Theatrical Release Poster
|Directed by||John D. Hancock|
|Produced by||Raffaella De Laurentiis|
|Written by||Greg Taylor|
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures (1989, original) MGM (2003, DVD)|
|November 17, 1989|
Prancer is a 1989 family film starring Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman and Rebecca Harrell and was directed by John D. Hancock. It is set in Three Oaks, Michigan, where town exteriors were filmed. Filming also occurred at the Old Republic House in New Carlisle, Indiana, La Porte, Indiana, and at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois.
It was followed on November 20, 2001 by Prancer Returns, a direct-to-video sequel released by USA Home Entertainment for VHS and DVD. Prancer was released on DVD by MGM Home Video with several repackagings in 2003 and 2004, and a new one on October 7th, 2014.
Jessica Riggs (Rebecca Harrell), an 8-year-old girl whose mother recently died from an unknown illness, is being raised with her older brother, Steve (John Duda), by their father, John (Sam Elliott), whose apple farm has fallen on hard times. Jessica loves everything to do with Christmas and listens to her Christmas music records all year long. She continues to remember her mother, and comforts herself with the thought that she is in Heaven. John is being temporarily helped with the kids by his sister-in-law, Sarah (Rutanya Alda).
While Jessica is walking home after playing an angel in her school pageant, a large plastic reindeer, from a dilapidated Christmas decoration stung above, falls onto the street and breaks into several pieces. From the order given in the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (a.k.a. "The Night Before Christmas"), she concludes that the fallen reindeer is Prancer, the third in line. Jessica is concerned that no one cares about fixing the display, or putting Prancer back together. John, worried about economic survival and keeping the family together, has no patience with her childish romanticism, for which Steve also teases her.
Afraid he will soon be unable to provide for Jessica, John discusses a plan with Sarah to take her in to raise temporarily. She overhears this and runs off into the woods, where she comes across a mysteriously appearing, live reindeer. It runs away, and a shot is heard in the woods. After eventually finding Jessica, while driving his pickup truck, John almost hits the reindeer when it appears on the road. When he sees that it has been wounded by a hunter, he gets his gun, intending to euthanize it over Jessica's anguished protests, but as Jessica pleads with her father not to kill the deer, it disappears.
Later, while dreaming about Prancer, Jessica is startled awake as she recalls the scene of the reindeer falling onto the street. She then hears a noise, and looks out the window to discover the door of their barn is open and flapping in the wind. She is drawn outside and enters the barn, surprised to find the reindeer there amongst the other animals. Afraid her father will find him, she moves Prancer to an auxiliary unused smaller barn further from the house. Certain he is the "real" Prancer, she sets about to secretly nurse him back to health, confiding only in her friend, Carol Wetherby (Ariana Richards). She calls cranky old veterinarian Orel Benton (Abe Vigoda) to the farm, but he refuses to help when he finds his patient is a wild reindeer. She hangs onto the door of his truck, keeping him from leaving. He finally decides to help only after she yells in frustration that "doctors can't help anybody", thinking of her mother. Wetherby thinks that the deer might have escaped from a Christmas petting zoo in another town, and later checks, but finds this isn't the case, and he is puzzled.
Jessica tells a shopping mall Santa (Michael Constantine) that she has Prancer and gives him a Polaroid picture and a note to give to "the real Santa", asking him to come get Prancer before Christmas Eve. He takes the picture and note to his friend, the editor of the local newspaper.
Jessica humbly goes to apologize to an old and rather shrewish and reclusive widow, Mrs. McFarland (Cloris Leachman), whom she has angered by running over her rosebushes with her sled, and asks her for a house cleaning job (so she can buy feed for Prancer). She agrees to pay her if she cleans the junk and clutter out of a music room and the attic, filled with painful memories. As the job progresses, she adopts a more tender attitude toward Jessica, who discovers old Christmas house decorations in the attic, which the McFarlands used to display until Mr. McFarland passed away, and suggests she put them up again. She is at first unwilling, but Jessica persuades her. They become friends, and she decides to go back to church.
The newspaper editor, inspired by Jessica's faith in the face of ever-increasing social cynicism, writes an editorial which he titles "Yes, Santa, There Are Still Virginias".
The editorial in turn inspires the local pastor to recognize Jessica and read from it in the middle of his sermon. Thus she finds out in church that she has been outed before the entire town. Her first impulse is to be mad at Carol, who she thinks squealed on her, until she sees the newspaper.
John has not gone to church, preferring to stay home and read the Sunday paper. He is just about to read the editorial, when he discovers Prancer's existence in a more disruptive way: Prancer has let all the animals out of the barn. While John tries to round them up, Prancer goes into the house, eats pies off the kitchen table, and breaks things. Meanwhile, several townspeople show up on his property, wanting to see Prancer. In anger, he gets his gun and is about to shoot him, when the local butcher stops him and offers to buy Prancer, which he accepts.
Afraid the butcher will kill Prancer, Jessica runs away again at night, determined to rescue him. But the butcher has no plans to kill him, but rather to keep him in an outdoor pen in the Christmas tree lot as a Christmas sales tool. Steve runs after her, telling her he loves her even though they fight. He comes along to protect her. She tries to open Prancer's cage from above by hanging from a tree branch, but she falls to the ground and injures her head.
Jessica stays in her bedroom and becomes despondent, worrying John, Steve, and Sarah. John goes to her and she asks him to read a passage from "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". After doing so, he tells her times will probably be hard for a long time, and that he could bear losing the farm, but not her, and he has changed his mind about sending her away. He suggests they take Prancer out to a spot called Antler Ridge, which would be the perfect place for Santa to pick him up. She says that she now knows he isn't really Prancer, but John tells her, "You'll have a hard time convincing them of that," and points out her window. All the townspeople have gathered downstairs to cheer her up.
John and Jessica take Prancer out near Antler Ridge and let him out of the truck. He runs out of their sight, they follow him up the ridge, and find his tracks vanish at the edge of the cliff. Either he has fallen to his death, or flown. The faint sound of sleigh bells is heard, and a small streak of light is seen rising to meet Santa's sleigh, which flies across the full moon towards the Riggs family farm.
- Sam Elliott as John Riggs
- Cloris Leachman as Mrs. McFarland
- Rebecca Harrell as Jessica Riggs
- John Duda as Steve Riggs
- Rutanya Alda as Aunt Sarah
- Abe Vigoda as Dr. Orel Benton
- Michael Constantine as Mr. Stewart/Mall Santa
- Ariana Richards as Carol Wetherby
Prancer received mixed to positive reviews from critics, as the film holds a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews.
- Prancer at the Internet Movie Database
- Prancer at the TCM Movie Database
- Prancer at Rotten Tomatoes
- Prancer at Box Office Mojo