Plot: Prep and Landing is a special covert team of elves who go out every Christmas Eve night to prepare the homes of children all across the globe for Santa’s arrival. Their services are vital to ensuring that Santa can land, deliver gifts without being seen and leave without being caught. Wayne is a legendary member of Prep and Landing, but he’s burned out and ready to leave those days behind him for a cushy life in a higher position. When that doesn’t work out, he becomes lackadaisical and uncaring about his job, which leads to a major catastrophe that puts the Christmas spirit of an innocent child on the line.
Breakdown: This is an interesting one for me, because I know for a fact that I heard of this special when it first came out, and it seems kinda familiar, but for the life of me I don’t remember sitting down and watching it. Shame if I didn’t, because this is an excellent Christmas special.
Someone said this seemed very reminiscent of Arthur Christmas, and I agree, to an extent. While it doesn’t have the Aardman style to the artwork, the way Santa and the elves are portrayed comes off a lot like the way they were portrayed in Arthur Christmas, only not in a negative slant. In Arthur Christmas, they were getting so reliant on technology that it really seemed like Santa didn’t need to go out to visit houses every year, the elves were being phased out or just made to be tech specialists, and the spirit of Christmas was dying as the use of technology was increasing.
However, this special portrays the integration of technology in a much more positive light. Santa’s still Santa, and the elves are still the elves, but they have new jobs to ensure that Christmas magic stays alive and well. For example, while they treat the launching of Santa’s sleigh almost as if it’s a rocket launch, they toy with the process to not diminish the original roles of Santa’s reindeer and sleigh. When they say to “Rev up the engines” they send down an elf who basically acts as the hype man for the reindeer who gets them super excited before they head out.
It’s a much more natural and fun integration than they had in Arthur Christmas, but, then again, that was the point in that movie. The technology here is more of a fun backdrop for the antics of the story, not a focal part of the story.
I really like how Prep and Landing is made out to be such an integral part of the process. It’s a pretty unique idea to have elves who prepare the house before Santa visits to help ensure everything goes smoothly. It’s pretty realistic, too – at least in regards to the Santa mythos. An operation like Santa’s would want to make their activities as efficient and covert as humanly possible, and having a special team of elves preparing the house beforehand while also doing everything in their power to streamline everything back at the North Pole makes it much easier to pull off this job every year.
In regards to the story, I feel like this plot lends itself more to adults than children, and not because it’s mature or anything, but the themes surrounding it give me a feeling like if I watched it and enjoyed it as a child I’d have more of an appreciation for it as an adult.
Wayne starts out the special being arrogant and uncaring. We don’t really spend a lot of time with him as a young and enthusiastic Prep and Landing agent. Once we learn of his backstory, we see him as a cocky guy who thinks he’s about to land (hehe) a fancy promotion to being head of the naughty list. While he is being arrogant and kinda rude, he’s not being so bad that he’s obnoxious or your don’t sympathize with him.
As we learn later, he’s just a very, very burned out elf who, despite being top of his game in Prep and Landing, wants to go higher and get more respect. That position is ripped from him for no given reason, and the promotion is handed to his partner – an elf he trained. We never learn much about his partner nor do we ever see him after the backstory portion. Him getting the job doesn’t matter as much as Wayne not getting it.
Being burned out, wanting more out of your job and losing promotions to younger people who may or may not have snaked them from you are all very real situations adults find themselves in more and more. Not to mention that the office-esque vibe the entire factory gives off (while still being loaded with Christmas stuff, of course) makes it feel, almost sadly, very familiar to adults. They’re not really aspects of the story that kids get – and they don’t really have to connect with that aspect of the story. They really just need to know that Wayne is a grump who is fed up with doing the same stuff over and over, and he needs to rediscover his Christmas spirit to get back in the swing of things.
Wayne does get dangerously close to being obnoxious when they enter their first house. Wayne is so done with his job after losing his promotion that he leaves every task in the home up to the brand-new rookie, Lanny, who, despite being enthusiastic and skilled, is still extremely inexperienced and self-conscious. He idolizes Wayne since he’s such a legend in Prep and Landing, but Wayne just dumps all of the work on him while he goes to laze around and take advantage of the comforts of the home.
Lanny does his best, but he still screws up some stuff because he’s never done this before. Wayne won’t help him because he doesn’t take his job seriously anymore.
This, of course, leads to them getting caught by the kid in the house. He’s a nice young lad who immediately starts taking pictures of them, because, well duh. Most kids, especially after the advent of digital cameras and smartphones, would immediately jump on taking pictures of elves in the house. Though Lanny was smart enough to delete the pictures when they managed to knock the kid out.
Wayne still doesn’t care all that much about causing this mess until he realizes that they still haven’t prepared the landing strip on the roof, and there’s a big snowstorm coming through. Santa is unable to land safely, so they’re forced to do something they almost never do – call off a visit to a house.
Only then, when he completely screws up Christmas for an innocent boy, does he both see how badly he’s messed up and how important their job truly is. They save Christmas for the boy together, and Wayne isn’t hailed as a hero or anything (which he shouldn’t) but he’s offered a promotion to director of the nice list, and he turns it down because his true place is with Prep and Landing.
All the way through, this special was very entertaining. It wasn’t the most emotional thing it the world, but it’s not trying to be, and I think it could have stood being a little longer, but it was funny, well-animated, a little heartwarming and managed to create fairly memorable, likable and relatable characters in a short 22 minute time frame. It’s a special I really feel would instantly become a classic for families. I’m certainly thinking about putting it on my annual watch list for the holiday season.
It received an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming Less than One Hour), it was nominated for nine Annie awards – winning three – and it was so popular that it actually dethroned the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special as the number one Christmas special on TV.
Prep and Landing went on to have a sequel called Prep and Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, which I may get around to watching and reviewing this month, several shorter spin-offs and even a comic book crossover where Wayne and Lanny prepare the Avengers mansion for Christmas. However, nowadays, Prep and Landing is all but dead, and it seems the sequel is kinda the reason for that. There was a third Prep and Landing special meant to come out some time after 2011, but the plans were scrapped because reception for the second special was too disappointing.
Still, Prep and Landing and Naughty vs. Nice air every year to this day (although, for some reason, they stopped in 2020, they’re set to return to Freeform, ABC and the Disney Channel this year.) and it seems to be a well-remembered short for many people. I certainly enjoyed myself, and I recommend anyone reading to give it a shot. It’s available on Disney+, but will also be airing on Disney Channel, Freeform and ABC throughout the month.
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