Using stop-motion animation to cleverly create the feel of a holiday-special throwback, “Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas” — derived from the Will Ferrell movie and subsequent musical — turns out to be a whole lot of fun, proving yet again it’s hard to go wrong casting Jim Parsons in pretty much anything. Retelling the movie’s story with an assortment of songs from the musical, the one-hour special straddles that line between holiday cheer and irreverence, buoyed in part by a giddy, goofy look that nicely dovetails with Parsons’ take on the title character.
Designed to resemble one of those old Rankin/Bass productions, Buddy’s tale — as the human child inadvertently taken in by elves and raised in the North Pole — is narrated by Santa Claus (voiced by Ed Asner), racing through that backstory to get to the current one, in which Buddy travels to New York City and is reunited with his long-lost dad (Mark Hamill, who, alas, never says, “Buddy, I am your father”).
For those unfamiliar with the Broadway version, the songs are great fun, and work particularly well juxtaposed with animation, such as Santa lamenting about his relentlessly cheerful elves in the song “Happy All the Time”: “When they sing until they’re bluish, Santa wishes he were Jewish.”
The truncated format, inevitably, involves a good deal of story-crunching. But as conveyed by Parsons, who has already stuffed Warner Bros.’ stockings, and vice versa, thanks to “The Big Bang Theory,” Buddy’s childlike innocence — the proverbial fish out of water, or elf out of snow — shines through.
NBC, of course, has experienced a mixed track record, qualitatively as well as commercially, with its forays into bringing musicals to TV, from “Smash” to its live theater adaptations of “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan” to, on a more modest scale, this month’s musical special “How Murray Saved Christmas.”
Still, “Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas” suits the genre well, and suggests there is an alternative to simply running the sprockets off old holiday perennials. And in albeit in a minor way, that’s good reason to be happy — if not all the time, at least for an hour or so.