Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 7, 2011)
Has there ever been a Christmas special that took place in an era millennia Before Christ? I’m not sure, but if that genre didn’t already exist, it does now with 2011’s Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special.
All of our old Ice Age pals prep for the holiday, and this means Manny the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) trots out a family tradition: the Christmas Rock. Alas, due to his usual stupidity, Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) breaks it. When Manny chews out his friend, he warns him that his careless behavior will land him on Santa’s “naughty list”.
Manny simply made up the “naughty list” on the spur of the moment, but Sid takes it seriously – as does Manny’s daughter Peaches (Ciara Bravo). Along with possum buddies Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck), they decide to trek to the North Pole to convince Santa they don’t belong on the “naughty list”.
Is it nit-picky that I accept movies about talking, anthropomorphic pre-historic animals but find it tough to swallow a Christmas special about talking, anthropomorphic animals? It really does seem to be an odd choice – and one that I can’t help but think exists partly for promotional reasons, as Mammoth aids in the advertising for next summer’s fourth big-screen Ice Age flick.
If you get beyond the basic bizarreness of a Christmas special that takes place millennia before the birth of Christ, then you’ll probably get entertainment value from Mammoth. It uses its place in the BC days to show the invention of many Christmas concepts, virtually all of which touch on Santa and various secular traditions.
I think it’s wise that the show completely avoids any religious connections to the holiday. Not only would that subject lend a certain seriousness to the program that would seem out of place, but also it’d create an even more bizarre sense of chronology. It’s already weird enough that the Ice Age characters celebrate a religious icon who wouldn’t be born for many centuries; any allusions to said figure would muddy the waters even more.
Given the existence of Santa as a fantasy character, the show manages to kinda sorta overcome its inherent oddness. It helps that it only runs 25 minutes; given the program’s quirky nature, anything longer would’ve likely become too slow to work. Mammoth provides a simple story and exists as an excuse to have some fun with the holiday.
And it does create a reasonable sense of charm and entertainment. I’ve thought the various Ice Age movies were decent but rarely more than that; only 2009’s Dawn of the Dinosaurs offered real pizzazz, and even that success was due virtually entirely to the presence of one then-new character.
The personality in question – Buck the weasel – makes no appearance in Mammoth, but the show nonetheless boasts a loose sense of verve that usually remains absent from the lackluster movies. Perhaps the program’s semi-throwaway existence allowed its creators to loosen up and not worry about too much. Mammoth certainly has a lightness about it that doesn’t come with the movies; those feel oddly dense and dull for comedies about pre-historic critters.
Again, I suspect the abbreviated running time has a lot to do with it. Mammoth feels no need to deliver any deep themes or character development. It just wants to show it take on the creation of various Christmas traditions and have a little fun. It succeeds in that regard.
Of course, it helps that Mammoth features all the same actors from the theatrical films. None of them stand out as particularly memorable here, but their presence gives the show a sense of quality – or at least allays the stigma of cheapness that replacement performers would convey. They play their parts well.
Will Mammoth become a holiday perennial? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it lacks value. This turns into a pretty fun little holiday special.