Plot: Following the story of the popular novelty Christmas song (not really), this movie follows a boy named Jake Spankenheimer as he tries to figure out what happened to his grandma one fateful Christmas morning.
Breakdown: *deep breath*
I knew this day would come.
Gather ‘round, children. Let me tell you the story of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, both the movie and the song.
The year was 1978 – veterinarian Dr. Elmo Shroshire, known as Dr. Elmo, and his wife Patsy, who are a folk singing duo as a hobby, get an offer to sing a new unique Christmas song by writer Randy Brooks.
That song was’Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’
After it was picked up by a radio station in 1979, it enjoyed modest success in other local radio stations for a while, and year after year it would spread to more stations in more states. In 1982, after finding quick success in mass producing a quarter of a million copies of the song, Dr. Elmo sold his veterinary hospital to pay for a music video (Which is kinda terrible when you think about it. Yeah, why save the lives of innocent animals when you can make a music video about a silly redneck Christmas song?)
A year later it was picked up by MTV, and history was made.
Even though popularity for this song had a steady pace upward since the early 80s, I feel like it didn’t hit its peak until the mid 90s. I remember my dad listening to this song for the first time with me, and we both found it to be fairly funny and enjoyable. My family was fairly redneckish for northeastern yankees, particularly my camo-lovin’ hunter dad (He refers to himself as a redneck sometimes so I promise this isn’t a jab to him.) so we enjoyed the song for quite some time.
But then it was like the radio stations were playing it after every other song when the holidays rolled around. Christmas songs are well-known for oversaturation, which is one of the reasons why retail store employees quickly grow to loathe them, but something was different about ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’
First of all, it’s an earworm. If you hear it once during your day, congratulations, because your brain radio will now play the chorus on loop no matter your cries for mercy for a random, but always long, period of time.
Second of all, it’s an earworm, which means you’ll either be humming or singing it a lot, and you can’t not look like an idiot singing this song.
The song was so popular that in 2000 it spawned an animated version. I wish I was kidding. But hey, you know you’ve really made it as a beloved Christmas song when you have an animated special made about it. Even Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ was made into an animated special. Again, I wish I was kidding. (I tried to get through it last year for AVAHS, but it’s dreadfully boring…)
Before I get into that, though, let’s talk about the story of the song. It’s pretty self-explanatory even with just the title. Grandma is the victim of a hit-and-run with Santa at the helm. Grandma’s corpse is found outside of her grandson’s house the next morning, and despite Santa being guilty of negligent homicide and fleeing from the scene of an accident, he’s neither pursued by authorities or given punishment for his actions because no one believes in Santa. And apparently Santa’s such an amoral bastard that he never turns himself in or cares that he murdered an elderly woman.
The rest of the song is the family mourning her death and, according to Dr. Elmo himself, implications that Grandpa is rather happy that his wife is dead. Also, a warning to everyone to beware on Christmas because Santa’s a crazy driver who already got away with murder once.
Now, you may be thinking that I don’t need to go over the movie since I just explained the song full out.
Nope. Because that is one of the core of the problems for the movie.
If you thought the story of the song sounded way too short for a special, you’re not alone. In fact, most Christmas songs don’t have stories long enough to fill a movie, which is why most of them pad the run time with new plots and characters. This song is rather unique however in that it not only needed be ridiculously stretched out (Grandma doesn’t even get run over until 15 minutes into this 50 minute long movie) but they needed to basically make an entirely new story from scratch to make an actual movie.
What’s even worse is that they must have thought the actual song was too dark in tone and subject matter to make a kid’s movie about it because two major things are changed – Grandma doesn’t die and Santa was not responsible for the accident.
I’m of the mind that if you think a song is too raunchy/dark/mature etc. to make a kid’s show about it, maybe don’t make a kid’s show about it. It’s like Kids Bop and their complete scrubbing of any song they cover so they can have songs that were originally not appropriate for kids at all to be kid-friendly. Because, gosh, it’s not like kids who enjoy the song would ever seek out the original version, which is probably readily available on Youtube, Spotify, Pandora or one of many other music services.
Even so, you’d probably think that’s par for the course for a kid’s special. It’s no big deal. Well, it kinda is when they play the song over the movie and clearly show that what’s happening on screen is not happening in the song.
It’s almost like they expect you to not pay attention to the lyrics as the song is playing, but it’s a comedy song. If there’s one type of song where you’re really supposed to pay attention to the lyrics, it’s a comedy song. Otherwise it’s not a comedy song, it’s just a song.
They had an out to not follow the song’s story and they purposely put the song over the scenes to point out how they don’t match. Why!?
You may be wondering why I just spent two pages talking about all of this….Well, quite frankly….I’m stalling because I really don’t want to watch this movie again.
Alright, let’s get into it.
The movie starts with the title card and the song you expect to be playing when ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ is front and center on the screen…..’Jingle Bells’!….Okie dokie. I should mention that this special is also littered with other songs written and performed by Dr. Elmo, so why they randomly threw ‘Jingle Bells’ at the start makes even less sense. I guess the melody of the main song sounds quite a bit like ‘Jingle Bells’, so maybe that’s it, but still it’s weird.
Speaking of Dr. Elmo, he not only provided several songs for the movie (whether made for the movie specifically or otherwise) but he’s also the narrator, the voice of Grandpa and he co-wrote it. Give the guy some credit, no matter if you love or hate this song, the guy seems to find genuine enjoyment in his work and is pretty proud of it.
Once the animation actually starts, we see Grandma getting run over by Santa’s reindeer (This is a flash forward, so my comment earlier still sticks.) and somehow she didn’t spill a drop of her drink.
Our narrator decides to flash back a bit to explain how we got here. In the bustling city of Cityville, because the Powerpuff Girls didn’t want this to take place in the city of Townsville, it’s the holiday season, and Grandma’s store is busier than ever. She also has a sign that says ‘Store time’ for some reason.
Grandma is nuts about Christmas. Her store is filled with Christmas goodies, and she loves reading to the kiddies while their parents are off shopping. Enter child version of the narrator, Jake….Jake Spankenheimer. I’m convinced they had a competition to see who could come up with the stupidest last name imaginable….
Jake is warning Grandma that cousin Mel is chasing away another customer. Just because it’s way too subtle and my sarcasm doesn’t carry over into text, let me just get this out of the way – MEL IS A BAD PERSON.
However, this instance is kinda strange because….she’s not wrong. A woman is trying to walk out of the store with a gingerbread house without paying for it, and Mel is trying to stop her from shoplifting. Grandma comes and pardons her, claiming her credit is always good there and she can pay her next time she gets a paycheck.
From what I can tell, this woman just waltzed into the store, grabbed a gingerbread house and left without telling anyone. Even if the owner knows you and is willing to pardon the purchase, that’s still wrong. You go and ask someone beforehand, because otherwise how will they even know you took it? It’s like having a tab open in a bar and, when no one’s looking, going behind the bar to make yourself a drink and leaving with the drink.
Mel, however, is less angry about moral integrity and more angry about Grandma’s business practices. She views her as too lax and is concerned that they’ll never get rich unless she shapes up. Grandma, however, doesn’t care about being rich. She just wants to live a happy life being nice to people.
Later, in Jake’s room.
Daphne: “Adding to your Christmas wish list?”
Jake: *sigh* “Sisters…”
…….What? What does being a sister have to do with wondering if you’re adding stuff to your Christmas list?
Jake still believes in Santa, but his sister mocks him for it, and his parents seem to be at that point where they believe they should slowly reveal the truth to him.
His dad comes home with an inflatable Christmas tree, which disappoints Jake since he wanted to cut down a tree like they always do.
Daphne: “Nobody gets a tree anymore. It’s not cool.” Pbbtttt…..Ahem. I know of more than a dozen Christmas tree farms within an hour of me that are consistently sold out of trees, are riddled with tagged pre-bought trees or are waiting for more tree growth since they got wiped out the year prior. And places where you can buy pre-cut trees, like the local hardware stores, Walmart and clubs, always sell out too. I don’t recall any year in which tree farms were starving for sales or artificial trees were flying off the shelves for any reason.
For the record, no matter if you prefer artificial, pre-cut or fresh, an inflatable tree is just stupid.
Austin Bucks, who is one of those ‘owns everything in the city’ types – his company is even named ‘Own All Corp.’ – comes to Grandma asking to buy her store so he make it the hub of his new robot Christmas gift delivery sleigh.
Also, cursed screenshot.
Grandma and Jake turn down his offer, which makes greedy Mel angry. I don’t really understand why. She’s clearly not the heir to the business (Grandma states she’ll never own it) and she doesn’t own any stake in it now, she’s just an employee. If Grandma sells the business, that really won’t benefit Mel at all. In fact, the dude will probably just fire everyone and hire new people for his sleigh thing.
How fitting that this next (pointless) song break happens to cover a topic I was talking about in my last AVAHS entry. Like I mentioned there, it’s weird that the special showed how much people seem to like fruitcake now when, back when I was a kid, it was a running thing for fruitcake to be a joke. Hard as a brick, tastes terrible and is used as a lazy holiday gift (Again, I’ve never had fruitcake so I’m not anti-fruitcake.) And now we have a song and segment of the movie where people are running in fear of Grandma’s “killer” fruitcake. It even has a warning on the label because of how bad it is.
If Grandma is such an amazing baker, to the point where her store basically rests on the income of her baked goods, why am I to believe she wouldn’t make good fruitcake?
Anyway, Mel poisons Grandma’s fruitcake (to make people sick, not kill them) so no one will ever shop at her store again and she’ll be forced to sell the store to Austin Bucks. Jake witnesses this, but doesn’t say anything. Also, I guess she’s banking on one tainted fruitcake being the thing that topples the business because that vial is really tiny and she only poisons one cake.
Meanwhile, Jake helps Grandma decorate the house for Christmas, she tucks him in and they talk about Jake’s Santa-existential crisis. Grandma believes in Santa, though, and tells him there’s nothing to worry about. Jake’s relationship to his Grandma is, admittedly, pretty sweet – so sweet I’m actually pretty glad this version doesn’t have her get downed in a vehicular homicide.
As she walks away and we zoom out on Jake’s sleeping head, before we even cut away….
♬ “GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER!” ♫
Geez, song, at least wait for the cutaway before you start blasting that.
They don’t even start it when she’s actually walking home from Jake’s house Christmas eve – they play the first few lines while Grandma’s getting ready to leave, pause it while she discusses leaving with the family and then, right as she’s leaving. She says she has to take cookies and cakes to some charity volunteers, even though we can plainly see that she’s only holding one fruitcake and no cookies. *shrug*
♪ “She’d been drinking too much eggnog.”♩
Dad: “You’ve been drinking too much eggnog!” (With nary a lip flap)
So, obviously, this line in the song implies that Grandma’s been hitting the sauce and is too wasted to go out safely. In the movie, they establish that she has an egg allergy and she’s been sucking on eggnog all night. She must not have too severe of an allergy to it if she can stand drinking a ton of eggnog and not be affected for hours on end.
♬ “And we begged her not to go.” ♫
Grandpa: *On his hands and knees* “Please don’t go!”
Mom: “We’re begging!”
If everyone’s so worried about Grandma not being able to walk outside safely, why is no one getting off their asses to walk with her? Or go in her place? And I mean this in response to the song and movie. What lazy twats.
♪ “But she forgot her medication…”♩
Grandma: *shakes empty medication bottle* “Besides, I forgot my medication at the store.”
It’s never really mentioned what Grandma’s medication is for in the song, but it can be surmised that it’s for some condition that impairs her judgment, mental condition or motor skills. In the movie, it’s allergy medication that she apparently doesn’t need because she’s still perfectly fine.
♬ “And she staggered out the door into the snow.”♫
“Staggered” is more implication that she was plastered, but in the movie, again, it’s like they expect you to not pay attention to the lyrics because she’s walking perfectly normally.
So here’s a development. Jake actually witnesses Grandma get run over by Santa (We never actually see it happen on screen because I guess even that’s too violent for this movie.) Obviously, no one believes him, but then we get another development…..Grandpa watched it happen too!….And then….spent several moments just staring out the window…..And…he’s acting like it was….cool….He gives a long dramatic retelling of the events like he’s a sportscaster doing a replay.
……Okay, so it’s also a thing in the song that Grandpa’s kinda overly chill about his wife being dead. I mentioned that earlier – his apathy is part of the joke, like he was sick of her and was okay with it…..but here, Grandpa’s being a sadistic asshole. Here he WATCHES his wife get mowed down, gets all jazzed about it and just goes on like nothing happened. The fact that he watched this happen is also never brought up again, and even he doesn’t insist on searching outside for her. *More shrugs*
It’s kinda implied that he might be joking, but it’s also heavily implied that he’s not and we never really find out for sure.
They open the door to check, but Grandma’s gone. Dad calls the cops at Jake’s insistence.
Dad: “Yes we’ve been drinking too much eggnog. *dial tone* Hello?” …..Wait, why does everyone drinking eggnog imply anything wrong with your mental state? Do you all have egg allergies or are you acknowledging the spiked eggnog thing?
Dad: “Eh, they’ll be out first thing in the morning.” How do you know that? They hung up before you were able to get out two sentences.
The next day….
Jake: “I saw Grandma get run over by a reindeer!”
Cop: “Sorry, son. Impossible. Right here in the manual. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.” He said Grandma got run over by a reindeer, not Santa. Reindeer still exist.
Here’s where the song gets really nonsensical in regards to the movie’s story.
♪ “When we found her Christmas morning….At the scene of the attack.”♩
…………Grandma is missing. There’s no body in the snow. They, in fact, did the polar opposite of finding her Christmas morning.
They did not.
♬ “She had hoofprints on her forehead.”♫
There’s no one there. There’s no forehead to examine for hoof marks.
♪ “And incriminating Claus marks on her back.”♩
This line never once made sense. I get it, haha, Claus sounds like claws, which isn’t even good grammar in this context, but it still doesn’t make sense.
First of all, if this was just a hit-and-run, why is Santa himself leaving whatever marks he’s leaving on Grandma….do…do I even want to know?
Second, if she had hoofprints on her forehead, then she got hit from the front, which must mean she most likely fell backward, physics and whatnot. So how did any marks from Santa end up on her back?
Finally, as we’ve already gone over, there is no body here so where are these ‘Claus’ marks?
What we see in the movie is marks from a sleigh, hoofprints in the snow and an imprint of Grandma’s body.
The cops are kinda assholes about the situation. I can’t tell if they’re being overly serious for comedic effect or if they’re just mocking Jake. I want to say the former, but they were doing the latter just a minute ago.
Cop: “Better look for the old broad.”
Were you not planning on doing that in the first place? Also, you might not want to say something like that in front of the ‘old broad’s’ family…
A year goes by with no Grandma in sight. The next part of the song occurs here, but they, oddly, don’t play the song. They recite a vastly changed version of the next verse. Here’s what was originally said.
♬ “Now we’re all so proud of Grandpa, he’s been taking this so well. See him in there watching football, drinkin’ beer and playing cards with cousin Mel.
It’s not Christmas without Grandma. All the family’s dressed in black. And we just can’t help but wonder, should we open up her gifts or send them back? (Send them back!)” ♫
Here’s what the movie says.
“Grandma’s Christmas gifts remained unopened. And people dressed in black. Grandpa tried to cope by playing cards with cousin Mel.”
I can understand them not wanting to show Grandpa being so blasé about his dead/missing wife, instead showing him more mourning and trying to deal with it….by playing a lot of cards with someone who would never play cards with him in the first place, but that sentiment is kinda lost when you remember the guy damn near cheered as he watched his wife get t-boned by a sleigh.
Changing the thing about her gifts was also understandable. You don’t want to open the gifts since Grandma’s just missing. She might want to open them when she gets back. And sending them back is just as bad.
I don’t get why they didn’t change the part about dressing in black. They’re ALL doing it, even Jake. Doesn’t that imply that they’ve given up hope and believe Grandma’s dead? And why are they doing it in September? They don’t dress in black all year round now, they’re wearing regular clothes outside of this scene, so….why?
The main issue I have with this overall change is, if they were fine taking the lyrics and fudging them like this for the sake of changing a scene in the movie…why not do that with the first verse? I get it in a way because it defeats the purpose of having a movie about a song if you don’t put the song in the movie, but if none of the song can be used in the movie due to content or not matching the scenes, why even bother?
Like I said, they don’t finish the song in the movie. Only when they play the full song in the credits do you hear the third verse. And if they were fine with playing the full song in the movie (the credits are still the movie) why did they feel the need to write it like this?
So, since we’ve gotten through the song parts, and I’m already eight pages into this review and not even 20 minutes into this 50 minute long movie, what say we turbo through the rest?
Mel schemes to sell the store, we have one of the most random song breaks in history with the supposedly grieving widower Grandpa singing a song that clearly acknowledges Grandma is dead in the original version…..But it was a song specifically written for this movie….….*sigh*
Since Grandpa’s a complete idiot and tool, he signs over the business to Mel as well gives her power of attorney, granting her total control over his financial affairs. Jake has one week before the deal is finalized to find Grandma since she’s the only one who can legally stop them.
Jake decides to send an email to Santa asking if he can reunite him with Grandma.
Santa: “Not a single letter from Cityville! It’s as if they’re too busy with their prefabricated and mass produced lives to need me anymore.” Subtle as a brick to the crotch, writers.
Also, maybe Santa would get a few letters from there if he waited until December – Who sends Santa a letter in SEPTEMBER!?
His email works, and you’ll never guess where Grandma is….The north pole.
She got amnesia from the accident and has been spending her days being cared for by Santa’s people. Santa, the omniscient being, didn’t know who she was so he did the logical thing and just kidnapped her and held her for nine months. Just to be clear on this, he proves that he knows everyone, Grandma is seemingly the only other person in Cityville besides Jake who believes in Santa, and he explains to Austin Bucks later that he remembers exactly what he asked for on Christmas when he was six. There is absolutely no reason Santa would not know who Grandma is.
And even if he somehow didn’t, there are ways he could have easily found out, especially considering all of the ‘Missing’ posters her family put up around town. I would say he can’t reveal himself to other people so it’s not like he could go around asking who she is or something, but as we see later, he just waltzes through the city without a care. Even when he learns of who she is, he doesn’t hop on his sleigh to give her back, he just says to send an email reply back to Jake. He either doesn’t give enough of a reindeer crap to try and actually figure out Grandma’s identity or the writers don’t give a single reindeer crap about being coherent.
Santa’s right-hand elf, Quincy, decides to meet with Jake about it and they ET finger touch for literally no reason. *Shrugging intensifies* He brings Jake to the north pole via song break about sharing I guess. Jake brings back still-amnesia’d-Grandma to help save the store.
However, like the idiots they are, they leave Grandma in the sleigh outside, presumably because her tummy’s upset from the ride….but she is literally the only who can do anything soooooo…..
Mel contracts her lawyer, who is, not kidding, named I.M. Slime, to make Grandma disappear again so the deal can happen. It works.
Santa relays the real story of what happened with Grandma. His reindeer were drawn to the fruitcake she was holding, and he couldn’t control them, so they slammed into her.
We see Grandma with the hoofprints on her forehead, good job, but unlike when we see Jake witness the crash, and when we saw the crash in the opener, Grandma is now on her back, not her front. Santa decides to leave a note explaining what happened….in the snow I guess, because that’s where Mel found it before she hid it. Everyone in this movie is a goddamn idiot.
Still no incriminating Claus marks on her back, but I’ll let it pass because I really, really don’t want to know.
Austin: “I’m eager to see Grandma and tell her the sale is off.” But…you were the one buying it. If it gives you so much relief to not buy it….why did you ever try to buy it in the first place? They keep trying to flip flop on whether this guy is good or bad.
They realize Grandma is missing again, and, since Santa just relayed that story, he’s being charged with the disappearance of Grandma……in a case that has no actual evidence with a confession that was taken with no police present, wasn’t recorded, can easily be rescinded and Grandma is still missing, so this story could all be BS anyway.
Mel wants to additionally sue Santa over this, thinking she’ll get even more insanely rich with his money, which leads to a painful song break that is so difficult to get through it’s like the audio/visual version of chewing on tin foil for a minute and a half. They repeat the same line over and over, “sing” with their terrible voices, and “dance” in samba outfits. I’m not lying when I say I really, truly, with all my heart and soul, wanted to shut off the movie in the middle of that ‘song.’ But I have barely over ten minutes left, so might as well bite the tin foil and trudge through it.
It takes them way too long to consider Mel responsible for Grandma’s second disappearance because, again, they’re all idiots. Mel’s holding Grandma in a cabin in the woods, Jake and Quincy break in, retrieve Grandma and get—
….….Okay, so you’re telling me Mel kept Santa’s note for nearly a year and she left it on the counter in the cabin under the same vial of poison she used in Grandma’s baked goods the year prior?
Fuck it. I don’t care anymore. Grandma gets her memory back after eating her fruitcake, Jake proves Santa’s innocence, the poison Mel put in the fruitcake was what attracted the reindeer, no one bats an eye at Jake poisoning the jury to try and prove all of this, Mel admits to literally everything she did for no reason, and then she’s put in jail because she kidnapped Grandma, this trial is ridiculous and everyone’s stupid.
Bottom Line: This movie is a trial of patience. It doesn’t even attempt to make sense, especially in regards to adapting the song, and some scenes are really trying my last nerve.
Granted, there are some moments that have jokes that sort of work, and Jake’s relationship with Grandma is kinda sweet, but other than that it’s a very poorly written, horrifically animated (Courtesy of Film Roman, so that’s a warning sign off the bat) holiday slog to sit through. The songs range from ‘Passable’ (‘Feels like Christmas’) to ‘I can feel my soul rotting’ (‘Grandpa’s Gonna Sue the Pants Off of Santa’), and they all have that same country/folksy twang to them, if that matters to you.
Whoever thought it was a good idea to try to make a movie about this song should be run over by a real reindeer. Usually, I would try to suggest ways the movie could be better, like how you could change certain plot elements or characters to improve things, but my mind just seizes up when it tries to think of ways to make a good ‘Grandma Got Run Over’ by a Reindeer movie. I just don’t think the concept works enough to make one. It barely works enough to be a song.
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