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USA Home Video presents
Prancer Returns (2001)

"You can find anything on the Internet. We just have to look up Santa's website..."
- Charlie (Gavin Fink)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: February 19, 2002

Stars: Gavin Fink, John Corbett, Stacy Edwards, Michael O'Keefe
Other Stars: Jack Palance
Director: Joshua Butler

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some intense scenes, animals in peril)
Run Time: 01h:30m:16s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 696306028727
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+B+B- C-

DVD Review

1989's Prancer is a real oddity of a family film. It presents a heartwarming Christmas story (a little girl finds an injured reindeer and believes it to be one of Santa's), but the cheeriness is undercut by the little tyke's severely depressing home life and her relationship with her distant father. The entire production is very bleak, from the setting to the costume design to the subdued acting. When I reviewed it, I thought these elements worked in its favor, creating a children's film devoid of the usual, overpowering sap that makes them hard to sit through. But truth be told, I can't imagine watching it again, as it is, really, an often crushingly depressing film.As you can imagine, them, the idea of reviewing Prancer Returns was not initially appealing to me, as I feared either more depression or a dorky feel-good romp that was the opposite of what I felt had worked before. It turns out, though, that this is as unusual a film as its predecessor, still intermittently wistful and somber, but counterbalanced with a lightheartedness that was sorely missing in the original.This time, the hero is little Charlie (Fink), who has just moved to a small town after his parent's divorce. His mom (Edwards) tries her best to keep the kids happy, but Charlie's brother is distant, disobeying his teachers and demanding to move to Chicago with his father. During a Christmas parade, Charlie hears the legend of Prancer (the only reference to the first film) and comes to believe it when he, too, finds an abandoned deer. One thing I liked about the first film was the very natural, childlike performance of the lead girl. This time, the acting is less "real," but Gavin Fink (what a name) does an excellent job with his role as well, showing talent in both the dramatic and comedic moments with Prancer (including some scenes with the deer lumbering around in the house that are sure to delight the little ones). I did like some of the more modern tweaks, tooŚnow, instead of giving a letter to a Salvation Army Santa to give to the real deal, Charlie simply e-mails him. The family conflicts are handled very well, and I can easily imagine they would be even more moving for children of divorce. As I said, the tone shifts between the lighthearted and some rather morose, lonely scenes, such as when Charlie travels through the forest, trying to save Prancer from the authorities (helped along by director Joshua Butler, who rather heavy-handedly shoots these bleak moments with a deep blue filter, which succeeds in wrenching just about all the happiness from the screen). But overall, this is a much more uplifting version of what is basically a copy of the other film. I suppose Butler deserves the credit for that, too, with the sharply contrasting indoor scenes, which are full of warmth and color. Unfortunately, in his quest to manipulate the audience, he and editor Sean Albertson have chosen to edit some scenes into downright incoherence, especially Charlie's creepy initial encounter with Prancer.I think Prancer Returns makes for a better overall family viewing experience, truth be told. It's faster paced, and while it still deals with some serious issues, much more in tune with the Christmas spirit.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The back of the box describes this transfer as "16X9 Full screen," which seems to be a fancy way to say "1.85:1." Packaging oddities aside, this is a surprisingly good-looking image, especially for a direct to video film. The picture is alternately warm (during the cheery scenes), and cold (the deep blue filters during the scenes in the woods), and the transfer handles the differing elements quite nicely (though the brighter scenes look almost over saturated at times, with slightly unnatural fleshtones). The dual-layered disc shows no signs of compression artifacts, but there is some aliasing in the opening scenes. Still, fine work from USA.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Though this mix suits the material, I'd hardly call it an active 5.1 track. Aside from the dialogue's placement in the center channel, it sounds nearly identical to the 2.0 mix. On the plus side, the dialogue is always clear and placed well in the mix. The mix is concentrated in the somewhat expanded front soundstage, with music filling out the sound a bit. The rears only come in to offer some ambient noise, and there aren't many flashy effects, though there is some limited directionality across the mains.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD-ROM Games: Maze Game, Three Oaks Forest Game
  2. Printable Coloring Pages
  3. Screensaver
  4. Holiday Windows and Cursor Themes
  5. Alecia Elliot music video If You Believe
Extras Review: The only player-accessible extra is a music video from Alecia Elliot, for the sappy ballad If You Believe. She sounds like Britney mixed with Celine. I'll let you contemplate the horror of that one. Talk about holiday depression.The rest of the extras are for a DVD-ROM equipped computer, and are kid-intensive. There are two interactive games, some printable coloring pictures, and a desktop theme including cursors and a screensaver. I'd describe them more, but my DVD decoder card was unable to suitably renegotiate its contract when the computer switched over to Windows XP. Dang unions.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Despite myself, I found I actually enjoyed Prancer Returns more than the original. It isn't as genuine, but it is equally as heartfelt, and much, much less depressing (which is nice during the holidays, when many people are already but one broken ornament away losing their Christmas "cheer").


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