Prancer (December 19/04)
Though Prancer is presumably meant to appeal primarily to little kids, the film's unbelievably slow pace will likely turn off the majority of them before it really gets going. It takes almost a full hour before the story kicks into high gear (well, that may be overstating it a bit), though once it does, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist the movie's charm and old-fashioned vibe.
Rebecca Harrell stars as Jessica Riggs, an eternally optimistic little girl who looks forward to Christmas the entire year - something her father (played by Sam Elliott) just can't understand, particularly given that his wife/her mother has recently passed away. Jessica's unbridled enthusiasm for the holiday reaches epic new heights once she discovers a hurt reindeer in the forest, quickly surmising that it must be Prancer. She takes the wounded animal back to her house and hides it in a shed out back, hoping to nurse it back to health before Christmas Eve.
Though the film could've easily been trimmed by a good 45-minutes and not lost a thing, the overlong running time does effectively ensure that the various characters become figures that we want to root for. This is especially true of poor little Jessica, who is the subject of scorn at school and at home (where her father would like nothing more than for Jessica to get her head out of the clouds). The script, by Greg Taylor, even throws in a few periphery characters that are accompanied by their own mini-arcs - ie a mysterious, mean old woman (Cloris Leachman) whose heart is melted by Jessica's kind-hearted intentions - though the focus remains on Jessica's turbulent relationship with her father.
Harrell deserves a lot of credit for the film's success, as the actress does a nice job of sidestepping the usual pitfalls that often plague child performers (ie overwhelming cuteness). Jessica's Christmas-themed exuberance never becomes obnoxious, despite the occasionally flamboyant nature of the character. Elliott cranks up his grizzled persona into overdrive, though it suits the character well (we can tell that he genuinely loves his daughter, but just can't quite figure out how to handle her).
If it weren't for the almost interminable first hour, it seems likely that Prancer would be considered a mild Christmas classic. Still, it's hard to deny the film's uplifting conclusion, making it worth a look around the holidays.