Olive, The Other Reindeer Review
The Simpsons? Futurama? A love of Captain Beefheart, particularly Trout Mask Replica? For all these things, Matt Groening is famous but in 1999, he acted as executive producer on a little-known short, broadcast at Christmas, about a dog who thinks she's a reindeer and despite Santa knowing a little about dogs - knowing, for instance, that they can't fly - Olive helps makes Christmas happen for all the good boys and girls.
When Olive (Barrymore) the little dog returns home after celebrating the Christmas holidays and meeting Martini (Pantoliano), a fast-talking penguin selling Rolexxx watches down an alleyway, her owner, Tim (Mohr), despairs at her lack of interest in normal dog things like chasing cars, digging holes in flowerbeds and biting postmen. Olive tries hard and pleads with Tim not to fight at Christmas but he pulls down the lights on his house saying that there isn't going to be a Christmas this year.
No Christmas this year? Can't be...but it's true. With Blitzen out injured after breaking his leg during a practice flight, Santa is one reindeer short and is debating whether or not to cancel Christmas. The first news reports are coming through from the North Pole, asking if Santa could possibly make it with all of the other reindeer...or was that Olive, The Other Reindeer? Olive's pet flea thinks so as it would certainly explain not only her lack of interest in dog things but, as it happens, the keeping of a pet flea! With Martini in tow, Olive catches one bus then another to get to help out Santa but with an evil postman (Castellenata) out to stop her, not to mention the bad feeling that's spreading all over the world from the cancellation of Christmas, will Olive make it in and what can a little dog do anyway? Olive is about to find out...
The original story on which this was based, also titled Olive, The Other Reindeer, is a charmingly illustrated book by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh in which Olive interprets the singing of, "...all of the other reindeer" from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer as, "Olive, the other reindeer" and heads to the North Pole to assist Santa deliver presents to all the good boys and girls. Despite Santa's knowledge of little dogs extending to knowing that they certainly don't fly, Olive finally proves her worth as Santa and the reindeer get lost in an Arctic fog and she's required to smell the aroma of Mrs Claus's parade of cookies to direct the Christmas party home. As a thank you from Santa, Olive is presented with a pair of antlers and realises that even a little dog who's unable to fly can do their part to make Christmas happen.
Despite the association with Matt Groening, Olive, The Other Reindeer features none of the overbitey characters as seen on either The Simpsons or Futurama but looks instead to flat, 2D characters in a 3D environment, all of which is computer generated. In keeping with J. Otto Seibold's original art, the characters are an odd mix of Picasso and childlike views of people, with eyes askew, noses drooping from the left or right side of heads and mouths never drawn where they ought to be. However, as with the book, the animation in the film is wonderful and emphasises the joy of Christmas through the falling of enormous snowflakes, the purchase of huge fir trees and the twinkling of stars in clear night skies. Best of all, Olive, The Other Reindeer could only have been made as an animated film with some of the background jokes, such as a family pushing a full-size Christmas tree into the boot of their car, despite it being six or seven times longer, only being possible through animation.
And, of course, in mentioning jokes, it is worth saying that Olive, The Other Reindeer is laugh-out-loud funny, with one particularly cruel joke near the end that is superb and involves Round John Virgin (as in a misheard lyric from Silent Night, geddit?) and Schnitzel, Blitzen's cousin, whose voice has been provided by Michael Stipe of REM. As with so much of Groening's other work, kids will love the bright and colourful animation and the obvious slapstick but there's so much in the film for adults - Rudolph is dismissed as an urban legend, there are scores of lightining-fast references to misheard lyrics, Schnitzel gripes about employment at the North Pole being dependent on Ol' Saint Nick and, following her kidnapping, Olive finds a parcel in the back of the evil postman's truck marked, "To Olive, From Deus Ex Machina", which ever so conveniently lets her get away. Kids would miss so much but then, even on a first viewing, so would adults as the jokes range from the obvious to the subtle and very clever and, as ever with Groening, there's a dig at Fox in a radio advert for, "...the world's wildest mistletoe accidents!"
Channel 4 have shown Olive, The Other Reindeer at Christmas for the last few years and, having bought the book in the last few months to prepare for this Christmas, I was hoping for a repeat of this in the coming week but, having stuffed their schedules full of Bedsitcom, repeats of Friends and The Bleeping Osbournes, Channel 4 have decided not to show this little gem this year. Therefore, a quick look on the Internet was required and both PlayUSA and Amazon.co.uk are supplying it, one shipping locally and the other from the US. Of course, it's too late to order it in time for this Christmas but should you have it, Olive, The Other Reindeer will be as essential as The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Snowman and The Muppet's Christmas Carol in the coming days.
Olive, The Other Reindeer is a short film - only 45 minutes - and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The picture quality is wonderful, however, with the bright colours reproduced without there being any obvious flaws, as is the particular look of the film, including the sharp edges of the characters but also that slight anti-aliased fuzz in the detail, which was also present in the original art by J. Otto Seibold.
Olive, The Other Reindeer has been transferred with a Dolby Pro-Logic Surround soundtrack encoded into a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track and, whilst the rear speakers are used for little more than adding a little weight, the soundtrack is clear and the music recordings, particularly Michael Stipe's We're Not So Bad, sound wonderful.
Olive, The Other Reindeer also includes French and Spanish language tracks and English, Spanish and French subtitles.
As well as including a jump-to-the-song feature, this DVD of Olive, The Other Reindeer includes a making-of (25m59s, 1.33:1, 2.0 Stereo) that has contributions from executive producers Claudia de la Roca and Matt Groening, animation director John Davis and most of the cast, including Drew Barrymore and Michael Stipe.
There are also three easter eggs - essentially the same one but across three different screens - that allows the viewer to hear the various news reports coming from the North Pole.
Regardless of whether you're at all bothered by the claim of this being, as the back of the case screams, "A New Holiday Classic", this is one more great show to have Matt Groening's name on it and for those of you who are collecting the DVD releases of The Simpsons and Futurama, this is just as snappy a story with some wonderful animation. Otherwise, if you're a sucker for a good Christmas story to settle down with, get ready for next year and stock up now with a copy of Olive, The Other Reindeer.