"Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" (2000)

I hate the goody-goody feelings of Christmas! All this caring and sharing! So I kidnapped Grandma and made Santa Claus the fall guy so I could get all his money! Hey, I deserve to be rich.
--Cousin Mel

It seems with every holiday that comes along, there are always certain unanswered questions to go with them.

Like, why do they call those little candy bars kids get trick-or-treating on Halloween "fun-sized" when everyone knows there's nothing "fun" about a smaller candy bar?

Why do they make grape-flavored Starburst jelly beans every Easter and not grape-flavored Starburst year-round?

But it always seems to be Christmas that has the most curiosity surrounding it.

How can a fat guy in a sleigh fit down a chimney, let alone deliver presents to everyone in the world in one night?

Why does he always deliver the bigger gifts to the kids in a higher tax bracket?

Is Die Hard really a Christmas movie?

But for me, the same question keeps popping up year after year:


Yes, they made a TV special out of the 1979 Elmo and Patsy song about vehicular geriatricide on Christmas.

And it is AWFUL.

I'm not just saying this because I have an aversion to corny holiday specials. It is truly bad.

How bad is it? Well, let me put it this way...I hate the song now. That's right. This special has turned me off of it. FOREVER. I can't hear it anymore without thinking of this steaming pile of elf vomit. It is right down there with WHAM's "Last Christmas", that Mariah Carey song and that annoying one with the singing chipmunks.

Directed by television animation legend Phil Roman (you executive produced Garfield and Friends and co-directed Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, what were you THINKING, man!?) and starring the voice of Elmo Shropshire himself who was also co-writer (J'ACCUSE!!), it was first unleashed on unsuspecting television audiences on the WB (now the CW) in Christmas of 2000. And no one has the common sense to take it off the air yet. They and their partners in crime at Cartoon Network have been showing this multiple times every year since then, for no other reason than to fill up holiday airtime. It has regularly aired on television every Christmas for more than a decade now. It JUST WON'T DIE.

So why would I want to waste my time watching this lukewarm glass of congealed eggnog?

Because nothing says Christmas like a heartwarming TV special about love and caring and family.

And if I have to suffer through it, then so shall you all.

Somewhere there's a Dairy Queen that's missing its mascot.

It all starts in the quaint little town of...Cityville. The town is literally named Cityville. They actually couldn't think of a better name than Cityville. I'm guessing this ISN'T the town with the three super-powered kindergartners and the evil hyper-intelligent monkey with the big hat.

It gets worse. The special focuses on a family named...*snrrkk*...Spankenheimer.

That pretty much sets the tone.

Yeah, they actually had their name legally changed years ago. Before that, they were the Fondlebergs.

Welcome to the Spankenheimer family store, where the staff is friendly, the prices are cheap and you can also get away with shoplifting, because your credit's always good with its proprietor Grandma Spankenheimer.

By the way, her name really is "Grandma." Probably says so on her birth certificate. Turns out her parents were just as unimaginative as the writers.

Well, since there's no point in learning any of the other characters' names, we'll just give you the principal cast. We already know the grandma who I'm guessing at one point in this special will in fact get run over by a reindeer. There's also Jake, the annoying "I-do-believe-in-Santa-Claus-I-do-I-do-I-do-I-do" kid who passes as this story's hero. There's Santa Claus, of course, to encourage this kid's wild imagination. There's a grandpa named Grandpa who mostly sings crappy songs and doesn't really do much anything else. And then there's Cousin Mel, the family entrepreneur who helps run the store with a Southern accent and poorly drawn hair. You can already tell she's the villain from her first line--she's more interested in money and profits and being rich and couldn't care less about warmth and family and giving and stuff.

Her dialogue in a nutshell: "Evil evil evil, rich rich rich, money, money, money...y'all."

Grandma is constantly being made offers to sell the store by the stereotypical CEO of the mega-multi-million-dollar conglomerate who already owns everything else in Cityville. HIS name is Mr. Bucks. Yep, B-U-C-K-S. As in, the synonym for dollars. I'd strangle this cartoon if I could.

Cousin Mel, naturally, has a differing opinion to this, and gets the idea that if people stopped coming to Grandma's store, business would go south and she'd have no choice but to sell it, so she pours some unknown liquid from a perfume bottle into the fruitcake that Grandma distributes every year to customers so as to kill--I mean, SICKEN unsuspecting innocent people.

Yeahhhhhhhh, there's no way that's going to work. Because as it turns out, nobody really eats Grandma's fruitcake. Or even likes it. And they're all too polite to tell it to her face. There's even a song that drives this point home with a series of lame fruitcake gags. As if gags about fruitcake not being safe for human consumption were still funny.


Anyway, on Christmas Eve, the cast go and reenact the titular song word-for-word, and Grandma has her inevitable accident. Jake sees the whole thing from his bedroom window, but seeing as he's not just the only witness but also an impressionable child, nobody believes him. At least not until morning, when two police officers arrive (one of whom I swear is straight out of Fargo) and find sleigh tracks and a silhouette-shaped Grandma-sized hole in the snow.

Anyway, time passes, Grandma's still missing, her face turns up on milk cartons, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, etc., etc., etc.

We're in September now, and Cousin Mel still wants to sell the family store. I'm kinda surprised she hasn't done it yet. So she has Grandpa take her to her favorite restaurant and asks him to sign the paper.

But he announces that he'd rather sing.

How the hell do you get "sing" from "sign"? I suppose you could just switch two of the letters, but that joke only works when it's WRITTEN OUT. It doesn't make sense when you say it out loud.

Anyway, Grandpa sees this botched attempt at a wordplay gag as an excuse to sing about Grandma being dead and partying up in heaven with Elvis and all the other dead celebrities.

This was made for KIDS, can you believe it?

"This Grandma is no more, she has ceased to be, she has expired and gone to meet her maker..."

Meanwhile, after nine months of searching, Jake eventually gets the idea that Santa MIGHT have an email address--it turns out he does--and shoots him a post asking him about Grandma. (Why didn't you do this SOONER?!?! Like, maybe RIGHT AFTER THE ACCIDENT!!!) As it happens, Grandma's at the North Pole now, STILL recuperating from her accident and now with a slight case of amnesia. Santa's been taking care of her this whole time.

Speaking of Santa Claus:

This is our Santa Claus? I always thought Santa was plump and jolly with a loving smile on his face. This guy just looks like a hobo in a Santa suit.

Anyway, right now Santa's so obsessed with Cityville being too wrapped up with themselves to think about him, as opposed to the rest of the world, to the point where he's considering canceling Christmas there (not if the church, white Republicans and Bill O'Reilly have anything to say about it) when Quincy, his chief elf, conveniently shows up with a printout of the email identifying "Grandma X", as he calls her. Santa perks right up and has Quincy pick Jake up to take to see Santa while a corny song about Christmas and sharing and such crap plays in the background.

And now your annual dose of Christmas creepiness.

Santa, Jake and Quincy rush Grandma back to Cityville corporate headquarters so they can stop the sale of the store, but dadgummit, Grandma gets lost again thanks to Cousin Mel's transparently evil lawyer. Fortunately, Santa just being there is good enough, so he proves himself to Mr. Bucks, explains what happened, the sale is called off, the store is saved and everyone lives happily ever after.

Oh, wait, there's still twenty minutes left. Cousin Mel drops a bomb on everyone by asking that Santa be arrested for kidnapping, and Jake does his Anakin-at-the-end-of-Episode-III impression.

Oh dear. Christmas the religious holiday is ruined because its most popular secular icon is going to jail.

Incidentally, Cousin Mel's lawyer's name is "I. M. Slime." ...you know, for a Christmas special that takes place in the town of Cityville, I'm not surprised in the least.

Serves him right, taking Christmas away from Jesus.

Meanwhile, in their cabin hideout deep in the mountains--the only mountain in North America where it snows in early autumn--Cousin Mel and her lawyer contemplate Santa Claus rotting in jail and the two of them winning his entire Yuletide operation in front of Grandma, her mind still a blur, and then calculate how much money they could make off it. Let's see, he spends ten or fifteen dollars on every kid on his Nice list, so just multiply that by the millions of kids in the world that are ON his Nice list and...

Okay, I've heard Carrie Fisher's drug-induced solo at the end of the Star Wars Holiday Special. I've heard St. Nick's off-key aria in that Mexican Santa Claus movie. I've heard "Hooray for Santy Claus".

But THIS is the worst song I've ever heard in a Christmas special:



That's it. From now on, I'm only celebrating the winter solstice.

Anyway, Santa's trial lasts clear to December, conveniently threatening Christmas. Back at home Jake's dog Doofus smells something in Mel's backpack as she's leaving the house, so Jake has him follow the scent all the way to Mel's cabin hideout.

...Okay, where does this special take place? Where IS Cityville? Midwestern Police Lady is the only person with a northern accent, Cousin Mel is the only person with a southern accent, and yet Jake can just WALK up into the mountains?

With help from Quincy, who has suddenly reappeared, Jake gets Mel out of the cabin long enough to get Grandma and smuggle her back to the store, where he desperately tries to cure her amnesia. Only a whiff of her infamous toxic fruitcake FINALLY restores her memory. (Hey, her fruitcake's finally good for SOMETHING now, right? ...HA!)

Satan plays this special at the end of his holiday parties when he wants all the guests to leave.

At the courthouse, the judge is about to send Kringle up the river when Jake and Grandma conveniently reveal some last-minute evidence, one of which is that Grandma is in fact alive and kicking. Cousin Mel's plan begins to crumble when results of a forensics test are given on the fruitcake found at the scene of the accident (turns out Mel inadvertently slipped "reindeer nip" into her fruitcake, go fig). And when Grandpa brings in a note left at the scene explaining what happened, which Mel also hid, she sings like a canary, admitting that she arranged this whole thing for no other reason than that she likes being rich and she hates Christmas and all this caring and sharing stuff. Well, if that isn't motive enough, I don't know what is.

Santa is acquitted of all charges as Midwestern Police Lady slaps the cuffs on Mel for "almost ruining Christmas", and then chimes in with "that's what you get for being selfish and stupid." You hear that, kids at home?

Mr. Bucks returns with a new proposition to franchise Grandma's store and put her in charge of the potential chain (meaning she'd still have to sell it to him), the whole family has a big hug, and Grandma gets run over one more time when she opens the tainted fruitcake dish on accident. You know, since it was so funny the first time. Sadly, the credits roll before Santa can circle back and run down the rest of them.

"I don't know why we're making a big deal about this. I CLEARLY had the right of way!"

Check out that one guy on the right. "HOLY @#&!! IS THAT REINDEER TALKING?!"
...Yes, that reindeer does talk. Don't ask.

A major hangup I have with specials like this is the cheesy, ham-fisted messages they give about the celebrations meaning nothing and family being the ONLY true meaning of Christmas. I'm not gonna argue, its heart is in the right place, and I too have problems with the over-commercialization of the holiday season, but consider the alternative--if people REALLY took the morals of specials like this seriously, then nobody would buy any gifts or decorations or anything, and I would think that many a childhood memory of Christmas would include the lights, the tree, the presents and the food as well as the whole "getting together as a family" thing. Not to mention sales would plummet and some stores would financially get hit hard, including small home-grown independent stores like Grandma's that have more to lose. The U.S. economy would very well go into recession and millions of people--who have families to support--would be unemployed. I'm not gonna disagree about corporate bigwigs being soulless money-grubbing bastards--let's face it, many of them are--but I don't think everyone's going to buy into a moral as anvilicious as this while we all have mouths to feed and bills to pay the OTHER eleven months of the year. Plus, there's a hint of irony here, considering the rights to these specials are usually owned by big publicly-traded entertainment companies like Disney, Viacom and Time Warner, who I'm sure make SOMETHING off their home video sales.

And that is this special's only GOOD POINT. Never mind the fact that making a lighthearted family TV special about a song as dark as "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" is generally a bad idea to begin with, the animation is piss-poor, the characters are cookie-cutter, the voices are grating, especially Jake's, the story is ridiculous and the songs range from in poor taste to just unbearable. It isn't funny. It isn't heart-warming. It isn't even entertaining. It's like waking up on Christmas morning and finding one of Santa's reindeer took a dump in your stocking.

And yet there is one thing--ONE THING--keeping me from ranking it above the Star Wars Holiday Special as the all-time worst Christmas special ever made...

No gratuitous Wookiee masturbation.

They say Christmas is a time for miracles.

Bah, humbug.


Tucsoncoyote said...

Does anyone , anyone at all remember this song? Yes This movie is actually.. a SONG! (Do wome youtubing.. it will prove a point.. that Grandma did get run over by the raeindeer in a hit and run Driveby Movie...

And seriously.. Who says Greed is good? This movie stinks when the relative who is evil shows up.. Frankly this is why this movie goes on the "Naughty" list..

Oh and let's not forget.. It's a song.. a song .. a SONG!

I really hate it when someone takes a song, and turns it into a movie.. what's next year's Christmas movie..

"The night Santa went Crazy".

Sailor Sedna said...

Hilarious review, and agreed, this film is terrible, though I see it as a so-bad-it's-good thing. The one thing that did annoy me though was that "Santa Claus is Real syndrome" thing, it's stupid, as if kids could see it, they might think it's a real thing...plus that "old broad" line, you know, for kids!

The three other songs about the fruitcake, Grandpa and that dance number, titled "Grandma's Killer Fruitcake", "Grandma's Spending Christmas with the Superstars" and "Grandpa's Gonna Sue the Pants off'a Santa" are actually songs sung by Dr. Elmo himself, with the latter two being "sequels" to the original classic novelty song, and they actually are hilarious, but this special gives them a bad name.

I actually even made a remake of this movie/poking fun at it with a cheap drag and drop "animating" software called Go!Animate. It's cheap, the voices are done by robots and such, but to be honest, I think I actually put more effort into it than what they did with this actual movie...