Writer-director Jennifer Westcott’s Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is spunky, cluttered holiday fun for kids. With help from voice talent like Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee and John Cleese, this somewhat-spastic narrative is more of a stocking stuffer than a whole-hearted gift. (GEP: 3.5/5)
Review by Contributing Editor Georgiana E. Presecky
Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer would have made a perfect Disney channel-esque cartoon, spread out over four or five episodes and airing on Saturday mornings through December. Its jokes, premise and characters feel like the type that belong in a series, rather than an 80-minute narrative that struggles to keep its sleigh in the sky.
Elliot (Hutcherson) is a miniature horse with big dreams, being trained by his petting zoo friend Hazel (Bee) on the failing farm where they live. Bee provides a bulk of the film’s laughs in the role of this sassy goat, and Hutcherson’s earnest voice makes Elliot a deserving protagonist, just hoping to fill in for one of Santa’s reindeer as Christmas draws closer. The pair go to great lengths for Elliot to prove his strength to the North Pole higher-ups, setting them off on an atypical adventure surrounded by other oddball animals. Its message of dreaming big despite your size or circumstances is sweet and admirable, but its chaotic storylines and off-kilter humor keep it from maintaining that Christmas charm.
If anything, Westcott should be praised for giving a bit more credit to its young audience than most animated films – if you count topical jokes and pop culture references as credit. Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is full of a dry, witty humor that might not play to kids, but might also baffle adults who aren’t expecting high-brow jokes about office politics and pickup lines set against the backdrop of the cheerful North Pole. Elliot’s story is just one of many plotlines, from well-meaning farm owner Clyde (Jeff Dunham) trying to keep his business afloat to a pompous reindeer trying hard to impress his tough father (Cleese, hilarious as always).
Hutcherson is perfectly cast for those who have watched his career over the past two decades, in which he’s perfected playing the underestimated hero in films like The Hunger Games and Bridge To Terabithia. The voice talent and animation style are true highlights of Elliot, especially when the narrative falters. With recent animated offerings like Smallfoot and Ralph Breaks the Internet sending more complex messages of discovering the world outside your own, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer sends a more old-fashioned message of dreaming big despite the odds.
© Georgiana E. Presecky (11/30/18) FF2 Media
Photos courtesy of Awesometown Entertainment