Dec. 1st – Disney’s Prep and Landing

Original Air Date: December 8, 2009

Santa wouldn’t be able to hit every house without a crack team of elves already on the ground. This is their story…

Way back in 2006, Disney’s animation division was struggling. It’s traditionally animated features were no longer resonating with audiences, and worse still, Pixar, the studio responsible for much of its modern say success, was thinking of leaving the company.

Never be ashamed to ask a friend for help

Thankfully, this was not the case. Disney opted to acquire Toy Story pioneers lock, stock, and barrel, and with that, give Pixar president John Lasseter the keys to the Disney kingdom. And it’s a good thing they did too. One of Lasseter’s first moves was shutting down the DisneyToon division shamelessly riding on the coat tails of the company’s past successes with straight-to-video sequels, and moved in the rebranded feature animation division, under the new yet warmly familiar name, Walt Disney Animation Studios.

It’s impossible not to love this logo

The studios would not only return to a focus on traditional, hand drawn animation (initially, although they’re also responsible for Tangled and Wreck-it Ralph) it would also return to producing the Disney shorts that made the company famous in order to foster talent and spur creativity. That product came forth in a big way in 2009. Immediately following the theatrical return to form The Princess and The Frog, Disney’s first proper Christmas special in decades hit the ABC airwaves…

That ginormous sidebar on the left should be evidence enough that I have A LOT of Cartoon Christmas memories circling in my cerebral repertoire. Perhaps this entire bloggy venture is a form of therapy, a coping mechanism subconsciously put in place to manage a brain overwhelmed by animated Holiday nostalgia…

Above the title? Clearly there were plans for these guys

Whatever. With all that in mind, I’m understandably hesitant to allow NEW Christmas Specials into my heart, because let’s face it, my brain’s a couple of Rankin-Bass memories away from forcing important things like family birthdays and my ATM pin number from my memory bank in order to make space.

I approve this logo

This filter, unfortunately, tends to come in the form of cynicism. “A new Xmas Special? Yeah, that’s the last thing I need/that’s probably shit.” So here I stand, just having taken in Prep & Landing, utterly embarrassed.

License to stir

We’d just started this site back in 2009 when it premiered, and I’m pretty astonished at how quickly I completely brushed off a new television Christmas Special from goddamned Disney!

Not Pictured: Lanny

It’s not a lack of faith in their current animated product, nor a flippant regard for CG animation. If I had to blame anything, I think we can all blame the quality and overwhelming supply of Disney animated Xmas fare that hits DVD all the goddamned time.

Nothin’ here, just an awesome Xmas

It’s not all terrible, as we’ve seen in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, just…. less exceptional when compared to it’s real-deal theatrical/Pixar output. But rest assured, when Disney puts its weight behind a cartoon Christmas special, it’s going to be just that: Special. Prep & Landing is no exception.

Here come the Men in Green (and some red)

Bear in mind just how rare it is for the animation powerhouse to make a Xmas special completely unrelated to a current series or franchise, that doesn’t tie into anything else. While the Christmas special has certainly been used as a launch vessel for numerous series, nobody takes that risk anymore. So when something like Prep & Landing comes out of nowhere, you know it’s because it’s a story a lot of people believed in.

You think they trim themselves, people?!

Man, what a ramble! So Prep & Landing is the name of Santa’s elfly faction that PREPares homes all around the world for his arrival, in order to ensure a smooth LANDING, expedited gift distribution, minimized creature stirring, and optimal cookie consumption.

Little Runways

Wayne, voiced by Bugs Life’s Dave Foley, is great at the job. He trims trees and douses fires like a ninja of unmitigated cheer. I love this premise. Showing the structured world behind Santa’s Christmas day delivery goes far beyond toy cobblers. There are reindeer flight crews, stocking coal miner’s, Naughty/Nice monitors, and hints of a wealth of other Yuletide minutiae occurring behind the scenes.

Set ‘er down nice and easy

It’s a simple formula, and one Disney learned from the very company responsible for its modernday revitalization: Pixar. If you had to briefly boil down the premise for Pixar’s most successful films, its validating warm childhood myths with a practical (and comedic) realization behind the scenes. Think cars embodied with a heart and soul, toys that come to life to take care of their owner, or a solid business built around monsters scaring children.

Soliciting miners

It’s also a premise with plenty of cartoony potential. Adults will love watching the bureaucracy behind Christmas, as Wayne believes his years of flawless service to P&L will land him the highly coveted position of Naughty List Manager.

Pride, just one of Santa’s 7 Deadly Sins

Of course, when he loses the gig to his partner, the special takes a bit of a turn, and it’s not one I entirely expected. For one, you’ve got a strong female character who isn’t Mrs. Claus for once! Meet Wayne’s superior, Magee (voiced by Sarah Chalke.)

Note the Charlie Brown Xmas tree just behind the bad news

The doofus Wayne gets partnered up with is actually incredibly capable and by no means the eye-rolley bumbler I expected him to be. He’s just super excited to receive the position he’s always wanted and on top of that, partnered with an elf he considers legendary.

What the hell is Lanny short for anyway?

Which means once the gig starts Lanny is particularly miffed to see Wayne mopey and distraught, seemingly unaware of his disappointment over having to keep doing this job.

Makes me think reindeer should be eligible for the X Games

To say Wayne is distraught is an understatement. He out rights rebels against his lot in life and refuses to do his job.

This was a big no-no in the household

He steals the cookies he’s sworn to protect, and opts to sip a coffee and watch a familiar Xmas special!

Mickey’s Christmas Carol appears on TV for like 2 seconds!

Meanwhile, we get another peak behind the curtain at the North Pole. Taking into account  how seriously the Prep & Landing elves take their jobs, you know the launch of Santa’s sleigh is going to be a well-oiled operation.

NP HQ is not fucking around!

Reindeer take off is treated with all the professionalism of a highly-trained tarmac crew at JFK the week after 9/11, and just so happens to feature a sequence that made me laugh louder and longer than any Xmas Special we’ve ever covered here.

Here comes the big guy

But Wayne’s ennui has started a disastrous ball rolling. He fails to notice a stirring creature on his iBread, and is photographed by a young boy.

Don’t worry folks, it’s just a child

And while I wrongfully assumed this was where Wayne and the child, Timmy, would go onto have sappy shenanigans throughout the rest of the special, it’s actually just to show the worse case scenario when the job is done poorly. The kid is immediately knocked out by a concussive ornament.

Try and explain this to the cops

Amazingly, the spot where I thought the special would go all slapstick and stupid is where it gets warmly sentimental. There’s a massive snowstorm occurring on this Christmas night, and Wayne has not only put his team behind schedule, he’s caused a worst case scenario.

Tiny facepalm!

Given the weather conditions and the situation on the ground, HQ has no choice but to divert Santa away from Timmy’s house. Wayne’s selfishness has fucked up Christmas for a kid who truly deserved one.

You should feel bad, dick

Fortunately, this snaps the elf back into work mode. I’m not really doing a good job expressing how much I loved this portion of the special. All smiles on the verge of happy tears, and I love the scene where Wayne patches through to Santa to tell him to get the hell back here. This can still be done. To which Santa replies “I was hoping you’d say that” and yanks the reindeer into a 180.

“What up, this be Santa”

A little bit of improvisation coupled with P&E’s tried and true professionalism pulls it off. Just barely. And I love that the special swells to a heartwarming Holiday climax with one small victory: Not disappointing a single child.

Hands down, the reindeer are the funniest part of this special

I’d go on to describe the remainder of the special, but as goes the difficulties of writing up superb works, I’m really not doing it justice. Not only do I not want to ruin Prep & Landing’s sweet, final moments, I think you all should really experience it for yourself.

Nada. Religious faith of any kind hasn’t entered into to a Disney joint since The Small One (and even that’s debatable.) However, Mickey is most definitely acknowledged, so I’ll hook up Prep & Landing one point for piety.

Even though Kringle’s face is never shown, he’s here and in a big way. Hell, the whole concept revolves around him

Absolutely fantastic! Oh, I’m sure that new cartoon show you like has made a hilariously ironic Christmas special in the last couple of years, but Prep & Landing has created the greatest sincere Xmas special in recent memory. I haven’t seen the sequel, but I’m a little terrified to. I wouldn’t want it to taint what’s on display here, most likely the best Christmas Special in the last ten years. Seriously.

PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us – it helps!)

Prep & Landing is available on a standalone disc, as well as more recently released DVD and Blu-ray also containing the sequel, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice. I know we haven’t covered many of them here, but if high-grade CG Christmas Specials are you thing, then you should check out the Dreamworks Holiday Collection as well.

2009’s Dec. 1 Christmas Special


2010’s Dec. 1 Christmas Special


2011’s Dec. 1 Christmas Special

9 thoughts on “Dec. 1st – Disney’s Prep and Landing

  1. I was so confused by this for a while, as I SWORE these characters looked familiar and none of what you described rang a bell… then I realized I had seen only the SHORT sequel, Operation: Secret Santa. Now I gotta check out the real thing! 🙂

  2. I’m really glad you liked P&L so much. I watched it last year not really knowing what to expect, but I was extremely impressed. I especially loved Sarah Chalke’s performance. I’m definitely going to watch it again before Christmas this year.


  4. I just watched this and it was fantastic. It’s neat to see a high-quality, modern, CGI Christmas special.

    I don’t see this being nearly as timeless as others on this site, but it has definitely made its way into my yearly rotation of specials for the next few years.

    — And what a great cameo from my favorite special of all-time, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”

    — Thanks for doing this again this year, Chris. And any of your helpers.

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