- Year: 2000
- Director: Phil Roman
- Starring: Elmo Shropshire, Michele Lee, Alex Doduk
Alright who in their right mind thought that a three minute Christmas song warranted a full-length TV special?
OK just because it worked once doesn’t mean…
Alright, alright I get the point. Plenty of…
While you can argue whether these specials are all that good, there’s no doubt they’ve gone down as staples of the holiday season. It’s not like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer is the first time someone milked a silly Christmas song for all it’s worth by making a TV special out of it.
First recorded in 1979 by Elmo & Patsy, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” was a parody of the country death ballads that polluted the radio in the ’60s and ’70s. The hitch was it was Christmastime, so they were all upbeat about her dying. Hilarious right?
It’s one of those songs that’s funny enough the first time but it gets old fast. It definitely doesn’t deserve to get played as often as it does. Alright, enough about the song. What kind of story did they make out of this?
The special is narrated by Elmo Shropshire, the Elmo of Elmo & Patsy and definitely not the one who saved Christmas. Elmo voices Jake Spankenheimer. How are we supposed to take this thing seriously? What kind of a name is Spankenheimer? Maybe he was named by the same person who named a kid PAPPY in The Christmas Tree. (If you stick around for my final thoughts at the end of this series, I’m sure WORST NAME is going to be a category now.)
Jake tells the story of the time when he was a boy and his grandmother (what else?) got run over by a reindeer. He even describes the event as “incredible,” but is bummed out that it almost ruined Christmas. How is it incredible that your grandma was involved in a hit-and-run?
In the story’s main timeline, Shropshire voices Grandpa (no really, he and his wife are only ever called Grandma and Grandpa, even by non-relatives) and Jake is voiced by Alex Doduk. To be fair, both of these voice actors are perfectly fine. There are so many issues with this special, but these guys could be worse.
The Spankenheimers live in Cityville long before it was a Facebook game, and apparently this special depleted all of its creative naming energy on Spankenheimer. The family runs a store where Grandma reads to the kids while their parents shop.
The whole family is fine with Grandma’s lax and friendly business practices, except for totally-not-going-to-be-the-villain Cousin Mel (GET IT? GET IT? THERE WAS A COUSIN MEL IN THE SONG).
Mel believes in absurd fantasies, like making customers pay for their merchandise and actually trying to get rich from owning a business.
Grandma reads to the kids in an elf costume, which would make sense if it was like an elf hat and pointed shoes, but how much time is she spending on this thing. She even has green elf-leggings. Do you really spend that much of your precious business day putting on an elf costume for the three kids you read to?
At home, Jake’s parents have bought the new Cityville inflatable Christmas…
Sure, that’s a tree. Let’s call it a tree and move on… although this does sound like something I’d expect to see in the home of someone named Spankenheimer. However, they seem to have no family pictures on the wall.
Is it weird that the animation in this bothers me more than in The Christmas Tree? Don’t get me wrong, that was technically worse, but they weren’t even trying one iota. Here, it’s like they decided to make it look like they were trying just enough to make kids watch… but oh my it’s so lazy. The colors are just terrible, and there is as little movement as possible. They obviously had a budget larger than The Christmas Tree did, because while Elmo Shropshire is not really a celebrity, at least people are familiar with his song.
A man named Austin Bucks stops by the store in hopes of franchising it, because kids love business dealings in their Christmas specials. He dons an elf costume to appeal to Grandma, but it doesn’t work.
Grandma even asks Jake if he thinks she should sell the store, because asking children business advice could never go wrong. Cousin Mel is understandably upset and slips back and forth between a Southern accent to show her retaliation… or something like that.
Back at home, Grandma is making fruitcake and apparently that warrants a freaking song. You know what? I’m far more interested in this minute-long musical number than I am in the rest of this special… not because it’s good, but because it raises way too many questions. A little research shows that Shropshire wrote this song long before the special, so they were basically just looking for a way to shoehorn it in, but this is just so awkward.
Did Al Roker win a contest to get an animated cameo in this thing?
So this special exists in some alternate universe in which Louisiana ate up Arkansas? Iowa and Missouri just decided to become one state? Minnesota and Wisconsin I kind of get, but why did you animate each individual state (except Rhode Island) and then skimp out on the middle? I want to know the history of this alternate reality and how Grandma’s accident led to the unification of multiple Midwestern states.
On Christmas Eve, Grandma finally gets hit by that reindeer. Jake and Grandpa both see it, but no one else believes them. The family sits down and discusses what to do as Grandma is freezing outside, because Grandma will understand that being right is the most important thing. They eventually go out into the snow and find Grandma missing… So we’re not even following the song now? You base a whole special off a three minute song and just decide not to follow the song? Remember these lyrics:
When we found her Christmas morning at the scene of the attack
She had hoof prints on her forehead and incriminating Claus-marks on her back
Yeah we’re just not going with that. First of all, let’s have Grandma get hit right outside their house so they know about it right away. Second, let’s make sure she doesn’t actually die, because we’d hate to traumatize kids in this special based on a murderous Christmas ballad. Third, just forget the entire story of the song except when it’s convenient to our special. It’s like if Rankin-Bass just skipped the part about Frosty having to leave before he melted, because that would scare kids. Grandma getting run over by a reindeer is like the twelfth most important thing that happens in this special, making me wonder why they even bothered to do it. It’s still a more accurate title than Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, though.
The cops come the next morning, and for some reason, one of them is a parody of Marge Gunderson from Fargo. I guess that was really popular with the kids when this came out.
However, the parody seems to come from someone who has never actually seen Fargo and only heard people impersonating the accents. Parody Marge is rude, dumb, and even refers to Grandma as “the old broad.” This is absolutely nothing like the Marge Gunderson of the film, but this special can’t even be accurate to the song it’s based on, so why am I expecting it to be accurate to a film it’s trying to parody?
Nine months later, the family is dressed in black, because we apparently care about the song now. Everyone except Jake has given up on the whole Grandma thing, and Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s is played for comedy as Cousin Mel gets him to sign away the rights to the store. In an even more awkward song transition than before, Grandpa says “Sign? I thought you said sing,” and proceeds to sing about the people Grandma’s chilling with in Heaven before signing over the rights. Wait, wasn’t Grandpa the only one besides Jake who saw Grandma’s accident? Wouldn’t he believe she’s still alive?
Jake decides to write an email to Santa Claus, even though he hadn’t thought of it for the last nine months. Also, if Jake is writing an email in the story, narrator Jake is obviously telling the story from the distant future… or this special just forgot what time period it’s taking place in. The e-mail is read by Santa’s elf Quincy (literally the only competent character in this entire thing) and delivered to him.
For some reason, Santa speaks with a Yiddish accent. It’s not as thick as the ax in Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, but it’s close. Upon seeing that Jake wants his Grandma back, Santa says that solves the mystery and he goes to get Grandma. He had her that whole time? Now, Cousin Mel was shown swiping Santa’s hit-and-run note earlier, but don’t you think Santa would check back? He knows where the old lady lives, and while she has amnesia, she’s in fine physical health. Do more, Santa!
Santa goes to get her from her bedroom…
Wait, there are more people in there? How many times has this happened? Do they ever get returned to their families? Do they also have an evil cousin plotting against them? Also, this special makes clear that Santa knows who everyone is just by looking at them. Why does he still have them here? Is he using their bodies for weird elf science?
Quincy goes to Cityville to grab Jake, so he can help break Grandma’s amnesia spell. In the film’s most bizarre scene (And trust me, there’s some serious competition), Jake and Quincy touch fingers like in E.T.
However, this sends a minor electric shock to both of them, causing Quincy to scream out in a voice very similar to Pee-Wee Herman. OK, I give up. This thing makes no sense. Why do we have homages to Fargo, E.T. and Pee Wee’s Playhouse in a special called Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, but we can’t even follow the plot of the title song?
With Grandma back in the picture, Cousin Mel and her lawyer I.M. Slime (Yay, another unfunny name) get Santa arrested after he admits to running over Grandma. That’s just what this Christmas movie needs—a trial.
Well what other shout-outs should we throw in? How about the OJ Trial? We all know the kids love that. The lawyer actually says of Santa “If the beard fits, you must convict.” This doesn’t even make sense in context! They’ve already established his beard is real, and the beard has nothing to do with the crime. What else can we make an awkward shout-out to? Oh the kids love Poltergeist right? Let’s just have Santa say “We’re here” and make it sound just like that little girl. Oh, how about after the trial, Grandma wonders if it was all a dream and quotes almost verbatim from The Wizard of Oz. Well at least the kids have seen that one.
The judge finds Santa Claus innocent, because this movie has no understanding of how the legal system works, and Cousin Mel admits to framing Grandma with Reindeer nip so she would get hit. Then, outside of the courtroom, Grandma gets hit again and they all laugh about it. Why is this funny?
Going into this match-up, I knew some of these were going to be unbearably bad, but I honestly didn’t expect this one to be one of the worst. I expected a stupid but predictable and forgettable special, but this one is far worse than I could have ever imagined. The pop culture references are horrendous (Fargo?! The OJ Trial?!), the characters stupid or hilariously evil, and the animation surprisingly lazy. The music numbers come so far out of nowhere it makes Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas look well thought out.
The original song is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but at least it goes all out in its dark comedy. This skimps out and refuses to even kill the character or even make a single dark joke. Why did they bother to base this on the song to begin with? Why not just drop the reindeer thing and make it something else?
This is worse than The Christmas Tree, and… I can’t believe I’m saying this, it’s worse than Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. It’s not Star Wars Holiday Special bad, but it’s close. The pop culture references are so awkward, and I just can’t believe what this special thinks kids like. Half of it involves business dealings, and the last ten minutes are a trial! Even Santa Claus is pushed to the side.