Elliott, The Littlest Reindeer

ELLIOTT, THE LITTLEST REINDEER,  Canada, 2018. Voices of: Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, Martin Short, Morena Baccarin, Jeff Dunham, Christopher Jacot, John Cleese, George Buza. Directed by Jennifer Westcott. 89 minutes. Rated G (Very mild themes and coarse language, some scenes may frighten very young audiences.)

Another animated film for Christmas audiences. It is probably best suited for primary school aged children – and younger rather than older. At times there is quite some dialogue which might be a bit much for the youngers but they can enjoy the visuals.

We might have thought that the reindeers for pulling Santa’s sleigh were above reproach. However, here some of them are coming to the end of their careers (and one of them, in fact, Donner, is revealed as taking too many cookies – and is voiced by John Cleese). So, there is a need for at least one replacement and Santa authorises a competition to select a substitute.

In the meantime, one of Santa’s devious assistants (voiced by Martin Short) is planning to do away with the reindeers and substitute rather slick red vehicles to deliver the presents.

But, before we see the competition, we go to North Dakota to a Petting Farm, managed by a former baseball player who suffered from some misplaced focus, who is visited by a rather insistent journalist who wants to make her mark with a fresh story, and visitors who come to see the little goats’ run as well as to see the reindeers do their expert running. In the meantime, the poor manager of the farm has been persuaded to do a deal with a most sinister-looking femme fatale, with the most sinister accent, dark glasses and cigarette holder (also voiced by Martin Short – who does some of the reindeers’ voices as well). But that is not yet the centre of the drama.

There is an engaging little pony, Elliot (Josh Hutchison) who would love to be a reindeer and spends a lot of time practising reindeer movements – egged on by a pretty-in-pink, though sometimes raucously loud, goat, Hazel (Samantha Bee).

One doesn’t need to be a political forecaster to know that Elliott will become part of the competition for Santa’s reindeer (trying to be disguised with fake horns which do go askew), rivalling DJ, the competitive reindeer at the farm, persuading authorities to let him into the competition.

There is something of a tangle of themes with Santa not very happy about finding a pony in competition, with the evil associate pursuing his plans, with some rivalry from the other reindeers – leading to a crisis in which Elliott, inevitably, is the one who is able to save the day.

Then a nice moral choice: going home to his friends at the Petting Farm or becoming the next Santa-sleigh reindeer (or, rather, its equivalent). Fortunately, the film takes both possibilities successfully.

Probably this review is written best for those parents – or grandparents – who might be taking the youngsters to see Elliott and know what’s in store for them.

Roadshow                         Released December 6th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.