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In Search of Santa

In Search of Santa is not a pseudo-scientific documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy about "facts" surrounding the existence of Saint Nicholas. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, consider yourself fortunate. This movie is a CGI animated cartoon about a penguin's search for the true meaning of Christmas. Penguin princess Crystal (Hilary Duff) was born a few seconds before her sister, Lucinda (Haylee Duff). Those few seconds ahead mean that she inherits the penguin throne. As they grow up, Crystal turns out to be the shy, bumbling sister with a heart of gold, while Lucinda is the wickedly sharp, extroverted penguin who covets her sister's title. Lucinda and her little circle of sycophants make fun of Crystal and her best friend Eugene (Jason Michas), who is the court Fool and an inventor whose inventions inevitably fail.

One day while testing out one of his inventions, Crystal gets whacked on the head with a sleigh bell. She and Eugene plummet into an old human house when the wings he invented don't work. Crystal finds a book on Santa, and seeing a sleigh bell in an illustration deduces the sleigh bell came from Santa. Lucinda, in the meantime, has been spying on her sister, and with the help of the Terribly Deep Thinkers, a triumvirate of sages who seem to be councilors to the King and Queen, remove Crystal from her title and bestow it on Lucinda with the excuse of mental incompetence (she tells little penguin children that Santa really exists). Finally, this development sets up Crystal's quest to find Santa to prove she's not a crackpot. Lucinda gets involved, as do a baby sea lion, pirates, a flying pig, and of course, Santa (voiced by someone named French Tickner, and boy did I do a double-take when I misread his name in the credits).

Pixar this ain't. The story wasn't that interesting and the humor fell pretty flat. I feel like I should cut it some slack because this is a direct-to-video production aimed at small children. However, even in that context I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for it. For one thing, if you are producing a cartoon about penguins, remember that penguins are awfully cute animals. Cartoon penguins shouldn't be uglier than their real-life counterparts. Secondly (and I'm being really nitpicky), the beginning of the cartoon shows the Queen penguin nesting eggs. Male penguins take care of the eggs in real life, while mom goes and braves sea lions and killer whales in search for food. Could it hurt to do a little research about the animals you're writing about? It helps to engage the curiosity of your audience. As far as the disc goes, the picture was sharp for mediocre CGI and the sound was fine for an unremarkable synthesized score. DVD is a medium that can showcase fantastic photography and sound effects; it can also highlight anything that sorely lacks in these areas. It took me a while to pinpoint my main glitch with the animation but it finally occurred to me that the characters were virtually expressionless. I felt like I was watching the CGI equivalent of an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

The only extra feature was a behind-the-scenes piece featuring Hilary and Haylie Duff. Hey, if you're a fan it might be interesting, otherwise it's safe to skip. Since this is a Miramax production, you get some previews of Disney productions, which included The Incredibles. It of course reminded me of what CGI animation is truly capable of, making In Search of Santa look that much worse for the comparison.

Again, I wonder if I'm being too unfair to a limited production. But the one thing that can overcome any low budget is an interesting story. Kung Fu Santa was worth a chuckle and I liked the greedy pirates, but other than that, the only reason to buy this would be to occupy your young children on a snowy day while you try to get your housework done.