Prep & Landing Complete Filmographyby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
I wish that Disney was better at documentation. We always assume that Disney must be documenting things, but when I worked for the company, I found that was not the case at all. Documentation requires time, labor and funds and those items were often in very short supply.
In addition, I saw existing documentation from concept art to written information to videotape that was literally thrown away into the trash to save space and storage fees. It broke my heart.
So, in this column, I occasionally try to record things even though I know that things posted on the internet often disappear with no notice including the fascinating information that Disney posted when the Prep & Landing shorts were first released.
Co-writer and co-director of the Prep & Landing series, Kevin Deters remarked: "When we were originally working on the first Prep & Landing, John Lasseter encouraged us to make the North Pole and the world of the Christmas Elves who work there as rich and as detailed as possible. So we've got plenty of places that we haven't explored yet."
"Like the Fruitcake Factory. Which is the North Pole's version of the Cheesecake Factory," co-writer and co-director Stevie Wermers-Skelton added. "This is where all of the elves go when they have something really worth celebrating. Where they can then dine on the hundreds of different varieties of fruitcake that are served there."
The two helped create a deep backstory that included not just places but people and animals as well and much of that information is simply unknown to those fans who enjoy these cartoons.
Before she purchased the old Coal Elf Building and Loan structure and converted it into Christmas Carol's, the local hangout for the coal elves, not much is known about the mysterious and intimidating owner Carol.
Her establishment includes House Specials like the famed half-pound blackened herring, bottomless bowl of plum pudding poppers and 87 different egg nogs on tap.
Speaking of mysterious, little is known about the equally mysterious and intimidating reindeer know at Thrasher. He is rumored to be the second cousin of the reindeer Dasher but is much more self-confident as the lead on Santa's sleight. He takes great pride in his skills and his extremely large amount of fur on his chest.
Interestingly, the one elf who doesn't seem to be intimidated by him is Wayne's coal elf brother, Noel, who is considered the leading "naughty kid" expert and calls Thrasher by the nickname "Bambi".
From a young age, Mr. Thistleton's genius was evident to all, especially his beloved mother which may help account for his superior attitude.
"One of the key locations in the Prep & Landing sequel is the database tree farm which is this immense computer facility where Mr. Thistleton — who's kind of the Bill Gates of the North Pole — and his staff keep track of every child on Earth, constantly monitoring their behavior to see who's being naughty or nice," Deters said.
The Sledway Personal Transport is one of the many inventions of Mr. Thistleton. With its internal gyroscope and all terrain wheels, the Sledway provides a smooth ride on even the most rugged of North Pole terrain. The dashboard provides a dock for a giftbox datapad.
For those who would like some guidance on enjoying some of the key moments in Prep & Landing mythology, here is a filmography (as well as their one comic book appearance).
Prep & Landing (December 8, 2009) - 22 minutes
Wayne is disappointed when he doesn't get an expected promotion, but his former partner and trainee does. Wayne is assigned a new partner named Lanny to train. Bitter and depressed, Wayne slacks off during the mission and the rookie Lanny causes some disasters because he doesn't have Wayne's guidance.
They haven't fully prepared the house when a massive snow storm strikes, and so little Timmy Terwelp will not receive a visit from Santa. Wayne decides to fix things and with Lanny's help, Santa shows up to provide a Merry Christmas for the young boy. Santa offers Wayne a promotion as a reward but Wayne turns it down to continue working with Lanny.
This special aired on ABC and was nominated for nine Annie Awards winning four of them. The special also won four Emmy Awards including Outstanding Animated Program for Programming Less than One Hour.
Its premiere drew more than 20 million views ending the reign that year of Rankin-Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as the No. 1 Christmas special.
Things to Notice:
- Timmy's name is a tribute to the character of Tiny Tim
- Timmy's house (N 34' 9' 20' / W 118' 19' 23') is the same latitude and longitude of the Disney Studios in Burbank even though Timmy's house is in the Ohio Valley.
- The modest Midwestern home is based on the boyhood home of Deters.
- The code name for Santa's sled is "Rosebud", the name of the sled in the movie Citizen Kane.
- Deters' hometown in Quincy, Illinois is home to Deter's Dairy. When Wayne is "being naughty" and making himself a drink, the milk carton has the Deter's logo.
- The German shepherd in the prologue is a modified version of the dog in Bolt directed by Chris Williams, who originally came up with the Prep & Landing concept and was in production at the same time.
- A scene from Mickey's Christmas Carol is briefly seen on television, the first film that John Lasseter animated when hired at Disney.
- The tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas is in Magee's office and the needles fall off with the same sound effect when Magee pours her cup of Yuletide Joe into the pot.
- The snow-covered station wagon in the finale has the license plate "12501 WED" the December 5, 1901 birthdate of Walter Elias Disney.
- The giraffe in Timmy's bedroom is a plaything that belongs to one of Deters' sons.
- The image on the Goofy-faced nightlight in Timmy's bedroom comes from the poster for How to Hook Up Your Home Theater. Wermers-Skelton actually painted the original poster herself for that short that she co-directed.
- Santa's Administrative Assistant Holly is typing the lyrics of the song Jingle Bells on her typewriter.
Tiny's BIG Adventure (December 9, 2009) - 1 minute
Magee's assistant, Tiny, who is so small that only the top of his expressive hat is ever shown, attempts to get Magee a new cup of cocoa, but when he goes to the Elf Break Room he is so short that he can not reach the can of Yuletide Joe on the top shelf. Trying to reach it with a broom causes him to knock down other shelves and their contents. In the process he also causes the Fun Nog dispenser to fall over. He finally gets a cup of cocoa to take to Magee who dislikes the taste and asks for him to get her another cup.
Tiny, who never speaks has been Magee's assistant for 89 years. He won the position after a rigorous interview process over more qualified applicants with his encyclopedic knowledge of Christmas Eve protocol and his ability to carry several scalding hot mugs of eggnog lattes through six feet high snow drifts.
He was a champion reindeer jockey, but an unfortunate shoulder injury suffered during tree trimming festivities prematurely ended his athletic career.
This one-minute short was only released on line (and later as a DVD/BluRay extra) and takes place during the regular special.
Operation: Secret Santa (December 7, 2010) - 7 minutes
Wayne and Lanny are directed by Magee to a secret contact sitting in Santa's sleigh. It is Mrs. Claus and she has a special request for them to take on a covert mission to retrieve a mysterious wooden box hidden in Santa's secret workshop while Santa takes his afternoon nap. If they are caught, they will be placed on the Naughty List.
Using their high-tech equipment, they are able to recover the box after some misadventure while Santa sleeps nearby and they escape with just seconds to spare. In the box is an old wooden wheel. Mrs. Claus already has the rest of the components and is able to put back together the first toy that Santa ever made and give it to him as his Christmas present while all the elves watch.
Actress Betty White supplied the voice of Mrs. Claus. It aired on ABC after another broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) to help fill out the rest of the hour allotted for the special and increase ratings. Because of its shortness, it was referred to as a "stocking stuffer." It won a primetime Emmy Award for Short-format animation.
Things to Notice:
- Noel, Wayne's brother, can be seen with the other elves in the final scene.
- Nessie figure from The Ballad of Nessie short by Deters and Wermers-Skelton can be seen in the secret workshop.
Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice (December 5, 2011) - 22 minutes.
The special introduces the Coal Elf Brigade who deliver lumps of coal instead of presents to naughty children. The foremost Naughty Kid expert is Wayne's younger, boisterous, estranged brother Noel.
The two brothers and Lanny must team together to resolve a threat. A computer hacker known as "jinglesmell1337" (actually a young girl named Grace Goodwin) tries to break into the system to get herself off the Naughty List but the procedure malfunctions and all children have their status changed from nice to naughty as a result. She had recovered a lost Fruitcake Conduct Calculator from the previous Christmas.
The Fruitcake Conduct Calculator (FCC) is the most important device a member of the Coal Elf Brigade uses each holiday season. The FCC is a handheld processor that utilizes a North Pole patented algorithm to analyze deeds, habits and activities to gauge the level of naughty behavior in a child.
The tabulated information is relayed via the FCC's antenna to the data base tree farm, where a final assessment is determined for placement on the nice or naughty list. For those children deemed naughty, the FCC is able to print a ribbon with a message of encouragement for future improved behavior. The ribbon is tied around the lump of coal before placement in the stocking.
Grace feels that her interactions with her younger brother, who had accidentally destroyed her favorite toy, might have put her on the Naughty List.
During the mission, Wayne is constantly at odds with his younger brother. The revelation of Noel's special Christmas gift this year for Wayne results in a reconciliation for the duo who used to be close. Grace, who has seen the two brothers fighting and then making up, has a change of heart about her own brother.
Using Noel's present, they are able to avert disaster at almost the last moment earning them the title "Elves of the Year" back at the North Pole. On Christmas morning, Grace discovers that her gift from her toddler brother is a replacement for the toy he destroyed.
It aired on ABC and was nominated for 11 Annie Awards, winning four. It won one Primetime Emmy from three nominations.
Things to Notice:
- The school and report card are based on Wermers-Skelton's elementary school and report card. The teacher is modeled on one of Deters' favorite teachers.
- Behavorial data for Timmy Terwelp can be seen on one of the elf's computers.
- Grace wears a shirt featuring Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel on it.
- As Grace walks away from the store Santa, the next kids in line are Ralphie Parker and the kid who wore goggles from the classic film A Christmas Story.
- One of Grace's books has the logo for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories on its spine.
- Noel goes under a bed with stuffed toys, one of which is Mickey Mouse.
- Nessie from The Ballad of Nessie can be seen as one of the toys suggested for a good girl right before the power goes down for a bit.
Prep & Landing – Mansion: Impossible! (November 16, 2011)
To help promote the new Naughty vs. Nice special, an eight-page comic book story of Wayne and Lanny preparing The Avengers mansion appeared as a back-up story in the "all ages" editions meant for younger readers of Marvel Adventures Avengers No. 19, Marvel Adventures Super-Heroes No. 20, and Marvel Adventures Spider-Man No. 20.
The premise is that even superheroes can be on Santa's Nice List and can expect a visit from the jolly old elf. The significance of readying the Earth's Mightiest Heroes' mansion for a visit from Santa is lost on Wayne and Lanny.
For them, it's just another night on the greatest job ever, although they run into some unusual Stark technology that identifies them as rats and tries to eliminate them and they end up sledding down the stairs on Captain America's shield and blasting Stark's menacing techbot with Iron Man's glove that has become stuck on Lanny's head.
On Christmas morning, Hulk is happy that Santa brought him a new pair of purple stretchy pants, remarking that he always knows what Hulk needs. A confused Jarvis discovers one of the destroyed Stark devices.
Realizing that the assignment was more stressful for them than usual, Magee offers that next year she will assign them to a school for gifted children: Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Children, the home of the X-Men.
The story was written by Kevin Deters with art by Joe Mateo, who had received an Annie nomination as a storyboard artist for his work on the first special and also storyboarded the second one as well.
"I thought that Prep & Landing would lend itself well to the comics medium. For me, it was important to let the worlds kind of touch on each other, but they don't really interact directly," Deters said. "Our approach is a little more tongue-in-cheek. They're not fighting supervillains together or anything like that. They don't have a real appreciation for where they are, and that's kind of an important distinction for me."
"The humor comes from the fact they are clueless about the inhabitants while the readers see glimpses like the Hulk stealing one of Santa's cookies and Lanny commenting he must really be in the Christmas spirit because he is totally green," he said.
Artist Joe Mateo said, "When storyboarding, I don't have to be super-tight with my drawings as opposed to comic book illustrations, which are typically more detailed. We only had eight pages, but we had so many awesome ideas, we could have made a graphic novel out of it."
Both Deters and Mateo claim to be life-long fans of superhero comics. Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada was already a fan of Prep & Landing.
"We're all big fans of Prep & Landing, so bringing them into the Marvel Universe was a no-brainer," said Axel Alonso, who is Marvel editor-in-chief. "I just hope that Lanny and Wayne have an easier time at my house this year than they do at the Avengers' Mansion!"
"I love Prep and Landing. I love the whole concept of Santa having these high-tech, stealth, elf squadrons that help him get each house prepared for Christmas," said John Lasseter "It's already so much fun combining this super secret spy world mixed in with the North Pole, and then to add the Avengers into the mix – spies, Christmas and comics – three of my favorite things!"
Originally the story was announced as Elves Assemble! as a parody of the famous "Avengers Assemble!" cry.
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! (November 14, 2016) - 13 minutes
This holiday fireworks show began at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2016 and has continued to run each year during the Christmas season festivities after that. Wayne and Lanny conduct a search-and-rescue mission to return Santa to the North Pole in time for Christmas. Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas animated feature has kidnapped Santa Claus again and Wayne and Lanny eventually rescue the Big Guy.
The show is a combination of state-of-the-art projections on the Chinese Theater along with lasers and lights, special effects (snow falling at the conclusion) and a fireworks finale which is the "BAM!"
It also includes montage scenes from Mickey's Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Pluto's Christmas Tree, Bambi, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and many more as backdrop to various standard Christmas songs.
I hope this is not the end of the filmography and that in the future there may be more cartoon adventures and comic book adventures. For now, we will just have to be grateful to have these yuletide treats to enjoy again this year.