Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 22: You Know Dasher and Dancer and...

There are a lot of movies having to do with reindeer and their relationship to Christmas.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the most common title of these, but there are also films like Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, also based on a song, and several films about Santa Claus that feature his flying horsepower.  So it makes sense that one of the most popular holiday films of the late 80s would focus on a reindeer, one of the most important ones in Santa's lineup of fliers.  It has become somewhat forgotten in recent years...but if you mention it to a group of Generation X'ers, most of them will shout out "Yeah! I remember that movie!"  So let's let our imaginations wander as we revisit Prancer.

Jessica Riggs is a simple farmer's daughter in a poor town who manages to keep a very positive attitude toward her life despite the inadequate care of her father, John, and the recent passing of her mother.  Her mood cannot be hindered by this of course, because Christmas is coming and Jess is completely excited.  In fact, her mood is so buoyant that her school teacher even has to ask her to 'hold back' during the Christmas pageant.  The story kicks into gear however when, on the same day that she witnesses a plastic reindeer fall from a display in town, she discovers a reindeer in the forest near her house.  Convinced that the reindeer is the real Prancer (since this is the reindeer she saw fall), she takes it upon herself to nurse him back to health and care for him.  During this time she receives help from the local veterinarian, befriends an old recluse, and grows closer to her brother Steve.  John does not understand the bond growing between Jess and the reindeer however and, upset after finding that she has been caring for it, sells it to a buisness man.  Then it is up to Jess to save Prancer so he can rejoin Santa's team for Christmas eve.

Prancer walks a delicate line between realistic family drama and fantasy and it manages to do it respectably, despite a few plot holes here and there.  Rebecca Harrell as Jess manages to perform the part sincerely and makes Jess's enthusiasm and good-nature seem realistic and never too "Polyannish".  Sam Elliot is equally effective as Jess's distant and closed-off father and he plays the role with a gruff exterior and yet, underneath you can tell there's a man in pain who doesn't know if he can feel again.  Also a pleasure is Cloris Leachman as Mrs. McFarland, the local recluse, who first seems standoffish and mean, but warms to Jess in the end.  I personally enjoy the "Is it real or not?" fantasy aspect of the piece that places it along side of Miracle on 34th Street in the way it downplays the fantasy and forces an audience to make a decision on whether or not the reindeer really is 'the' Prancer.  The film makes several implications that the reindeer is magical, but it never really comes out and says it.  I think that makes the narrative a bit stronger and more grown-up than the average holiday fantasy.  If you haven't seen Prancer or if you haven't seen it in years, pick it up and give it a try this Christmas Eve.  I'm sure the whole family will enjoy it.

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