Thursday, December 29, 2005

Movie Review: The Happy Elf

U.S. Release Date: 12/6/05 (DVD)
Running Time: 0:45
Rated: NR
Cast (voices): Rob Paulsen, Carol Kane, Mickey Rooney, Lewis Black, Harry Connick Jr., Kevin Michael Richardson

Director: John Rice
Producers: Harry Connick Jr., Ann Marie Wilkins, Scott Landis, John W. Hyde
Screenplay: Andrew Fishman, based on the song by Harry Connick Jr.
Music: Harry Connick Jr.
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment/IDT Entertainment

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Based on Harry Connick Jr.’s song of the same name – a cut from his encore Christmas album, entitled “Harry for the Holidays” – The Happy Elf is a short-film that aspires to be the next animated holiday classic. Although, Harry Connick Jr. himself has said that the film was built “off of the skeleton lyric that [he] had.” Connick’s use of the word “skeleton” should be proof enough that stretching a film out of a song is a bad idea. While novels and short-stories have been adapted into decent full-length films, adapting a song into a movie is just about as logical as turning an SNL skit into one.

While The Happy Elf may seem to be a good excuse to gather the family around the hearth, it merely serves as a 45-minute diversion for only the youngest of viewers. Its dialogue is weak; its character development is near nonexistent; its CG-animation is run-of-the-mill; and, its storyline is basic and unmoving.

Eubie the Elf (Rob Paulsen) is one of Santa’s helpers. He is overzealous to the point of annoying, and no supervisor wants to manage him. However, when the “Naughty-and-Nice” department becomes backed up with checking Santa’s list a second time, Eubie gets assigned to the task. In checking to see which kids were naughty and which were nice, Eubie discovers that an entire town, called Bluesville, made the naughty list. With a last minute effort, Eubie attempts to restore the Christmas spirit in the dreariest of townspeople.

Rob Paulsen does an adequate job as the energetic, motor-mouthed, bucked-toothed Eubie. With the same frenzied voice he used to play Yakko on WB’s “Animaniacs,” Paulsen easily emits a character that appears to have taken a high dosage of Prozac. Also, with her same whispery, New York-accented voice that she applied as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged and as Valerie in The Princess Bride, Carol Kane creates Gilda—Eubie’s love interest and the one character who possesses awkward and over-exaggerated lip movements. In addition, Lewis Black as Eubie’s boss, Mickey Rooney as Santa Claus, and Harry Connick Jr. as Lil Farley (the narrator) perform equally well.

In terms of comedy, most of The Happy Elf’s jokes fall flat. With lines like, “He started it; she escalated it,” “I could have a panic attack just thinking about it,” and “This conversation is giving me hives,” screenwriter Andrew Fishman tries to crack a few smiles, but looks of tedium are sure to result. The Happy Elf also attempts to reach the adult audience by quoting a few well-known productions. When the one-woman show of the Smiling League of Bluesville (S.L.O.B.) demands “Serenity Now,” it rings false sentiments of “Seinfeld.” When Eubie exclaims, “Wax on; wax off,” it is only the umpteenth time we have heard this Karate Kid quote, and when someone asks a worker at "The What Factory” what factory he works at, his answer of “Yeah, that’s right,”—only mimicking the “Who’s on first” Abbott and Costello routine that tired everyone out over 60 years ago.

In the long run, The Happy Elf is suitable for any child under the age of seven. Any one over the age of seven will most likely be insulted by wasting three quarters of an hour. While the film is colorful and gets across its “Kids need to be well-behaved all year round” message, the picture trudges along—even wasting time by having the main character say “Goodbye” in about 30 different languages and show his Mouse Trap-esque thought-process to arrive at an idea. Also, even though the majority of Connick’s tunes are catchy, the instruments are basically inaudible—resulting in the musical numbers sounding more like a cappella charts, with a recording playing down the street and around the corner.

Considering Eubie’s overused motto is “Think big, and you can do great things,” too bad the production team didn’t take the protagonist’s words as advice. The Happy Elf: “A new animated Christmas Classic,”—in Anchor Bay Entertainment’s dreams. Give me Rudolph and the Misfit Toys, Frosty, Charlie Brown, or the Grinch over Eubie the Elf any day. (* out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005