Prancer (film)

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Prancer film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John D. Hancock
Produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis
Written by Greg Taylor
Starring Sam Elliott
Cloris Leachman
Abe Vigoda
Michael Constantine
Rutanya Alda
Ariana Richards
Rebecca Harrell
Music by Maurice Jarre
Distributed by Orion Pictures (1989, original) MGM (2003, DVD)
Release dates
  • November 17, 1989 (1989-11-17)
Running time
103 minutes
Language English
Box office $18,587,135

Prancer is a 1989 family film starring Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman and Rebecca Harrell and was directed by John D. Hancock.[1] It is set in Three Oaks, Michigan, where town exteriors were filmed. Filming also occurred at the Old Republic House in New Carlisle, Indiana,[citation needed] La Porte, Indiana, and at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois.

The film was followed on November 20, 2001 by Prancer Returns, a direct-to-video sequel released by USA Home Entertainment for VHS and DVD. It 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 has 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 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 falls from a dilapidated Christmas decoration hung above 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 it is Prancer, the third in line. She is concerned that no one cares about fixing the decoration, or putting Prancer back together. John, worried about economic survival and keeping his 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 her, while driving his truck, John almost hits it when it appears on the road. When he sees that it has been wounded by a hunter, he gets his rifle, intending to shoot it over Jessica's anguished protests, but as she pleads with him not to do so, 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 their barn door 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 John will find him, she moves him to an auxiliary unused shed further from the house. Certain he is the "real" Prancer, she sets about to secretly nurse him back to health, confiding only in her best friend, Carol Wetherby (Ariana Richards). She calls cranky old veterinarian Dr. 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. He 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 is puzzled.

Jessica tells a mall Santa (Michael Constantine) that she has Prancer and gives him a Polaroid picture and a letter to give to "the real Santa", asking him to come get Prancer before Christmas Eve. He takes the picture and letter 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 decorations in the attic, which the McFarlands used to display until Mr. McFarland died, 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 home.

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: he 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 rifle 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 off 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 outside it to cheer her up.

John and Jessica take Prancer out near Antler Ridge and let him out of the truck. He runs out of sight, they follow him up the ridge, and find his tracks vanish at the edge of the cliff. He has either 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' farm. Jessica tells Prancer goodbye and would always remember him.



The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, as it holds a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews.



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