This holiday season, and really every holiday season, TV gets inundated with Christmas movies. There are the old stand-bys, the weird Rankin Bass claymation movies (Year Without a Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, etc), the classics (White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life) and the newer animated and live action Christmas movies (The Grinch, Polar Express, The Muppet Christmas Carol) and every year thousands of people look to ABC Family and their 25 Days of Christmas to see their favorites.
A long time ago, about 15 years, an adorable, animated Christmas special based on a popular book hit the air waves. That was Olive the Other Reindeer. The sweetest, most sincere, under appreciated, underrated Christmas movie of my generation.
It’s a real gem that deserves more air time than it gets, considering it hasn’t been aired on TV since 2012, and then it was on Cartoon Network at 3pm (a terrible time slot because most kids aren’t home from school yet, and adults are at work, it’s really only good for college kids). This year ABC Family opted for about a dozen movies only related to Christmas by 1 scene instead of this adorable movie about a spunky, independent dog who wants to save Christmas.
In case you’ve never seen it, or have forgotten, this movie follows a dog named Olive (voiced by Drew Barrymore) who isn’t a normal dog. She won’t chew slippers, she doesn’t chase mail men, she walks on two legs and has a pet flea. In a terrible mix-up she believes her owner, no longer wants her as a pet. She then hears that Santa won’t be making his traditional flight due to an injured reindeer. Thinking quickly, Olive realizes she’s “Olive the other reindeer” (actually sung “all of the other reindeer”) and hurries off with her penguin partner to the North Pole to help save Christmas (personally, I have a bit of an issue with the Christmas movies that imply Santa is the only important thing about Christmas, but I digress). Along the way they meet a rag tag group of friends, a nice bus driver named Richard Stands, a group of rough n’ tough North Pole workers at a bar, and lastly, Santa himself (voiced by Ed Asner). She does join the reindeer team and help save Christmas. Oh, and there’s an entire subplot about a mail man trying to destroy Christmas because it causes him more pain and work.
Now several aspects of this movie make it underrated, it’s obviously under-appreciated because it hasn’t been aired on TV in 2 years. For one, the general premise is different and (to me) really exciting. It’s the story of an underdog (pun intended) who swoops in and teaches everyone to accept their quirks and love who they are! The 45 minutes are also packed with a few toe tapping songs which move the plot along, and help develop the characters. The final reason this movie is so underrated is the animation style which is reminiscent of paper cut outs. This combination, a christmas movie about an underdog, with catchy fun songs, and a unique animation style creates something that’s so unique it could never have been made for this generation, and thus will always hold a special place in my little 7 year old heart.
Looking at the movie’s message, it’s clear it’s not just a Christmas movie. It’s a movie for kids who feel like they’re a little different, who don’t quite know where they fit in. Olive doesn’t act like a dog until the last 5 minutes of the movie. She walks on two legs, has a pet flea (Fido), and has no interest in chasing cars, or barking at mailmen. Olive just wants her owner, Tim, to love her for who she is. It’s a story a lot of people can relate to, the idea that someone they love (conditionally or not) doesn’t understand who they are, and thus has a hard time accepting them for it.
But in the end, after Olive reaches the North Pole and helps Santa Ed Asner save Christmas Tim does love her for who she is. The time apart made him realize what he was missing*. Olive, in all her not-really-dog-acting glory. The entire movie she perseveres through people (and reindeer) who make fun of her goal, and try to push her down. But she doesn’t let them. That’s a message every kid should learn from a young age. When people try to push you down for doing what you believe in, and being who you are, you tell them they’re wrong and walk passed them. It’s such an under appreciated message, because most Christmas movies deal with believing in something greater than you (because that’s kind of the important part about Christmas, Jesus and all), but this one deals with one dog and her unfailing belief in herself.
Now, on her journey she and many of the other characters sing some wonderful songs. Every year I get excited for Year Without a Santa Clause purely because of Heat Miser and Snow Miser, but this is a 45 minute musical to get excited about for every song. Let’s start with the villain’s song.
This would be the aforementioned mail man. He hates Christmas because it’s the only time of year people really use the mail system, and thus he has to deliver everyone’s presents without getting any of his own, because he has no friends. He sings a lovely tune about hating Christmas, and you really get the full understanding of his character through the song. It has some catchy lyrics, like “Send a friend a two-ton gift / I don’t mind, I LOVE to lift!” and “Christmas! Bah-bug and hum!” It even comes with great accompanying animation showing the Mailman’s bag getting increasingly heavier. But the song does what not a lot of Christmas musical songs do, it moves the plot forward, and develops the characters. Most of the Rankin-Bass movies end up dealing more with emotions than actual storytelling.
So we’ve covered the message, the music, and finally the animation. The style of animation looks something like this:
It’s a paper cut style, the whole movie looks like it was made with construction paper. It’s a very interesting texture, and makes for a fun viewing experience. This sets it apart from, not only the other animated Christmas movies, but most animation. The style plays well with the close to home content, it feels like something your talented cousin could have made for a Christmas present. It’s not trying to be flashy, or the most technologically advanced, it’s just trying to emulate the beloved book this movie was based off. And keeping the same paper cut style works very well, and I think makes this an underrated gem.
This little Christmas movie tries as hard as it can to get across it’s message of acceptance, and I believe it succeeds well. The songs are damn catchy, I woke up with one stuck in my head this week (though that could be because I’ve watched this movie 4 times in the last week), and they’re fun, and they move everything forward. The animation gives it a charm not found in made for TV specials anymore. It’s homegrown, and wonderful, and if you’re ever feeling down during the Christmas season give this a watch. I’m sure it will help you see the best parts of your own unique personality.
*I am not suggesting that if you feel under appreciated for who you are that you leave for an extended period of time to see what happens. That would be foolish, and probably scare a lot of people.