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“Disney Prep and Landing” claims the top spot among this year’s holiday specials

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“Disney Prep and Landing” claims the top spot among this year’s holiday specials

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For 35 years now, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has been leading the way. At least when it comes to Christmas specials.

Ever since this Rankin/Bass production first premiered on NBC in December of 1964, year after year, “Rudolph” has consistently occupied the top spot.  Ratings-wise, that is.

But last week, all that changed. Three other reindeer (i.e. Dasher, Dancer and Thrasher) blew by “Rudolph” and helped “Disney Prep and Landing” become the highest rated holiday show of the season.

The voice cast of Disney's new holiday special, Prep and Landing
(L to R) Derek Richardson, Dorothy McKim, John Lasseter, Dave Foley, Stevie
Wermers-Skelton, Sarah Chalke, Kevin Deters and Stephen McPherson at the
red carpet premiere for “Disney Prep and Landing.” Which was held at
Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre back on November 16th. Photo by Greg
Zabilski. Copyright 2009 American Broadcasting Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Which was pretty humbling news for Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton, the writers & co-directors of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first-ever made-just-for-television holiday special (Which – FYI – re-airs tonight on ABC from 8-8:30 p.m. ET/PT and then makes its ABC Family debut this Friday night starting at 7 p.m.)

“We both grew up watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ ‘The Grinch’ as well as all those Rankin/Bass holiday specials,” Deters said. “And Stevie and I just loved those shows. So to now have something that we worked on being compared favorably to all of those great holiday specials …”

“It’s a Christmas miracle!,” Stevie interrupted, laughing.

Dave Foley records the voice of Wayne the elf for Disney's Prep and Landing
Dave Foley records the voice of Wayne the Christmas Elf for “Disney Prep and Landing.”
Photo by Richard Cartwright. Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Deters and Wermers-Skelton (who’ve worked together for years in Story Development at Disney) are quick to share the credit when it comes to “Disney Prep and Landing” ‘s success.

“It’s important to remember that Stevie & I didn’t actually come up with the premise for this program,” Deters stated. “Chris Williams was the one who initially dreamed up the idea of this elite group of elves who each year help get houses ready for Santa’s arrival. And when Chris got too busy directing ‘Bolt’ to do ‘Prep and Landing,’ John Lasseter turned to Stevie & I and asked if we’d be interested in developing Chris’s idea.”

Of course, there’s a reason that Lasseter turned to Deters & Wermers-Skelton in December of 2007. These two had just co-directed “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater,” which helped revive the shorts program at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Sarah Chalke is the voice of Magee in Disney Prep and Landing
Sarah Chalke of “Scrubs” provides the voice of Magee in “Disney Prep and Landing.”
Photo by Richard Cartwright. Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“We had already begun working on our second short, ‘The Ballad of Nessie,’ when John approached us with the idea of turning ‘Prep and Landing’ into a holiday special,” Stevie remembered. “This is right before Christmas. So I got to spend the holidays thinking about how Kevin and I were going to do this new Christmas special.”

Which turned out to be a good thing, actually. When Wermers-Skelton and Deters returned to work after their holiday break, they had both put a lot of thought into who these elves were who actually helped Santa.

“Chris had already created the characters of Lanny, the excited rookie, and Wayne, the jaded veteran,” Kevin explained. “But that was just for the seven-minute-long short version of ‘Prep and Landing.’ We were looking to tell a far bigger story with these characters. So we worked closely with John to expand our storyline, flesh out the world of the North Pole and these elves.”

Derek Richardson speaks for Lanny the elf in Disney Prep and Landing
Derek Richardson – formerly of ABC’s “Men in Trees” – speaks
for Lanny the Christmas Elf in “Disney Prep and Landing.”
Photo by Richard Cartwright. Copyright 2009
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And Deters & Wermers-Skelton sometimes found inspiration for this new ABC holiday special in the oddest places. Take – for example – all those inflatable Santa snow globes that Kevin noticed were around his neighborhood at Christmas time.

“We wanted this story to be timeless while – at the same time – reflect a contemporary Christmas,” Deters continued. “And since those inflatable snow globe decorations just seem to be everywhere these days … Well, we just had to find a way to work one of those in the show.”

Kevin & Stevie worked hard to strike just the right balance with “Disney Prep and Landing.” Trying to mix nostalgia (EX: The modest Midwestern home that Timmy Terwhelp & his family live in is just like that one that Deters grew up in) with elements that modern audiences would recognize & embrace (i.e. those handheld hi-tech devices that Wayne & Lanny use as they’re making sure that the house is set for Santa).

Wayne gets a big surprise from a creature stirring
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And while Deters & Wermers-Skelton had high hopes for this holiday special, since “Disney Prep and Landing” was their first CG project … Well, it wasn’t ‘til this past July when scenes began coming in with their final lighting & color adjustments in place that Kevin & Steve realized how great this Christmas show was going to look.

“We collaborated with so many great people on this program. Andy Harkness & his art direction. Michael Giacchino and his score,” Deters stated. “Not to mention ‘Prep and Landing’ ‘s vocal cast, Dave  Foley, Sarah Chalke and Derek Richardson.  The show just got better every step of the way.”

Which perhaps explains why “Varietysaid that “Disney Prep and Landing” was “ … clever and colorful” and “ … considerably smarter than the average kids spec.” More to the point, that Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first-ever made-just-for-ABC Christmas program will add “ … a nifty ornament to the customary lineup of perennial holiday specials.”

A prep and landing elf guides Santa's sleigh onto a child's roof
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which – you’d think – would give Kevin & Stevie a real reason to celebrate this holiday season. But truth be told, these two have just picked up where they left off back in December of 2007. Which means that Deters & Wermers-Skelton are now hard at work co-directing “The Ballad of Nessie.”

Mind you, there are a few indications that Deters & Wermer-Skelton’s lives have changed because of “Disney Prep and Landing” (“I’ve got a Wayne plush seat-belted in the back seat of my car,” Stevie admitted). But – beyond that – it’s pretty much business-as-usual for these talented filmmakers.

Wayne the elf in plush form is available for purchase
Copyright 2009 Disney Consumer Products. All Rights Reserved

FYI: If you haven’t yet seen “Disney Prep and Landing,” in addition to tonight’s airing on ABC as well as Friday night’s ABC Family premiere, this holiday special is now being streaming live on Disney.com.

But if I had to pick the very best time to watch “Disney Prep and Landing,” I’d have to say that that would be December 24th at 8-8:30 p.m. Which is just before the Prep and Landing crew get to work on Christmas Eve.

And speaking of Christmas … If you’re planning on doing any of your holiday shopping on Amazon.com this year, could you please do JHM a favor and – before you begin bargain hunting – click on the banner above?

You see, if you do that … Well, Jim Hill Media then gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend. Which would be a very nice way to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you’ve read on this site over the past year.

Happy Holidays!

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  • I really enjoyed this special, but it felt a bit rushed and I would have liked it to be a little longer, perhaps an hour instead of a half hour.

  • Roy E Disney 12-06-09 RIP

  • I felt it came across as being too "narrowcast". The whole program seemed to ignore the fact that there were millions of other children in the world. When they called the "Figgie Pudding", all of a sudden Santa had to change course as if Timmy's house (It appears that there is only one child in "Sector 7") was his destination.

    Overall, while it was a cute, some of it was a little over the top in it's Christmasness.

  • A novel idea a place where different opinions can be expressed.

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