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Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow: DVD + Digital Review

Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Turkey Hollow
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Kirk R. Thatcher / Writers: Tim Burns, Christopher Baldi (teleplay); Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Kirk R. Thatcher (story)

Cast: Mary Steenburgen (Aunt Cly Emmerson), Jay Harrington (Ron Emmerson), Graham Verchere (Tim Emmerson), Genevieve Buechner (Annie Emmerson), Reese Alexander (Sheriff Grover Cowley), Gabe Khouth (Buzz), Peter New (Junior), Linden Banks (Eldridge Sump), Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (Narrator), Alice Dinnean (Squonk), Robert James Mills (Burble), Jason Hopley (Zorp), Gord Robertson (Thrinng), Elliot Mandelcorn (Lawyer), Kathryn Kirkpatrick (Shopkeeper)

Original Air Date: November 21, 2015 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (TV-PG on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None / Not Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: November 24, 2015 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

Buy Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow on DVD at Amazon.com

In many ways, Thanksgiving cannot compete with the two major holidays it finds itself sandwiched between. In merchandise, excitement, spirit, candy, music, and movies, Christmas and Halloween are extremely far ahead of the fourth Thursday in November. It's not as if Thanksgiving, which is celebrated by nearly 90% of Americans these days, is completely without meaning and hallmarks.
There is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, the NFL's closely watched triple header, the story of the first Thanksgiving celebrated in Plymouth, Massachussetts in 1621. And there is the feast, the main attraction for many observers. Typically held in the early afternoon and consisting of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pies at the very least, it is a meal unrivaled by most if not all of the other thousand or so consumed throughout the year.

In terms of popular media, Thanksgiving trails its fellow year-ending celebrations. This was evident when I tried to put together a CD of Thanksgiving songs last November, only to have to largely settle for songs with "Thank" or "Give" in the title (plus "November Rain", obviously). While retail shelves are lined with holiday movies for children and grown-ups alike, Thanksgiving has the classic comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles and not much else. Sure, you'll find lists each year calling attention to movies like Pieces of April, Home for the Holidays, and Dutch, but when was the last time you heard someone say "It isn't Thanksgiving until I watch Pieces of April"? Never, because no one has ever said that until me just now and I certainly didn't mean it.

Television has done a better job of honoring the holiday than feature films. Thanksgiving episodes of "Friends" and "Home Improvement" rank among the best of each of those popular '90s sitcoms and you probably have your own personal favorites too (mine include "Mad About You" and "Saved by the Bell: The College Years"). There's also A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which is not as well-known or beloved as the Halloween and Christmas specials that preceded it by several years, but still holds up as Peanuts at its most timeless and endearing. Other animated franchises, from Alvin and the Chipmunks to Winnie the Pooh, have also told stories involving the holiday, though none has burrowed its way into people's hearts and traditions the way that The Grinch, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and countless Rankin/Bass musicals have. But that isn't stopping others from trying.

In "Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow", two kids (Genevieve Buechner and Graham Verchere) discover a secret in the woods while spending Thanksgiving with their great aunt in the Pacific Northwest.

On Saturday night, Lifetime premiered Turkey Hollow, an original family movie conceived by Jim Henson, the brilliant creator of the Muppets, and his trusted longtime collaborator Jerry Juhl, back in 1968. Henson passed away in 1990 and Juhl in 2005, so despite their story credits, neither has had as much to do with this production as director Kirk R. Thatcher, Juhl's co-writer on Muppet Treasure Island, the director of the Muppets' most recent TV movies and specials and a contributor to the '90s TV series "Muppets Tonight" and "Dinosaurs." Thatcher shares story credit with the revered but deceased other two, while the teleplay is attributed to Tim Burns, returning to Henson's world for the first time since 1989's Dog City, and short filmmaker Christopher Baldi.

As our playful, fourth wall-breaking storyteller (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, making one for the kids) tells us, Turkey Hollow is the Turkey Capital of the Northwest. Each November, this woodsy little town attracts tourists looking to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving. Among those visiting this year are the recently-divorced Ron Emmerson (Jay Harrington) and his two kids, Annie (Genevieve Buechner) and Timmy (Graham Verchere). They are going to spending the holiday with Ron's Aunt Cly (Mary Steenburgen), an eccentric, white-streaked widow they haven't seen in ages. Timmy's excited, Annie isn't, and Dad is using the whole trip as a way to get work done.

Aunt Cly is different. A vegan crusader, she rescues turkeys for a living, so naturally dinner and dessert will be beet-based. With no TV or Internet (the latter of which she thinks causes brain tumors) there and Turkey Hollow being a dead zone for cell phone service, the kids are required to get their kicks elsewhere. Timmy does that, venturing off in the night to explore the forest that is said to be home to the Hideous Haunting Hoodoo. While the boy does not encounter that, he does wind up at the turkey farm of Eldridge Sump (Linden Banks), a grumpy conservative Cly accuses of pumping his fowl full of hormones.

Somehow, Eldridge's turkeys all go disappearing and Timmy is to blame. The onus falls on Cly to pay the thousands of dollars in merchandise her nemesis has lost and in just two days. If not, then Cly will lose her own all-natural family farm.

Aunt Cly (Mary Steenburgen) is a friend to the musical monsters.

Meanwhile, this being a Henson production,
Timmy and Annie discover furry musical monsters in the forest, with names like Burble and Zorp. Those sounds are really all these puppet characters make, but they seem to comprehend the kids' English just fine and understand their predicament. The kids discover that Eldridge's turkeys have returned, but are being hidden in an effort to take ownership of Cly's farm. Before they can uncover this plot, they are seized by Eldridge's two dim-witted hillbilly henchmen and locked in the cages with the turkeys. What's worse is that Annie is allergic to feathers!

Turkey Hollow makes an admirable effort to tell an original story based around Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, it's not an excellent story. I have no doubt that it would have been perfectly charming had Henson and Juhl seen it through in the 1980s, perhaps sometime in between Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas and the immortal A Muppet Family Christmas. But this looks and feels more like a 2015 TV movie, and not at all like a nostalgic throwback to Henson's heyday. That's probably good news to the executives at Lifetime, whose low standard of original movies has not prevented them from churning them out to evidently satisfactory ratings for several decades now.

Turkey Hollow is a bit different from the network's other original offerings, which per usual kick into holiday high gear before the end of the month. But it's plagued by similar shortcomings. The acting is generally poor; even the extensively seasoned Steenburgen sleepwalks through what should be a fun and unusual character. The pacing and continuity is hindered by commercial fadeouts. And the thing isn't designed to have even a tiny bit of shelf life. Henson's works certainly aren't impervious to dating; just look at Labyrinth (which, don't get me wrong, is a treat). But the best of his company's output has a timelessness to it, which is why films like The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol never go out of style and seem to get better on each viewing. Perhaps today's kids will one day in adulthood appreciate a character saying "#bored", but I kind of doubt it.

If nothing else, the movie offers appealing puppet characters, who you do not see as puppets but as living beings. They may not do a lot or say anything you understand, but the musical monsters easily emerge as the most likable personalities on display.

The standard issue bad guys are turkey farmer Eldridge Sump (Linden Banks, center) and his half-witted henchmen Junior (Peter New) and Buzz (Gabe Khouth).

VIDEO and AUDIO

Had the Jim Henson Company sold Turkey Hollow to one of the networks, maybe it would have gotten a Blu-ray combo pack.

Instead, Lionsgate treats it only to DVD. As you can imagine, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture and sadly only Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack are satisfactory for standard definition, but lack the punch they'd have on Blu-ray and the sharpness you'd get from watching on Lifetime in HD.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Aside from the digital copy with UltraViolet that is included with your purchase, no extras of any kind are found here, not even trailers for other properties.

Straightforwardly adapted from the cover art, the static, silent main menu is basic to a fault, with "Play Feature" and "Scene Selection" your only option on this dubless, unsubtitled DVD.

No slipcover tops the black Eco-Box keepcase, whose only insert provides code and directions for the standard definition digital copy.

Rapper-actor Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is the playful narrator of "Turkey Hollow."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Getting a new movie from the mind of Jim Henson should be exhilarating, but Turkey Hollow feels like it's mainly just using his name to add a little intrigue to a mediocre seasonal TV movie. No matter how frequently you may revisit your favorite Henson works, this seems like a one-time viewing or maybe once a decade. As such, there is little reason to strongly recommend this altogether barebones DVD-only release.

Buy Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow on DVD at Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas Toy Story That Time Forgot
Written by Kirk R. Thatcher: Muppet Treasure Island Dinosaurs: Seasons 1 & 2 | Written by Tim Burns: Jim Henson's Dog City: The Movie
Directed by Kirk R. Thatcher: A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa The Muppets' Wizard of Oz
Thanksgiving: Free Birds Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Ludacris: Fred Claus Fast & Furious 6 No Strings Attached

Mary Steenburgen:
Elf One Magic Christmas Four Christmases Step Brothers
The Proposal The Help Did You Hear About the Morgans?

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Reviewed November 25, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Lionsgate, Lifetime Pictures, and The Jim Henson Company. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.