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Disney "Prep & Landing" and "Arthur Christmas" take polar opposite approaches to the world of the North Pole

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Disney "Prep & Landing" and "Arthur Christmas" take polar opposite approaches to the world of the North Pole

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Just a quick heads up for all of you Wayne & Lanny fans out there. Tonight's the night when ABC will be airing both "Prep & Landings" holiday specials (i.e. The Emmy Award-winning original as well as its 2011 follow-up, "Naughty vs. Nice") back-to-back from 8 - 9 p.m. ET.

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For me, half the fun of watching these Walt Disney Animation Studios productions are the story-driven design choices that directors Kevin Deters & Stevie Wermers-Skelton (along with "Prep & Landing" 's production designer Andy Harkness) made on these two holiday specials.

Take - for example - Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Because Disney "Prep & Landing" stories are always told from the elf point-of-view, Santa literally is the Big Guy. He and his wife tower over Lanny, Wayne, Magee and Noel. Which is why - whenever the audience sees the Clauses in these holiday specials - you typically only see them from the waist down. A boot here or a hand there.

And this was a deliberate choice on Kevin, Stevie and Andy's part because - to be honest - they wanted to preserve some of the myth, mystery and magic that surrounds Santa.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now contrast that with the approach that Evgeni Tomov took with "Arthur Christmas." Given that this Aardman & Sony Pictures Animation film is all about a Christmas Eve conflict within the Claus clan, Tomov - as the production designer of this project - couldn't do as Deters, Wermers-Skeleton & Harkness did. Evgeni had to put Arthur & family front-and-center. More importantly, had to make these seemingly mythic characters all too human and down-to-earth so that moviegoers could then relate to the Clauses.

 "Finding just the right look for Santa's family was one of the key decisions on 'Arthur Christmas,' " Tomov explained during a recent phone call. "Once Sarah (EDITOR'S NOTE: Sarah Smith is the director of "Arthur Christmas") and I settled on the level of design & stylization that we were going to use with these characters ... Well, that then drove the look of the rest of the movie. Because once we knew what the Clauses looked like, we then have a far better sense of what the world that the Clauses lived in & moved through looked like."

Speaking of which ... When it came to Santa's world, the people who worked on Disney "Prep & landing" and those who designed Aardman & Sony Pictures Animation's "Arthur Christmas" took polar opposite approaches when it came to the North Pole.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

When it came to "Prep & Landing" 's version of the North Pole, Disney deliberately wanted a mix of the familiar (which is why you'll see all sorts of sly little nods to holiday specials of the past folded into these WDAS productions. Take - for example - that Charlie Brown Christmas tree which Magee keeps in her office) and the clever (EX: How all of the devices that Wayne & Lanny uses when they're doing their prep & landing work are classic Christmas shapes. The candy cane grappling hooks. The gingerbread man-shaped scanner. So that if any of these items accidentally got left behind, the humans in the house wouldn't realize that they were secret hi-tech devices).

Whereas when it came to Sarah Smith's vision of Santa's workshop, she had a very different place in mind.

"Right from the get-go, Sarah wanted 'Arthur Christmas' to be a contemporary film. So the version of the North Pole that we went with for our movie deliberately avoids the storybook stylization that you see in most holiday specials," Tomov continued. "We wanted to show the audience how Santa would actually have to do it these days, deliver all of those toys to all of those children around the world in a single night. Which explains the S-1, the two mile-long sleighship as well as those 15,000 elves who work in Mission Control."

Copyright 2011 Sony Pictures Digital Inc. All rights reserved

Of course, the irony of all this is - when you get right down to it - the "Prep & Landing" holiday specials as well as "Arthur Christmas" do tell similar sorts of tales. In that the characters at the very heart of these stories really go above & beyond the call in order to make Christmas better for a single child.

"I have to admit that - when I first read the script for 'Arthur Christmas' in the Fall of 2008 - I was a little put off by the scale of the thing. This movie was so ambitious. It literally traveled 'round the globe - Africa, Canada, Mexico, the North Pole, the U.K. - as it told its story," Tomov said. "But the story that Sarah wanted to to tell with this movie had so much soul & heart that I couldn't not be a part of it. So I signed on to be 'Arthur Christmas' 's production designer and basically built the art department for this movie from the ground-up.

So what's Evgeni's ultimate hope for this Aardman & Sony Pictures Animation production? Does he want "Arthur Christmas" to go the "Prep and Landing" / "A Charlie Brown Christmas" route and quickly become a holiday perennial?

Copyright 2011 Sony Pictures Digital Inc. All rights reserved

"That's be nice," Tomov admitted. "But that honestly wasn't what I was thinking when I was working on 'Arthur Christmas.' I just wanted to make sure that all of the production design choices which Sarah & I were making here properly serviced the story that we were trying to tell here. That this project lived up to its true potential. That we were then able to tell a story about this family who lives at the North Pole in a way that audiences could really relate to but still preserved all of this story's humor & heart."

So if you'd like to see both sides of this Santa scenario, why not check out both "Prep & Landing" holiday specials on ABC tonight (or - if that's just not doable - watch the "Naughty vs. Nice" rerun which will be airing on the Alphabet Network tomorrow night between 9 - 9:30 p.m. ET) and then swing out to your local multiplex this coming weekend to catch "Arthur Christmas." I'll  genuinely be intrigued to hear which Polar approach you people prefer.

Your thoughts?

2011 Sony Pictures Digital Inc. All rights reserved

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  • Jim, were the filmmakers of 'Prep & Landing' disappointed that 'Naughty vs. Nice" didn't get as high ratings as its predecessor? Is the studio pleased with the numbers? Is the new TV special (that the directors announced in an interview) still on?

  • To me, the best Christmas specials are always that ones that stay traditional. So if I were going to watch a Christmas film I would pick Prep and Landing over Arthur Christmas any day. I agree with the directors of P and P when they say that Santa should be seen as someone who is almost always perfect, and above everyone.

  • After watching Naughty Vs. Nice I must agree with the reviews. I wasn't half as good as the first one, it was barely even half as good.

  • While I enjoyed "Naughty Vs. Nice", I have to agree that the sharp writing found in the original Prep and Landing was missing in the sequel. Same deal with the "Secret Santa" short. I think the scripts were at fault. Disney better remember its own credo - "Story is everything" - or it'll shorten the life of what could be a very valuable franchise.

  • Nice article. I liked both Prep and Landing and Arthur Christmas. They each have their own take on the Santa Experience and they each have their own merits.

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