'Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer': Film Review

Coasts on Yuletide cheer.

Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, Martin Short and John Cleese are among the performers providing the voices for this animated film about a miniature horse who dreams of becoming one of Santa's reindeer crew.

Too many mediocre animated movies get a pass because they're Christmas-themed. Such will likely be the case with Jennifer Westcott's effort which, if it doesn't rack up significant theatrical grosses, will probably enjoy a decent life in ancillary markets. Because after all, who can resist a Yuletide movie with the word "reindeer" in the title? The chief saving grace of Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is its auspicious voice cast including Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, John Cleese and Martin Short, among others.  

The story revolves around the titular character (Hutcherson), who is not actually a reindeer but a miniature horse who dreams big. Elliot becomes inspired to take part in a competition of which the prize is becoming one of Santa's reindeers. There are plenty of job openings, since Blitzen (Short) is retiring to open a juice bar in Florida, Donner (Cleese) wants to move to an ashram to find himself and Prancer simply needs some "me time."

Accompanied by his wisecracking but supportive best friend Hazel (Bee), a goat with a rapacious taste for food including tin cans, Elliot travels to the North Pole to try his luck while outfitted with fake antlers. It's probably a wise move, since his home, the Whitty Bitty Farm petting farm, is in dire straits. Its owner Walter (Darren Frost) may be forced to sell it to an Eastern European woman (Short) who covets the property for all the wrong reasons.   

"I like reindeer, good and gamey!" she enthuses in a heavy accent before correcting herself. "I mean, good at games."  

Elliot has some serious competition in the form of the ultra-confident DJ (Christopher Jacot), who has an edge since he's the offspring of Donner (Cleese). Meanwhile, an investigative reporter (Morena Baccarin) is looking into the goings-on at Santa's workshop. And the reindeer contest turns out nastier than expected, especially since it's headed by Lemondrop (Short, yet again), Santa's ornery head elf who delights in insulting the competitors.

It's hard to say which is more tiresome, the groan-worthy gags or the profusion of earnest life lessons clumsily woven into the proceedings. The padded-out storyline also touches on numerous social issues, such as climate change and corporate downsizing, that will be lost on children and underwhelming to adults. There are some funny moments, to be sure, most of them revolving around Bee and Short's characters. Both performers do sterling voice work here, making the most of their stock characters, even while the other big-name vocal contributors are largely wasted.

Featuring rudimentary CGI animation more suited to home video than the big screen, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is strictly for the most undiscriminating small fry.

Production companies: Awesometown Entertainment, Double Dutch International, Elgin Road Productions
Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, Martin Short, John Cleese, Jeff Dunham, rob Tinker, Christopher Jacot, Morena Baccarin
Director-screenwriter: Jennifer Westcott
Producers: Lucas Lynette-Krech, Victoria Westcott
Executive producers: Michael Emerson, Dan Krech, Jackie Lynette, Jason Moring, Michael F. Sears, Victoria Westcott
Editor: Ali Lynette-Krech
Production designer: Naeim Khavari
Composers: Igor Correia, Robert Melamed
Casting: Dan Krech

Rated PG, 89 minutes