The moment you realise Betty White is voicing Mrs Claus is the moment you will realise you will love the 2010 cartoon joy that is Prep & Landing – Operation: Secret Santa.
The fabulous Ms. White, channelling all the sweet mischief and fun that have made her a much-loved figure over many, many decades, brings a delightful verve to the sequel to 2009’s Prep & Landing, which introduced us to Wayne (Dave Foley) and Lanny (Derek Richardson), two elves in an elite organisation the sole task of which is to ready all the houses that Santa Claus will visit on Christmas Eve.
Wayne, the older, more experienced elf, who is still likely a little upset that he lost a promotion to Director of the Naughty List to his former partner and trainee, and Lanny are tasked by a highly-secretive Mrs Claus (in an operation dubbed “Silent Night” brokered by Wayne’s friend Magee, voiced by Sarah Chalke) with breaking into Santa’s office, with Santa IN IT, and find a spelling something Mrs Claus needs to finish her present for her husband.
It’s all very festively Secret Squirrel-ish and much of the fun of the piece comes from watching Lanny in particular deal with his anxiety and nerves about breaking into his employer’s inner sanctum.
You can totally understand why he’d be on edge.
If Santa finds them where they most assuredly should not be, Wayne and Lanny might find themselves banished to an igloo on the icy wastes of the North Pole with only a Naughty List-inspired lump of coal for company.
Not exactly the future either of them wants, especially Wayne who is still wishing he’d escaped Prep & Landing after 227 years in the job (and you think you’ve been in your role for too long!).
Set in the same extravagantly imagined world of its predecessor which used a slew of fun Christmas tropes to evoke a richly-created North Pole world, and had a lot of fun into the bargain, Prep & Landing – Operation: Secret Santa is one of beautifully-wrought Christmas shorts that manages to distill the spirit of the season without descending into a sea of mawkish sentimentality.
The ending is the key of course because why else would dear, sweet Mrs Claus be engaged in some tinsel-draped skullduggery?
Naturally the ending can’t be revealed because it sits at the emotional heart of Prep & Landing – Operation: Secret Santa but suffice to say it’s quite the heart tugging finish to a cartoon which has a lot of edge of your seat fun with its two characters who come perilously close a few times to waking a slumbering Santa.
That would be bad (a) surprise ruined and (b) igloos and coal might beckon, and watching avoid this at all times adds some visual silliness to a story that pivots around how far someone will go to surprise their beloved with an especially meaningful gift.
What also makes this nugget-sized Christmas special such a hoot to watch is how well it balances the sincere and the silly in a way that means you get wacky left-of-centre hilarity but not at the expense of feeling like something suitably Christmassy has happened too.
That’s not nan easy row to hoe with Christmas specials either descending into a coma-inducing sugary mess, all earnest, nauseating sentiment that is actually the exact opposite of the warm fuzzies Christmas should deliver, or so over the top strange and comedically manic that you walk away thinking it was clever but completely killed off any reassuringly lovely festive vibe in the process.
Prep & Landing – Operation: Secret happily manages to avoid both extremes, delivering up seven fun-filled, happy but wonderfully heartwarming minutes that acknowledge the idea of selfless giving at the heart of the season while still being wacky and offbeat enjoyable.
It’s a tribute to the makers of the cartoon that they managed to create a cartoon that inhabits both parts of the Christmas equation and that they manage to honour some of the traditional tropes of Christmas while infusing some welcome originality of their own.
It all comes together in a Christmas short that manages to do a lot in a short amount of time, giving us a laugh, a burst of festive goodness and a reassuring hug, even 11 years after its initial release, that the good things of this world are worth all the effort you put in to get them, especially at the most wonderful time of the year.