A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is an animated holiday movie that's a modern take on the classic story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In this case, a miniature horse dreams of pulling Santa's sleigh. Just like Rudolph, Elliot (voiced by Josh Hutcherson) is discouraged by his elders and mocked/bullied by his peers for being different. But the insults go beyond Elliot and his efforts: The characters interact through sarcasm, cynicism, and put-downs ("idiot," "stupid," "jerk," etc.). The movie's attitude, colorful vocabulary, (dated) pop culture references and topical jokes, and a "magic cookie" doping scandal are geared more for older kids than younger ones. A storm puts characters in peril, and there's a dark side story about Elliot's petting zoo home being sold to a new owner who plans to turn the animals into jerky. A light romance is introduced, but beyond a lame pickup line, it barely registers. Despite its often negative tone, the movie actually has many positive messages, the strongest of which encourages perseverance.
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What's the story?
ELLIOT: THE LITTLEST REINDEER is about a miniature horse named Elliot (voiced by Josh Hutcherson) who lives in a petting zoo that's being sold off while the farm changes its focus to be a reindeer training camp for the North Pole. Elliot is dedicated to achieving his dream of becoming one of Santa's reindeer, despite the fact that he's not big ... and not a reindeer. While Elliot hides his true identity to enter the reindeer tryouts, his best friend -- a goat named Hazel (Samantha Bee) -- realizes something is amiss, both at the North Pole and back home.
Is it any good?
Children aren't likely to mind or even realize that this holiday-themed story is derivative of several other kids' animated films, but it may bug older viewers. Whether writer-director Jennifer Westcott was inspired by others' ideas or just ripped them off is unclear, but it's hard to ignore the elements of Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer that feel borrowed from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Olive the Other Reindeer, Charlotte's Web, Ferdinand, Arthur Christmas, and even The Lemon Drop Kid. That said, the film's (few) original ideas are great, including the fun idea of a reindeer-training academy and Canadian performer Kolton Stewart's toe-tapping, inspirational song "Off to the Races," which plays over the credits.
Westcott picks up what Gene Autry's jovial delivery of the Rudolph song masks: Comet, Donder, Blitzen, et al. aren't necessarily good guys. Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer runs with that notion, painting the veteran reindeer as mean, self-centered, and "stupid." As Santa's stars retire to get married, raise families, and open their own businesses, Santa sees them as disloyal. Westcott is clever to realize and exploit this idea, but it's not exactly the kind of ho-ho-wholesome content that makes the holiday spirit soar. Hutcherson's sweet, earnest, innocent delivery as Elliot fits the film's positive messages, but the tone is overpowered by Bee's hallmark snark and Morena Baccarin's Deadpool cynicism. Thanks to that, plus its barrage of put-downs, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer brings little joy to the season.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Elliot handles the teasing and dismissiveness about his dream to be part of Santa's team in Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer. Why do you think he perseveres? How does he keep a positive, upbeat attitude?
The reindeer training camp slogan is "big dreamers dream big." What do you think that means?
D.J. feels pressure to live up to his father, Donder's, fame and reputation. How does this affect him? Put yourself in his place: What would it be like to have a parent who's known for a big talent/accomplishment?
The story looks at tradition vs. advances in technology. Can you think of examples of when choosing traditional options is better? What about when technology made life better? Can innovation have a negative effect? Was that the case here?
Characters are motivated by the motto "If it's important, you'll find a way. If it's not, you'll find an excuse." What does that mean?
- In theaters: November 30, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 4, 2018
- Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, Morena Baccarin
- Director: Jennifer Westcott
- Studio: Screen Media Films
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Holidays, Horses and Farm Animals, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some suggestive and rude humor
- Last updated: May 04, 2020
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