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Santa's Magic Toy Bag DVD Review

Santa's Magic Toy Bag DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Santa's Magic Toy Bag (1983)
Special & DVD Details

Creator/Producer: Paul Fusco / Director: James Field / Writers: Paul Fusco, Troy Cabral

Running Time: 28 Minutes / Original Air Date: December 1983

Cast: Lisa Buckley (Mrs. Claus), Bob Fappiano, Rich Schellbach, Paul Fusco (Santa Claus, Sherman)

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio) / Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: October 21, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)

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Paul Fusco is best known as the creator, voice, and puppeteer of ALF, the furry, wisecracking alien who spent four seasons on NBC secretly living with the Tanners, an average California family of four.
In the years before unveiling that iconic 1980s sitcom, Fusco wrote, produced, and puppeteered a number of holiday specials for HBO, Showtime, and other content-hungry stations during the relative infancy of cable. The specials probably weren't aired all that many times and have all seemingly been forgotten more than thirty years later.

Now, Legend Films with the full support and participation of Fusco, looks to rescue these half-hour programs from the clutches of obscurity by treating them to long-overdue release on DVD. Santa's Magic Toy Bag is the first of these broadcasts to reach a disc, doing so well in time for Christmas and actually ten days prior to Halloween. Assuming the small company does not lose money on this, Legend plans to release the other holiday specials from Fusco's Imagicom Productions label in conjunction with Valentine's Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving.

In contrast to "ALF", a traditional yet contemporary multi-camera comedy that always displayed a little bit of an edge (though nothing to prevent it from being a family favorite), Santa's Magic Toy Bag is strictly child's play. It aims for timeless holiday special presumably in the mold of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the then-recent A Chipmunk Christmas. But it kind of falls short of that mark.

The title logo for Santa's Magic Toy Bag appears over a shot establishing the North Pole setting. Mrs. Claus remains kind regarding Sherman's striped gingerbread men and baked candy canes.

Opening at the North Pole two days before Christmas, the special centers on Sherman, an apprentice fresh out of elf school who desperately wants to become an official elf. The only problem is the awestruck newbie is a complete screw-up. He keeps getting passed around from one department to another, making messes with toys like an "elephone" and a wind-up yo-yo. Sherman is moved to the mail room, where he places a batch of 500 letters in the trash, an error that is caught just before they can be incinerated. Transferred to the bakery, Sherman works alongside Mrs. Claus, who tries not to get upset that he has baked candy canes and made striped gingerbread men.

To the modern adult viewer, it seems like Sherman's creative outside-the-box thinking isn't being appreciated by his fellow elves. The special doesn't pursue that logic, though, instead having the understanding Santa Claus (who most closely resembles ALF vocally) recall how other elves have similarly struggled before him. Called in to meet with Santa, Sherman expects he'll be asked to leave.
Instead, the freckled young elf is surprised to learn that he is being assigned to watch Santa's magic toy bag. Believe it or not, he screws that up too, washing it and both shrinking it and shedding it of its magical powers. Sherman works hard to make a new bag, an effort with which (spoiler alert?) Santa is quite pleased.

You can understand why the major networks didn't enter a bidding war for broadcast rights to this program. It's not a bad half-hour of children's television, but despite some old-fashioned charm, it is a fairly by-the-numbers and forgettable enterprise. There are three songs, whose performances are a bit tone-deaf at times and whose lyrics could not have taken very long at all to compose. A lot of the show unfolds with Sherman talking to Danny, a jack-in-the-box clown who doesn't talk. It's as if Sherman is talking to himself, a kind of lazy design even for a one-off intended to briefly entertain children.

Santa Claus (whom the 30-year-old Paul Fusco gives an ALF-like sound) admires Sherman's unusual handiwork in this electric fan/kite combination. Sherman works hard to save Christmas by making Santa a new magic toy bag.

The sharp wit and punchy delivery with which Fusco infused "ALF" is almost altogether lacking here (it's more on display in the DVD's blooper reel, which I discuss later). The most sly and clever he gets here are repeated references to a Paul from New Haven, Connecticut, whose letters to the North Pole always test Santa and his elves. Paul Fusco was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut.

VIDEO and AUDIO

A television special that has taken this long to come to DVD that hits the format from a virtually unknown company may attract a good deal of skepticism from customers with regards to its feature presentation. Fortunately and somewhat miraculously, Santa's Magic Toy Bag looks quite presentable. The 1.33:1 production was clearly shot on video and significantly lacks the definition of today's programming. But with the exception of one horizontal line that runs across the screen near the end of the special, the picture quality is agreeable, if unspectacular. The same clause could be used to describe the soundtrack, a seemingly monaural Dolby 2.0 mix that presumably stays true to the program's original specifications. Sadly but not all that uncommonly, the disc forgoes both closed captioning and subtitles.

Sherman the elf gets some help from a human woman in the Santa's Magic Toy Bag blooper reel. Santa's Sing-Along enables you to sing along with Sherman and Santa on the last of the special's three songs.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The DVD impressively includes three bonus features, which is probably three more than you expect to find
on such an untimely and obscure release.

First up comes the aforementioned blooper reel (5:26). Judging from its unsightly appearance, you assume it was compiled back in the 1980s and unearthed for this DVD. Gag reels from "ALF" have earned a bit of notoriety for Fusco's politically incorrect in-character ad libs. You get a surprising taste of that here, although even mild profanity is bleeped. The tomfoolery, goofs, occasional off-color remarks, and even recurring burps are interesting to see, but they do somewhat betray the wholesome spirit of the production.

Next, a sing-along (1:33) is provided for the special's third and final song. The forgettable lyrics change color as they are sung. Like the previous piece, this looks ancient, suggesting either it was produced long ago or that Fusco's company is still using "ALF"-era technology.

The Cuddle-Me Cat-o-pillar appears to be the best idea in Sherman's strange Design Book. The Santa's Magic Toy Bag DVD main menu keeps things simple, with three extras listings placed next to a slightly modified version of the cover art.

Last and arguably least is "Sherman's Design Book" (0:56), a short slideshow showing four concept drawings for the apprentice elf's dubious product ideas.
These few uninspired images could be newly produced, but that would raise the question of "Why?"

As for packaging, your guess is as good as mine, since the studio sent this review disc in a plain paper and plastic envelope. At least the disc sports a full color label.

The disc includes just a single simple menu, which places the bonus features listings alongside a mildly retooled version of the cover art image. For some reason, the disc is authored to repeat the special after it concludes, eventually returning you to the menu after the second iteration is completed.

Pleased with Sherman's efforts, Santa Claus picks the apprentice elf to ride in his sleigh this Christmas in the 1983 holiday television special "Santa's Magic Toy Bag."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As a big admirer of "ALF", I was excited to see what a Paul Fusco holiday special from just a few years earlier might be like. Santa's Magic Toy Bag doesn't warrant a lot of excitement, though. Kind of derivative of the Hermey narrative of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the special will certainly hold the attention of '80s kids and those whose love of holiday television knows no bounds. But with its scant characterization, predictable structure, forgettable songs, and highly dated synthesizer score, the program will probably strike everyone else as a relic that didn't need to be given new life on DVD.

Legend's DVD is mostly agreeable, with its passable picture and sound plus a light but mildly remarkable handful of extras. The only obvious complaint to level against this is that this 28-minute special seems pretty thin to demand its own case and a $15 list price. All of Fusco's holiday puppet specials could have easily fit onto a single DVD and boasted a much greater value. Going this route, I wonder if there are enough "ALF" fans and holiday TV junkies out there to let their curiosity spark a purchase that paves the way for the others to follow.

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Reviewed October 17, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1983 Imagicom Productions and 2014 Legend Films Home Entertainment Distribution.
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