluto's Christmas Tree.

As is, the program has to assume manic pacing. There's never a moment's rest in this stream of Christmas puns and conflict. It's fairly agreeable, but it's so fast and thin you can hardly process a reaction in just a single viewing. Prep is truly on the order of Bolt, in that there are some chuckles throughout and you never dislike what you're seeing, but there's no more than meets the eye. That's more forgivable on an original animated TV special than a feature film, but lest we think there is no place for poignancy in a half-hour of network programming, remember A Charlie Brown Christmas, one of the first and still the greatest of all holiday specials. Admittedly, the Peanuts gang had an extra four minutes to work with back in 1965 and they have the benefit of being judged from a distance and after countless viewings. Even so, I don't see Prep & Landing being the type of show to still be selling merchandise half a century from now, the way that Charlie, Rudolph, and the Grinch still are.

Wayne struggles biting into a stale Christmas cookie. North Pole command center coordinator Magee (voiced by Sarah Chalke) is on edge over the Terwelp house drama, as she has to give the rarely used Figgy Pudding code to reroute The Big Guy.

Watch a clip from Prep & Landing:

Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Prep & Landing does have an Emmy victory to its name. In fact, Prep won four Emmy awards, three for outstanding individual achievement in animation and, more importantly, the 2010 award for Outstanding Animated Program, a category inexplicably comparing it to individual episodes of "The Simpsons", "South Park", and "The Ricky Gervais Show." (Charlie Brown had similarly varied competition in Outstanding Children's Program, where it bested the likes of "Captain Kangaroo" and Walt Disney's three-part "Wonderful World of Color" miniseries "Adventures of Gallegher".)

Wikipedia lists -- without citation, mind you -- the budget for Prep & Landing at a steep $14 million, almost half of the accepted figure for this year's Winnie the Pooh film. How does Disney go about making that money back? Well, there were the commercials on the original 2009 broadcast, which drew a strong 12 million viewers (good for second place in its timeslot though a far cry from the numbers on ABC's easier sell Shrek the Halls' two years earlier). Then, there is merchandise, from character plushes to a 2010 Hallmark ornament, though doubtfully a significant source of revenue.
There are sequels; last year brought a new 7-minute short and next month, a new half-hour special will premiere. And finally, there is this DVD, which is a year or two late to be timely and yet a month or a year too early to include the new special, subtitled Naughty vs. Nice. Prep & Landing comes to disc on Tuesday, without a Blu-ray option despite Disney and the rest of the industry's forceful push to upgrade to that format.

VIDEO and AUDIO

DVD may offer lower resolution than HD broadcast, but Prep & Landing still looks and sounds terrific in standard definition. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is expectedly as flawless as the format allows, boasting nice clarity and vibrant colors. It must be stated that though there is a legacy of frugality to TV animation, Prep is most presentable, boasting cinema-worthy visuals. For proof of how far CGI has come, compare this to Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas, the modest direct-to-video effort from five years earlier and be stunned.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is lively and immersive, putting a couple of holiday favorites on nice display along with strong sound effects throughout. In an unadvertised move rare for Disney, a Portuguese dub and subtitles are included alongside the English, French, and Spanish offerings, though they are mistakenly identified as English by the disc's authoring.

Lanny and Wayne take their orders from Mrs. Claus (Betty White) in this stocking stuffer short "Operation: Secret Santa." Tiny Tiny reaches high in the brief one-joke short "Tiny's Big Adventure." Elf equipment is surveyed in three oft unfocused training videos.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Prep & Landing is treated to a pretty decent supply of bonus features, but not quite enough to justify such a short program being sold on its own (as evidenced by the measly 2.87 GB of disc space used).

First and most significant are two "stocking stuffer" shorts. Operation: Secret Santa (6:53) has Lanny and Wayne appointed by Mrs. Claus (voiced by Betty White and kept as obscure as the original special keeps Santa Claus) to stealthily retrieve a wooden box of significance from her husband's office. Tiny's Big Adventure (1:09) merely has a short,
Disney Tabletop Christmas Tree: The Wonderful World Of Disney Disney Holiday Village Collection: Collectible Christmas Decoration
silent elf (who's mostly out of frame) make a mess in the break room while trying to get a coffee for his boss, command center coordinator Magee ("Scrubs"' Sarah Chalke, reprising her role from the special).

The remaining extras are light on animation and imagination.

Three elf training videos welcome you to the job (1:27), brief you on equipment and the M.E.R.R.Y. method (1:58), and review some do's and don'ts (1:33). These are not so funny and are primitively created in something resembling Flash animation, which is made worse because they're too often out of focus as a gag that falls flat.

Watch most of Tiny's Big Adventure:

Elf accomplishments are detailed in this Kringle News reel. Though Disney bought the domain ElfDate.com, they did not buy Elf-Date.com, making this ad of slight potential value to anyone industrious. Lanny checks out the situation on the Prep & Landing DVD main menu.

In the same vein is a scratchy black and white North Pole newsreel (1:28) that sheds light on some elf happenings. (The copyright date MCMXIII isn't the only thing that doesn't work about this.)

The extras conclude with three elf commercials (1:40), which less than sensibly uphold the annoying out-of-focus style. These advertise ElfDate.com (yes, Disney bought the domain, but not the hyphenated version that appears onscreen at the end; run, don't walk, domain squatters/hunters!),
The Fruitcake Factory, and Spa Navidad. I hope all of these were produced in a single afternoon, because that's what it seems like.

There really should have been a sincere making-of featurette to emphasize this as a bona fide Walt Disney Animation Studios production and their first to win a major award since Tarzan.

There are also the standard Timon and Pumbaa Blu-ray 3D-pitching short (4:24) and digital copy promo (1:02).

FastPlay-enhanced, the disc opens with ads for Disney Studio All Access, Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition, The Muppets, and Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas Special Edition. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing repeats them, followed by promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, Treasure Buddies, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and The Lion King 1, Secret of the Wings, Cinderella: diamond Edition, and Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World.

As you would expect, the menu brings high-tech antics to a fireplace scene, as Lanny and Wayne move about Timmy's living room, securing the area and whatnot.

There is a distinct and surprising lack of mirth to the packaging; the best we find here are shrinkwrap stickers, one a gift tag you can easily fill out, the other promoting Naughty vs. Nice. The disc is held in plain black keepcase, no slipcover or colorful disc art in sight. Inside, there are two four-page booklets, which supply your Disney Movie Rewards code and a variety of Disney ads.

Prep & landing veteran Wayne is not amused by the enthusiasm of newbie Lanny, who Magee has made his partner.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Nice looking but slight, Prep & Landing is just fine. All fans of Disney animation should see it, but a single viewing should suffice rather than the regular revisitation the genre usually invites.
Furthermore, the DVD is pretty lackluster; the feature presentation is fine, but most of the extras are weak.

This is one instance where Disney ought to have looked at a competitor for guidance; Fox and Blue Sky are releasing Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special next week, just two days after airing, with the DVD selling for half Prep's price and even the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack also selling for less. Knowing the Ice Age franchise all too well, I doubt that special will be reach even the same modest heights as Prep, but clearly the home video release is a better value for consumers. Of course, if you're looking to add holiday discs both high in quality and in value, there are dozens of more attractive specials and movies, including several showing up in our Related Reviews section below.

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Original DVD / Totally Tinsel Collection: Blu-ray + DVD DVD

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Related Reviews:
Prep & Landing and Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice (Totally Tinsel Collection Blu-ray + DVD)
New: Cars 2 Winnie the Pooh Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 It's a Wonderful Life (Blu-ray Gift Set) Scrooged (Blu-ray)
Modern Christmas Specials: Shrek the Halls A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa Phineas and Ferb: A Very Perry Christmas
Vintage Christmas Specials: A Charlie Brown Christmas Mickey's Christmas Carol 'Twas the Night Before Christmas A Chipmunk Christmas
Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios: Bolt Meet the Robinsons Tangled The Princess and the Frog Chicken Little
Christmas Movies: Elf (Ultimate Collector's Edition) The Muppet Christmas Carol Fred Claus The Nightmare Before Christmas
Christmas Movies (continued): The Santa Clause The Santa Clause 2 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause Santa Claus: The Movie
Christmas TV: Christmas Treats: T.V. Sets Yogi Bear's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper The House Without a Christmas Tree
Mickey's Magical Christmas Snowed In at the House of Mouse Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas
Prep & Landing Voice Cast -- Dave Foley: A Bug's Life (Blu-ray) NewsRadio (Complete Series) | Sarah Chalke: Scrubs (Seasons 1-9)

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Reviewed November 18, 2011.