Olive, the Other Reindeer (review)

Reindeer Games

Come on, admit it: When you were a kid, you thought Hendrix was singing “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy,” right?

Okay, maybe not. But it’s perfectly understandable how a little dog named Olive, who dreams of greater things than her narrow doggy world permits, would mishear “all of the other reindeer” for “Olive, the other reindeer.” Isn’t it?

Based on the children’s book of the same name, Olive, the Other Reindeer is the first animated Christmas special from the Fox TV network, and it’s chock full of the kind of quirkiness we’ve come to expect from the net that has given us The Simpsons and The X-Files. And Olive herself is the least of it.
Olive (the voice of Drew Barrymore: Charlie’s Angels, Ever After), a cute little mutt, lives happily with her person, Tim (the voice of Jay Mohr: Pay It Forward, Go), and her pet flea, Fido (the voice of Peter MacNicol: Bean), but she longs for a great adventure. When, at a Christmas Eve press conference, Santa announces that Blitzen is out of commission and Christmas is threatened, Olive mistakes Santa’s CYA statement that “maybe we’ll make do with all of the other reindeer” as her call to action. So she’s off to the North Pole to fulfill her destiny.

Barrymore is, alas, as wooden as a computer-animated dog as she is in the flesh, but Olive — sweet, sweet, delusional Olive — is still a peach, a cheerful optimist in the face of mass apathy, a little- engine- that- could kind of pup. But it’s people and the things around her that make Olive, the Other Reindeer so much fun. The vastly underappreciated Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix, U.S. Marshals) is a hoot as Martini, a penguin fired from the city zoo and forced to sell knockoff Rolexes on the street to earn a living — he tags along with Olive on her mission, the flightless bird pairing with the flightless (of course) dog to save Christmas, somehow. Dan Castellaneta (best known as the voice of Homer Simpson) is terrific as a postman who goes postal around the holidays — “Send a friend a two-ton gift / I don’t mind, I love to lift,” he sings — and tries his damnedest to stop Olive. And the 45-minute film has lots of celeb cameos to offer, including the extremely cool band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performing a swinging Christmas ditty.

Be prepared to hit the pause button while you’re watching, because Olive comes to us via Matt Groening, and as with The Simpsons, there’s often so much stuff going on that you need to go back to catch it all. Listen closely to Olive’s radio, and you’ll discover who the U.S. president is and what the subject of Fox’s latest exploitation special is; watch for the mean-looking USPS eagle logo on the postman’s truck, and for the menorah on Santa’s North Pole house. It’s nowhere near as incisive or sharp as The Simpsons, but Olive is still highly amusing.

And if you’re a real Matt Groening fan, you might recognize the style the faux-crude computer animation borrows. At first I thought it looked like South Park meets Picasso — the characters, human and animal alike, all have both eyes on one side of their heads — but then I realized that Olive looks more like Groening’s comic strip “Life in Hell” than anything else. “Hell” might be a little too quirky even for Fox, but it lends a bit of its aura to Olive, the Other Reindeer all the same.

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