“That’s enough bottom-snogging from you, boy!”

While it treads familiar ground, Saving Santa hits all the right notes when it comes to what we want to see in a holiday film, especially an animated musical geared toward the whole family.

We have hapless elf Bernard (Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) who inadvertently causes an invasion of the North Pole. That invasion is led by charismatic villain Neville Baddington (Tim Curry, Legend) who is trying desperately to find out how Santa (Tim Conway, The Carol Burnett Show) delivers all his presents in one night. The reason for Neville’s obsession lies in part with his mother, Vera (Joan Collins, Dynasty), with whom he runs the world’s largest freight delivery service. Neville has never made his mother proud and hopes this will be the tipping point. Since it’s Bernard’s mess he wants to clean it up and he must find a way to not only save Santa but Christmas as well. Along the way everyone learns some valuable (if predictable) lessons.

Elf and reindeer pooper-scooper Bernard desperately wants to be an inventor. And while his inventions definitely work, there’s usually some quirk of fate that intercedes to make the entire project blow up in his face.

So when his latest invention causes a Pole-wide blackout, Bernard doesn’t think much of it at first, too caught up in his latest failure. But when Neville invades the North Pole soon after, Bernard realizes he was the one who made the invasion possible, however inadvertently and accidentally.

Bernard tries to fix the problem himself, using his recently acquired knowledge of one of Santa’s most closely guarded secrets. Early on, Bernard learns from Santa himself the way he is able to deliver all the children’s presents on Christmas Eve. It is through a Time Globe, an invention that is hidden in the sleigh and allows the occupants to travel through time. So Bernard activates the Time Globe and tries to stop the invasion, only to fail time and again. Yes he goes back in time more than once, lending an air of Groundhog Day to the piece. It’s only when he works with the other elves, most notably his new crush Shiny (Ashley Tisdale, High School Musical), that he’s able to discover a way to put things right.

And speaking of right, there’s a lot of it here. First and foremost why this disc earns a recommendation is the casting. These voice actors not only bring a much-needed sense of gravitas to their roles, they also sing their own tracks, lifting them from banal to memorable. This choice lends the entire film an authenticity that helps break it out of the pack of other holiday films.

There are some typical lessons learned in the film: being an outcast is okay, embracing what you love will enrich your life, and saving Christmas is the most important thing you can do. However there is a practical lesson that is rarely seen in holiday films: what’s past is past and no matter what, you cannot change it. The idea of living in the now is refreshing and adds to the value of the film overall.

While we’re on the topic of value, let’s touch upon the technical specs. Saving Santa (Blu-ray) boasts the highest level of specifications you can wish for. The video transfer is a 1080p/1.78:1 with a truly gorgeous palette. Obviously trying for a holiday feel, the colors are mostly red and green; however, there are some lovely golden glows throughout that help lend an almost tangible warmth to the picture. Care is taken to ensure backgrounds never drop out of focus and the textures are as carefully created as almost any you can find elsewhere. The close-ups are where the real artistry can be seen and the detailing of all the characters is impressive, from freckles and blushes to wrinkles and fur. Equally striking is the DTSHD-MA audio track, and it’s definitely put through its paces here. This is a musical piece, after all, and to skimp on the sound would lower the quality of the entire film. The vocals are clear and present, riding just above the background score as they should, leaving them crisp, clean, and decipherable.

In terms of special features, Saving Santa has a couple of featurettes, one showcasing some of the voice sessions, while the other discusses why the film will be successful internationally. There is also a music video featuring Ashley Tisdale, not to mention a DVD copy of the film.

The holidays are one of if not the most oft-mined source for films, so it’s no surprise Saving Santa rings a bit familiar. Our lead is an outcast, his actions threaten to ruin Christmas, and there’s a bunch of musical numbers. However a few things set this disc apart. First and foremost are the voice actors. Each and every one gives a performance, not merely a line reading, and it’s wonderfully apparent. Next are the technical specs. Care is taken to make sure Saving Santa takes place in an actual world, meaning the characters actually look as though they both inhabit and interact with their physical surroundings. No weird shadows or lack of textures here. And finally slipping in a bit of a somber message, that changing the past is fruitless, is something we usually only see during something like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Altogether these factors help make it easy to recommend a purchase of Saving Santa (Blu-ray). It’ll be a welcome addition to your holiday film collection.

THE VERDICT

Not guilty.

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