Prancer (1989)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman, Rutanya Alda, Michael Constantine
Extras: Trailer

’Prancer’ is just one of a stable full of Christmas-themed DVDs being released these days. While it certainly has its feel-good moments and boasts a decent enough cast, ’Prancer’ is just a bit too unpleasant in nature and simply doesn’t have the depth of story to warrant such dark overtones.

Jessica Riggs (Rebecca Harrell) lives with her brother and her dad (Sam Elliot) on an apple farm. With Christmas fast approaching it appears that the kids will have to be sent to live with their aunt as the family farm has fallen on hard times. Walking home from school, Jessie watches as workmen putting up the town’s holiday decorations drop and break Prancer, one of Santa’s reindeer. Later, Jessie finds a wounded but strangely unafraid deer in the woods. Convinced that this is the real Prancer, she sets out to nurse it back to health and get it back to the North Pole in time for Santa’s Christmas Eve ride. Of course her dad just wants to put the poor guy out of his misery.

The acting here is quite solid with young Harrell delivering a fine, natural performance and Elliot putting on his usual tense persona. But it’s this very same tension and dark undercurrent that makes it hard to enjoy the show. I hated movies like this as a kid as the last thing I wanted out of my kiddie entertainment was a realistic depiction of family strife and the general unpleasantness of mankind. Gritty realism is fine and dandy for mature audiences but this is a G-rated family holiday film and as such it should be more than a tad lighter in tone.

’Prancer’ is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and offers up a fairly poor video transfer. The overall image is soft and black levels are too weak to accurately handle the fine detail in the darker scenes. In addition, there are numerous compression artifacts, some heavy film grain, and far too much edge enhancement is used. But colors are good and there are only a few minor physical blemishes in evidence.

Audio is offered in English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround as well as a dubbed French DD 2.0 mono mix. Quality here is much improved over the video with the track offering a pleasing and vibrant mix. Surrounds are used to great effect on a few occasions and dynamic range is wide enough to allow the fine music to flow through unconstrained (what the heck is Maurice Jarre doing slumming here?). The score also exhibits a hint of deep bass. Dialogue is always clear but does sound a bit harsh at times.

While ’Prancer’ is not a bad movie by any means (it’s actually quite a solid bit of drama) I can’t help feeling that it just doesn’t fit the bill for wholesome holiday entertainment. Kids will like the reindeer well enough but their little stomaches will be all twisted in knots from having to listen to Jessie’s type-A dad mercilessly berate her and threaten Prancer with a trip to the butcher. Sheesh.

Adding to my overall negative attitude is the barely passable quality of the video transfer. While the audio is fine enough and I don’t really expect any extras from MGM’s budget line, I really can’t find anything about ’Prancer’ that warrants a recommendation. Man, movies where people threaten helpless animals still give me tummy aches.