“Yes, Virginia” is an odd duck — a half-hour animated special that stretches a two-minute story well beyond its means but still delivers a moving spirit-of-Christmas payoff in its final moments. Oddly designed, it sorely lacks the sort of frenetic action found in most modern children’s fare, but assuming that kids don’t nod off prior to the last act, they actually might learn something from this fact-based offering.
Many people have heard the line “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” but probably don’t know the whole story — that the famed New York Sun editorial, penned in 1897 by Francis Pharcellus Church, came in response to a young girl who asked the paper to settle whether St. Nick was fact or fiction. His conclusion — that Santa exists “as certainly as love and generosity and devotion” do — became an integral part of Christmas lore.
From that template, the producers have crafted a CGI half-hour vaguely set in that period, where the characters’ eyes are so far apart as to resemble ears. Little Virginia O’Hanlon (Beatrice Miller) hangs out with a pal named Ollie (Kieran Patrick Campbell), before her belief in Christmas is shaken by a mean 19th-century girl who informs her there’s no Santa. Plagued by doubt, she asks her parents (CBS stars Neil Patrick Harris and Jennifer Love Hewitt) for answers, finally turning to the newspaper, thanks to its slogan, “If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.”
Things get a little weird from there, with editor Church (Alfred Molina) resisting the child’s plea before a good samaritan (Michael Buscemi) urges him to respond, calling the letter “a gift.” Most of this feels like padding, frankly, since if the answer came in a timely fashion, we’d have a seven-minute show.
Yet despite these pacing problems and the odd character design, it’s still nice to hear Molina read the editorial, in a “what’s really important about the holidays” way. Besides, when was the last time you saw a newsman not only painted as a hero, but actually publishing something that helps unite people?
Yes, Virginia, we can all believe in that.