Around the holidays, expectations are high but standards are relatively low, especially when it comes to television entertainment. After all, it’s the time of year when even Kathie Lee gets her own musical special. So it’s especially delightful to find an original holiday movie that’s a pleasant diversion, even if it does not reach instant classic status.
USA Network should reap big returns with this sequel to the 1989 theatrical release “Prancer,” a live-action heartwarmer about a young girl and a magical reindeer who bring a divided town together at Christmas. In “Prancer Returns,” it’s 10 years later, although the legend of the reindeer lives on in Three Oaks, Mich. Young Charlie Holton (Gavin Fink) has just moved to town with his mom (Stacy Edwards) and older brother, Ryan (Robert Clark), and is having a hard time adjusting.
Ryan, unhappy about the move and his parents’ divorce, plans to spend Christmas with their dad back in Chicago. Meanwhile, school is a war zone for Charlie, who is picked on by the local bullies and mistakenly singled out as a troublemaker by vice principal Klock (Michael O’Keefe). To make matters worse, Klock is intent on wooing Charlie’s mom.
When Charlie discovers an orphaned reindeer in the woods, he takes it home, believing it to be Prancer’s son. With the help of local handyman Tom Sullivan (John Corbett) and old farmer Mr. Richards (Jack Palance), Charlie takes care of the deer with the intention of reuniting him with Santa’s team on Christmas Eve.
The reindeer works its own magic on Charlie, drawing him out of his shell and closer to his brother and mother. While writer Greg Taylor doesn’t exactly paint the most realistic family portrait, he does make some valid points about single parenting and the effects of divorce on kids. He also manages to celebrate the spirit of the season nondenominationally.
Edwards is a fresh choice for the put-upon mother role, playing exasperated and self-doubting without coming off as helpless or weak.
Corbett once again nails it as the offbeat but appealing love interest, seemingly hitting a new stride in his career since his recurring role on “Sex and the City.”
O’Keefe clearly relishes his role as the bad guy, further exacerbating the much-maligned reputations of elementary school principals.
Jack Palance is dependably crusty as the curmudgeon whose icy demeanor is melted by the beguiling Charlie, played by adorable newcomer Fink. Big on cute, Fink is almost understated to a fault; he’s so soft-spoken, viewers may strain to pick up on the dialogue.
Joshua Butler’s direction is at first distractingly deliberate, utilizing unnecessary zooms and splices. A quarter of the way into the story, everything settles down, and viewers can really appreciate the authentic winter ambience captured through Bruce Worrall’s lens. There’s not a fake flake in sight here. In fact, scenes of the woodlands at dusk are downright breathtaking.
Tech credits are extremely polished, including a very marketable holiday soundtrack featuring the likes of Michael McDonald, Nickel Creek and Alecia Elliott. All in all, nicely done.