Sunday, April 28, 2013

Movie Review: Prancer (1989)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Emotionally satisfying Christmas drama
Cons: A tad slow to start, occasional bits of acting
The Bottom Line:
Believe in magic
As girl nurses a reindeer
And a town wakes up

"Yes, Santa, There Still are Virginias."

I remember the fall of 1989 seeing ads for a movie called Prancer.  I was quite interested in seeing it, but it never quite happened.  Over the years, I've when it is playing on TV, but I've never tried to record to watch it.  This year, I changed that.  And I'm glad I did.

It is getting close to Christmas, which means that it is Jessica Riggs' (Rebecca Harrell) favorite season.  The eight-year-old knows things are hard at home.  After all, her mother had died and her father John (Sam Elliott) is having a hard time making ends meet on the family apple farm.

One day, Jessica sees a reindeer roaming through the woods.  She immediately decides it is Prancer since it looks like a picture she has of Santa's reindeer and since she saw the plastic Prancer fall from the town's Christmas display a few days ago.

When she finds the reindeer again a few days later in the family barn, she quickly moves him to the shed and tries to nurse him back to health in time to join Santa on Christmas Eve.  Can she do it without her father finding out?  Is it really Prancer?

What I found most interesting about this movie is the lack of a firm time and place.  At times I thought it was a contemporary movie (at least for the 80's), then I felt it was supposed to be set in the 50's or 60's.  Likewise, the setting is a small rural town in some northern state, but it really could be anywhere USA.  Not that either thing matters in the grand scheme of things.  The story and setting are truly timeless, so the specifics are pointless.

Make no mistake about it, this is a drama.  At one point, John tells Jessica that he is thinking of having her go live with her aunt.  In fact, John can tend to be a bit overbearing at times due to the stress he is under trying to keep the farm afloat.  It took me quite a while to warm up to him.  There are a few lighthearted moments throughout the film, but they aren't the norm.

Not that this is a depressing movie by any standards.  In fact, it is quite heart warming.  The scenes with Cloris Leachman's reclusive neighbor were a particular favorite.  Jessica's constant faith in who she was taking care of was neat.  And I dare you to be dry eyed for the satisfying ending.

The fight between faith and reality is a pretty big theme in the film.  At one point, Jessica's best friend states she no longer believes in Santa, God, or Heaven.  While this is never addressed directly again, Jessica is constantly praised for her continued faith that this reindeer is Prancer if not by the people around her then by how the story is told.

This isn't a special effects heavy movie.  I'm guessing some of the time the reindeer was on screen was an animatronic character.  If so, they did a seamless job cutting him into the film.

The acting could have been a tad better at times, mostly from the kids.  But I am willing to forgive the one or two lapses due to their age.

Additionally, the story starts a little slowly.  It wasn't that it was even setting things up for later.  It just felt like there were several needless scenes to me.

Really, these are fairly minor complaints.  I was moved while watching Prancer.  I wish I had seen it sooner.

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