Clever and colorful, Disney Prep & Landing adds a nifty ornament to the customary lineup of perennial holiday specials. Produced under the aegis of the studio's animation arm and Pixar's John Lasseter, the fast-paced half-hour brings a "Mission: Impossible"-type flair to the task of "an elite unit of elves" who prepare homes for Santa's arrival. Given that all we really see of "The Big Guy" are his shoes, there's almost a "West Wing" quality to the festivities, which are considerably smarter than the average kids spec.
Poor Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley) is feeling a little blue this holiday season, having been passed over for a promotion that went to his partner, despite having served a couple of centuries with the elves' Prep & Landing team. So he's in a foul mood when he and new sidekick Lanny (Derek Robertson) arrive at Timmy's house, armed with devices like a "Creatures Stirring" detector.
Like Santa's sled bearing the appropriate code-name "Rosebud," the computer-animated spec is filled with all kinds of other neatly devised little flourishes -- as well as gags like the one about Command Center coordinator Magee (Sarah Chalke) dating an elf named "Tiny" -- likely to fly right over children's heads.
Then again, that's the underlying reason for Lasseter's success at Pixar, which by not condescending to kids has thus produced movie after movie that plays just as well with the adults in the theater as the tykes they drag along with them as cover.
Conspicuously adorned with the studio's brand, "Prep & Landing" is both fun and pretty consistently adorable, raising the possibility of future visits to further exploit the promising toy chest of characters introduced in this maiden voyage. The special also references earlier holiday offerings (listen for a few notes of Vince Guaraldi's music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which will serve as its lead-in) when Wayne literally sits down on the job to watch TV while enjoying milk and cookies.
As holiday visitations go, it's not much of a stretch to envision "Prep" landing right next to those animated evergreens -- which, for these diminutive Christmas elves, is tall praise indeed.