Stellar CG animation and appealingly energetic original songs help elevate this otherwise generic straight-to-Christmas-disc children's feature that centers on Bernard (voiced by The Hobbit's Martin Freeman), a well-intentioned North Pole elf with an unfortunate unintentional knack for getting in trouble.
An aspiring inventor, as the movie opens Bernard returns to present his latest holiday related piece of gadgetry to the revered Saint Nick affiliated elf think-tank dubbed SANTECH. Shortly thereafter, he finds his day going from bad to worse when an accidental glitch in the meeting mistakenly reveals the classified location of Santa's illustrious workshop to Tim Curry's snooping billionaire baddie with a grudge, the aptly-named Neville Baddington.
A middle-aged Mama's Boy to the movie's gender-flipped Grinch meets Cruella deVil hybrid (voiced by Joan Collins), Baddington is eager to steal the secret technology of Santa's ultra-fast sleigh to use in the family's worldwide delivery service empire.
Hoping to make Santa obsolete due to a longstanding childhood grudge that's fairly easy to predict to any viewer that’s been around the candy cane laden block of holiday hits of days gone by, Baddington's unwelcome arrival in the North Pole inspires Bernard to go from Reindeer Pooper Scooper to Time Traveler Super Duper.
Impressed by Bernard's cleverness and appetite for invention, just before they're interrupted by the ruthless businessman and his un-merry band of Santa haters, the Tim Conway voiced Claus entrusts the sleigh's intel to Bernard with the hopes he can thwart the villains and save Christmas for good.
Drawing obvious inspiration from Back to the Future and parallels to Groundhog Day as the movie continues, Bernard realizes he's forced to go back in time repeatedly, reliving and re-experiencing earlier events from a different vantage point. As such, Saving Santa may feel a tad too familiar and start to bore those older than grade school age midway through its otherwise succinct 83 minute running time.
Fortunately what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in song as the infectious charm of Grant Olding's original musical numbers keep toes tapping along all-the-way through the predictable Grinchian ending.
Similarly augmented by the film's bright colored, yet soft-edged warm holiday animation completed by the same company (Prana Studios) that was tapped by Disney to work on Planes and the wildly successful (not to mention eye-poppingly gorgeous) Tinker Bell series, Saving Santa's strengths in picture and sound come through one hundred percent on a flawless Blu-ray transfer, which plays best on systems that smooth fast-motion sequences so your eyes can remain lost in the image rather than pulled into the questionable frame rate of a slightly staccato sequence.
Light on extras, the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack contains two mini-featurettes that offer a glimpse into the Recording Sessions with Freeman singing what he describes as one of the "Bacharach Muppet songs," and a post-production sound byte heavy featurette that seems as though it had been made as a marketing tool to negotiate foreign rights with plenty of references to the film’s "selling points."
While it probably would've been to their benefit to serve up a few more kid-friendly gems, the obvious standout for fans of the High School Musical actress who voices the elfin love-interest to Freeman's character is an Ashley Tisdale music video for the track "Some Kind of Miracle."
Directed by first-time feature directors including editor turned filmmaker Aaron Seelman and former Disney character animator Leon Joosen, Saving Santa is a charming, if ultimately forgettable new stocking stuffer that's at least colorful and quirky enough to hold the attention span of little ones this holiday season.
Though the convoluted plot that borrows a bit too heavily from preexisting entertainment threatens to bog down the second half of Santa and weigh heavily on the goodwill served up by animation and sound, ultimately its sweetness in message and affably earnest elf hero (with a standout bit of voice-work by Freeman) manages to save it from obscurity after all.
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