Three Family Films from Disney
A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (October 20/09)
Geared exclusively toward younger viewers, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa follows the Muppets gang as they attempt to personally deliver a friend's letter to Santa - with problems ensuing as Kermit and his buddies (including Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Pepe the Prawn) are confronted with a series of obstacles and misunderstandings along the way. It's clear that the novelty of the muppets' mere presence goes a long way towards initially sustaining the viewer's interest, as - although the movie is a far cry from the gang's theatrical efforts - there remains something inherently irresistible about Jim Henson's felt-covered creations and their palpable chemistry with one another. The barrage of celebrity cameos - the film boasts appearances from, among others, Uma Thurman, Nathan Lane, and Whoopi Goldberg - serve no real purpose other than to pad out the almost unreasonably thin storyline, and although the majority of the gags and jokes are of the grade-school variety, there are a few authentically funny bits of comedy sprinkled here and there (ie a confrontation with a couple of squabbling New York carrier pigeons). The pervasively kid-friendly atmosphere ultimately cements A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa's place as an entirely needless piece of work, however, and it's impossible to wholeheartedly recommend the film to all but the Muppets' most ardent fans.
Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie
Presumably intended as a follow-up to 2005's Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie details the chaos that ensues within the Hundred Acre Wood after Pooh (Jim Cummings) eats everyone's Halloween candy. Tigger's (Cummings) tale of a mystical creature known as the Gobloon inspires Roo (Jimmy Bennett) and Lumpy (Kyle Stanger) to seek out the monster, as the story goes that anyone who successfully captures it will be granted one wish. Though the same legend claims that those caught by the Gobloon will be transformed into "jaggedy" lanterns, Roo and Lumpy swallow their anxiety and embark on their perilous quest - with Lumpy's increasingly jittery attitude eventually forcing Roo to regale him with a story of Piglet's (John Fiedler) past efforts at conquering his own Halloween-related fears. It's that oddball Piglet digression - which has evidently been pulled directly from a 1996 television special - that cements Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie's place as a blatant cash grab that's clearly been designed to appeal solely to small children, as the clunky narrative and hopelessly deliberate pace ensure that adults will find little here worth embracing. This is despite an animation style that's surprisingly vibrant and cinematic - this applies to the newly-conceived footage only, however - and the expectedly fine voice work from the various performers; such elements are inevitably rendered moot by the relentlessly prosaic atmosphere, and Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie finally (and definitively) establishes itself as a fairly worthless piece of work.
Santa Buddies (November 26/09)
Despite the presence of George Wendt and Christopher Lloyd (!) within its supporting cast, Santa Buddies immediately establishes itself as a pointless and downright interminable family comedy that's almost entirely lacking in elements designed to appeal to older viewers. The movie, which stands as the fourth entry in the Air Bud spin-off franchise (following Air Buddies, Snow Buddies, and Space Buddies), details the chaos that ensues as Puppy Paws (Zachary Gordon) absconds from the North Pole after his father (Tom Bosley's Santa Paws) scolds him in front of Santa Claus (Wendt), with the remainder of the proceedings following Puppy Paws as he meets the series' protagonists (Rosebud, Buddha, Budderball, B-Dawg, and Mudbud) and eventually learns the true meaning of Christmas. Santa Buddies possesses a hopelessly low-rent atmosphere that's exacerbated by the frustratingly thin storyline and utter lack of compelling characters, thus ensuring that the film primarily comes off as a desperate, thoroughly blatant cash-grab that's been geared towards the lowest common denominator. There's consequently little doubt that Santa Buddies will annoy and confound even its target demographic of small children, and although Lloyd's mere presence admittedly does buy the proceedings a little good will, it's certainly not enough to compensate for the pervasive feeling of relentless incompetence.