Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 4, 2012)
Just in time for Christmas, we get DreamWorks Holiday Classics, a compilation of five separate animated holiday programs. Here’s what we find:
Shrek the Halls (28:01): Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) doesn’t care about the holiday, but Fiona (Cameron Diaz) wants a happy Yule so he does his best to deliver a warm family Christmas.
Of course, this doesn’t go according to schedule. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) interjects himself into Shrek’s plans and sends things in a different direction. While Shrek crafts a quiet evening with Fiona and their babies, Donkey brings all their pals over for a more raucous festival. Hijinks ensue.
When I first heard about Halls, I suspected it’d offer little more than a money grab to help propagate the Shrek franchise. After all, ogres and Christmas don’t go together very well, so there was no logical reason for the show to exist. I feared a crass piece of fluff would result.
While not a classic, Halls does at least manage to exceed my expectations. On the negative side, it comes with a terribly thin story. It throws us a standard “family is what you make it” theme and loosely constructs a plot around it. Frankly, Christmas isn’t a holiday that connects too well with the Shrek universe. It just seems a little odd to see a religious occasion celebrated in a fairy tale world like this, and the two don’t match neatly.
The special’s positives help overcome this issue, however. I’m happy to see the return of all the major cast members, as I worried a made-for-TV piece like this would toss in substitutes. Granted, Halls leaves out some big-name supporting characters, but the big four of Myers, Diaz, Murphy and Antonio Banderas all show up here, and we also find the less well-known folks who do roles like Pinocchio and Gingy. That sense of continuity helps make Halls feel like an “A”-level piece, not just a cheap spin-off.
Production values remain good, as the animation lives up to the standards set in the films, and the special includes enough amusement to make it worthwhile. Without question, the best part of the show comes from the various versions of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Gingy’s horror story is easily the strongest, but I like the takes from Donkey and Puss as well. The other aspects of Halls aren’t quite as good, but they entertain.
Shrek the Halls doesn’t dazzle in any way, but then again, it doesn’t really attempt to do so. Despite the presence of its big stars, it provides a rather modest tale. It throws out enough laughs and charm to be worthwhile.
Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular (7:46): Donkey hosts a big party for all his pals; much singing ensues, though with twists such as “Fleas Navidad”. “Caroling” is little more than an excuse for a lot of bad puns and wacky vocals from the Shrek regulars. As always, it’s nice to hear from the original actors, and the short moves well to create a reasonably entertaining piece.
DreamWorks Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury (22:14): The yearly winter holiday of “Snoggletog” comes to the Viking village of Berk, the first such occasion since humans and dragons joined together in peace. However, the dragons suddenly fly away for reasons unknown to the locals.
All leave except for Toothless, the dragon paired with resident hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), because Toothless lacks a tail and can’t fly. Even though no one understands why the dragons split, Hiccup feels bad that Toothless can’t join the others, so he creates an artificial tail to allow the creature to soar. We follow his departure, attempts by the villagers to enjoy Snoggletog sans dragons, and the ultimate reveal of why the creatures left.
I know it got plenty of good reviews, but I must admit How to Train Your Dragon did little for me; I thought it was one of the more ordinary DreamWorks animated films. Maybe I should give it another shot, but on initial viewing, it left me cold.
That said, “Fury” manages to deliver a pretty good special. Like Kung Fu Panda Holiday, it essentially creates a Christmas show for characters who wouldn’t celebrate/recognize Christmas. At least “Fury” awards the day a name; I got annoyed during Panda because the participants simply referred to an anonymous “holiday”.
“Fury” also avoids the pitfalls suffered by Panda Holiday in that it creates an unusual story of its own. Panda Holiday just generated bland platitudes and went nowhere, while “Fury” comes up with a pretty fun and clever way to get into the standard themes. It still gives us the usual “Christmas/Snoggletog is about giving/caring” but it livens up the notion with some interesting twists. Throw in a little action and some comedy and “Fury” turns into a likable little special.
Merry Madagascar (22:20): As our zoo animal friends Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Gloria (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Melman (David Schwimmer) try to leave Madagascar, King Julien (Danny Jacobs) shoots down their vehicle. Why? Because he thinks they’re the Red Night Marauding Goblin, a character who throws black rocks at them once a year.
As it turns out, the “Goblin” is Santa Claus (Carl Reiner), and the black rocks are coal that he drops on Julien due to his status on the “Naughty List”. Alex and company don’t realize the Goblin’s real identity until it’s too late and they’ve helped bring him down, so they then need to fix their mistake, save Christmas – and maybe get back to New York, too.
Probably the wackiest of the specials on this Blu-ray, “Merry” manages another clever show. I like a Christmas piece willing to portray Santa as a villain – albeit a misunderstood one – and tangents like the battle between the reindeer and the penguins add value. The program moves at a brisk pace and brings us fun, nutty take on the standard Christmas special – all largely devoid of the usual sentiment and morals, which makes it even more refreshing.
(By the way, “Merry” offers the only special on the Blu-ray that features a replacement voice for a major actor; Jacobs subs for original Julien Sacha Baron Cohen. Jacobs does a more than credible job as a faux Cohen.)
The Madagascar< Penguins in a Christmas Caper (10:50): The Private tries to help spread some Christmas cheer. When he goes missing, the others search for him. It’s an amusing short that comes with the disc’s cheapest production values, but it still has plenty of fun. It’s more sentimental than “Merry” but it’s got enough semi-perversity/weirdness to make it a hoot.