With the avalanche of made-for-television holiday movies this year, practically any constituency you can think of has been served.
For those who like a catastrophic Christmas, there was “The 12 Disasters of Christmas” last weekend on Syfy, and on Sunday comes “Christmas Twister” on Ion. (“After a massive, out-of-season swarm of Texas tornadoes levels weather scientist Ethan Walker’s home on Christmas Eve,” the film’s news release says, “he must find courage in the face of devastation to help restore his marriage,” not to mention rescue his missing children.)
Are you single and inclined toward matrimony? On Saturday night Lifetime has “The Merry In-Laws,” in which a newly engaged woman learns that her soon-to-be in-laws are Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus (played by Shelley Long and George Wendt). And on that same night on Hallmark, those who enjoy labor pains with their egg nog can try “Baby’s First Christmas,” which involves budding romance and Christmas Eve contractions.
But let’s not give all the critical attention to holiday fare for adults and older children. Preschoolers read newspapers too, or at least they ought to, and sure enough, the made-for-TV machine has been churning out seasonal stuff for them as well. On Friday evening Nickelodeon serves up a curious entry, “Peter Rabbit’s Christmas Tale,” a new animated story based on the Beatrix Potter characters.
Probably your first thought is: “Rabbits? Don’t they belong in a different Christian holiday?” But if you’re thinking that literally, you probably shouldn’t be watching this show. It’s made for young brains that aren’t thrown by incongruity. Brains that, for instance, won’t be alarmed at the looming threat that Santa might be devoured by a vicious predator.
In the story, Peter, as inclined to mischief as ever, has to step in for Mr. Bouncer, his uncle, who normally fills a Santa-like role in the forest by hopping on a sled and bringing food to his fellow rabbits and other animals. Mr. Bouncer has a cold and, by the way, he is apparently not up to speed on the latest studies in disease prevention, because he sneezes all over everyone in sight, making no effort to cover his mouth, or nose, or whatever it is that rabbits sneeze out of.
Anyway, Peter goes off to collect and deliver the goodies, getting into assorted pickles and wrecking Mr. Bouncer’s sleigh. He also keeps encountering a sly fox who wants to eat him, which is disturbing. It’s one thing for a young child to worry that Santa isn’t going to find his house because of snow or fog or whatever; it’s quite another for a kid to worry that Santa is sitting in the belly of some carnivore, marinating in digestive juices.
But presumably such thoughts won’t occur to the young children who are the targets of this show, or, if they do, some nearby grown-up will banish them by producing a cookie or some other distraction. In any case, it all turns out well in the end, with gentle lessons learned about heritage and friendship.
The best touch in this nicely illustrated tale is Lily Bobtail, a rabbit who is new to the neighborhood and has all the brains that Peter seems to lack. Nothing like a little girl power to freshen up a century-old group of characters.
Peter Rabbit’s Christmas Tale
Nickelodeon, Friday night at 7, Eastern and Pacific times; 6, Central time.
Produced by Nickelodeon and Silvergate Media. Animated by Brown Bag Films. Based on the works of Beatrix Potter; directed by David McCamley; Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, head writers; Justin Trefgarne, co-head writer; Paula Rosenthal, Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell, executive producers; Megan Laughton, supervising producer; Karen Ialacci, Erik Vignau and Gillian Higgins, producers; Sarah Blondine Mullervy, co-producer; Stephen Robinson, art director; Maurizio Parimbelli, animation director; Sean Forsyth, 3-D supervisor.
WITH: Colin De Paula (Peter Rabbit), Peter Harris (Benjamin Bunny), Michaela Dean (Lily Bobtail), Jenna Iacono (Cottontail), Megan Harvey (Flopsy, Mopsy), Kyle Dean Massey (Squirrel Nutkin), Mark Huckerby (Mr. Tod), Stephanie Sheh (Mrs. Rabbit), J. B. Blanc (Mr. Bouncer, Tommy Brock, Ginger), Gwenfair Vaughan (Mrs. Tiggy-winkle), Dave Mitchell (Mr. McGregor, Old Brown), Sarah Bolt (Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Bobtail), Kirk Thornton (Jeremy Fisher, Pickles) and Shawn Curran (Dr. Bobtail).
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