Olive, The Other Reindeer
At Christmastime, many products are designed to fulfill a holiday obligation, then disappear into some sawdust-strewn corner. At least, that's the design, but Yuletide objects often manifest their own significance. The detritus of holiday-themed popular culturethe stuffed Santa with the mis-sewn leg, the contractually obligated carol sung by Jack Jones, the crudely animated cartoon featuring a heavily marketed toycan become someone's fondly held treasures. So, just because the animated adaptation of Betty and Michael Paraskevas' holiday children's book The Tangerine Bear hit the airwaves and video shelves as part of a marketing campaign aimed at haggard parents looking to pacify the young ones during a hectic December, that's no reason to dismiss the actual program, a mild charmer about the true value of the shoddily crafted goods that get cranked out for Christmas. Jonathan Taylor Thomas voices Tangie, a teddy bear who's been sloughed off to the secondhand store because his smile is on upside-down and his fur has faded from brown to orange. With help of an agoraphobic cuckoo clock (David Hyde Pierce) and a claustrophobic jack-in-the-box (Howie Mandel), Tangie endeavors to make his window perch attractive enough to passersby that someone might come into the shop and take him home. Inevitably, the industrious bear learns a lesson about what "home" really means. The Tangerine Bear has a bland design, limited animation, and questionable voice castinghearing Marlon Wayans' voice coming out of a stuffed monkey is particularly diceybut the show's concluding message about holding on to what makes you happy is undeniably heartwarming. The only real problem with this new Christmas special is that, by appearing on a major network, it likely pushes another fine holiday program out of the way. (The hilarious Santa vs. The Snowman, for example, disappeared to Nickelodeon after its debut on ABC three years ago.) This shouldn't happen any time soon to Olive, The Other Reindeer, the Matt Groening/Drew Barrymore adaptation of J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh's charming book, which made its debut on Fox last year. But even if it does eventually get the ax, Olive is now available on video. Barrymore voices a dog named Olive who heads to the North Pole after Dasher breaks his leg and Santa Claus announces on the radio that he may have to cancel Christmas unless "all of the other reindeer" can pick up the slack. Mishearing "all of" as "Olive," the pup joins a con-artist penguin (Joe Pantoliano) on her quest, while ducking mean mailman Dan Castellaneta. Olive is more of a sweet goof than a rich spiritual experience, but it's full of clever visual gags and catchy songs, the best of which is sung by Michael Stipe as a sour, flightless punk reindeer. The hourlong special is the sort of eccentric treat that lingers long after its moment in the spotlight, and it'll surely turn up on some cable channel's slate of Christmas programming in the near future. For better or worse, these things tend to endure.