Why was it such a misfit?

Most Misfit Christmas Specials fall into one of two extremes: saccharine and stupid, or "edgy" and un-cuddly. This one, however, is a whole other story. I've never seen a special quite like this.

I've seen childish, I've seen adult, but I've never seen EPIC tried before. Yes, The Flight Before Christmas is an epic, and a darn good one at that. Would you believe it's the most groundbreaking special any network has aired in a long time? Furthermore, would you believe that kind of special comes in a box that looks like THIS?

It's actually a movie, originally released as Nico and the Way to the Stars. It was produced in Finland, animated in Ireland, and had a theatrical Norseland run before being translated, redubbed, cut and repackaged into an American special. The CBS version castrates it down to 45 minutes of material, meaning nearly half the story is missing. Fortunately the DVD contains the entire movie and this is what we'll be using in our review.

Nico, a wild reindeer, lives in a concealed area of a northern forest with his mother and other members of his herd.

The clan also includes Julius, a small flying squirrel. Julius is kind of Nico's adopted father, or father figure since he's not romantically linked with Nico's mother. Yes, this little rodent is his "dad." In the wrong hands this could be really irritating, but here, it works. Why does it work? Because Julius isn't the comic relief you think he's gonna be. Despite his size, he truly cares about Nico and constantly expresses concern for his safety. It's an interesting relationship and you want to know more.

Every now and then Nico will see Santa's reindeer, or "the Flying Forces" as other reindeer refer to them, zipping around in the sky on a practice run. Nico would do anything to meet the Flying Forces, of them may be his father. According to his mom, one evening she was looking up at the stars when suddenly she was whisked into the sky by the sleigh team, where she was taken for a "magical ride through the clouds." That is as specific as she gets; draw your own conclusions from there.

Nico doesn't know if he's really the son of a flying reindeer, but it would be proven if he could fly himself, correct? Makes sense in theory, but he doesn't know if he has that ability because he can't seem to figure out how to do it. And the secluded area the herd hides in doesn't allow much room for takeoff practice. Julius knows what Nico's thinking and orders him to stay within the limits of the territory, or else hungry wolves prowling the area will find their location.

You saw The Lion King, so you know where this is going. Thanks to Nico trying to fly in plain view, the herd is chased out of their home forever by wolves, and it's all Nico's fault. Feeling disgraced, Nico slowly turns his back on his family and disappears into the snow.

Suddenly, there's a poodle in this movie. She appears, nervously says something about being separated from her tourist family, starts following wolf pawprints, and disappears for ten minutes. Then, she's back! I'm not sure what the point of her existence is. She never meets Nico, only the wolves, and is little more than a plot device. Or a different color to stare at besides brown, blue and white.

The hungry wolves are about to feast on her when she nervously suggests they eat Santa's reindeer instead. Black Wolf, the snarling head villain, apparently never thought about doing this before, and skips the meal he could have had RIGHT NOW to travel dozens of miles to a destination he may not be able to find. The poodle is involuntarily inducted into the pack for her suggestion, and would clearly love to leave at any time.

Back with the reindeer herd, they're distraught that Nico is nowhere to be seen. Julius offers to set off looking for him, as he's the only one who won't leave tracks in the snow for predators to follow, being a literal flying squirrel.

Julius catches up with Nico, but Nico is convinced he'd be better off with his dad. Julius points out several facts: it's much less dangerous to stay with his family, he doesn't know for CERTAIN he has a dad in the Flying Forces, and he has no idea how to get to their headquarters. None of this deters Nico and eventually Julius has no choice but to give in and follow the deer. By the way, they describe their destination as "Santa's Fell." I love that. It's not a mere workshop, it's a specific region of mystery where few outsiders have trod.

Further into the forest they hear bizarre nonsensical singing, and rush to the source of the sound. It's our next character, Wilma the weasel, and she's stuck on a branch. After Nico frees her, she's furious. Why? Because she now owes him one, and she doesn't want to owe anybody one. With that, she leaves, but something tells me she'll be back.

Wilma is played by Emma Roberts, the biggest star they could get for the English dub. Well, Norm MacDonald is Julius, but....yeah.

They may need "one" right away. Julius lectures Nico on the importance of reading the signs of nature. He points out a small cloud in front of his view of the sky and begins to discuss what he believes the cloud signifies. While he's postulating, a large cloud creeps up behind him, blankets the area in snow and wind, and separates the two temporarily.

Now that the wolves are heading in the same direction Nico and Julius are, they're bound to meet up. That's what happens, without the wolves' knowledge (Nico is the one buried in the snow there). One of the wolves, Specs, wants to know why they can't just eat something else (it's a good question; one I already asked). Black Wolf replies within hearing distance of Nico that it stands to reason if they eat the reindeer, they'll gain the ability of flight and take their place on the sleigh team. Another wolf points out Santa probably won't like that. Black Wolf says it doesn't matter because they'll eat Santa too, and then fly around the world on Christmas Eve, tumbling though everybody's chimney and eating millions of children. In short, everybody and every thing gets eaten eventually. Then....I dunno, profit?

Nico's reflexes pick that unfortunate moment to make him sneeze. His snow disguise tumbles away and the wolves spot him. The chase is back on!

Julius is somewhere else, calling for Niko on the side of a cliff. Nico happens to run in that direction and collides with him.
"We've gotta split up! Save yourself!"

The high-speed chase continues until Nico and Julius find themselves cornered. It's a fifty-foot-high cliff face with a thick snow plume on top! Where's that weasel??

Wilma shows up right on cue and starts stomping holes all the way across the snow plume. This makes it unstable and triggers an avalanche right onto the wolf pack. Hopping onto Nico's back, Wilma directs the frantically speeding Nico on the correct path to escape the avalanche overtaking them.

Now that the heroes are safe, Wilma asks out of curiosity where they're headed. When they mention Santa's Fell, Wilma claims she used to be a singer there. Julius is highly skeptical, but Nico points out she's been pretty useful so far, so why not let her help. Wilma agrees, but on one condition: she gets the cushy ride atop Nico's antlers and Julius is demoted to the wagging butt position.

Oh didn't take long for the wolves to dig themselves out of all that snow. They're still after them, and now they've caught up. At a running pace once again, Nico asks Wilma if she knows a quicker path. "Sure, we just take a shortcut across the River of Certain Doom! That'll lose 'em!" River of what doom? That doesn't sound good....

It's easy for Wilma to hop across the ice floes, but Nico may need a little coaxing. He finally gets up the nerve, gives it a solid attempt, and nails it on his first try. What a relief!
"The River of Certain Doom was a piece of cake!" remarks Julius.

"That wasn't the River of Certain Doom, it was the Trickle of Tranquility. THAT'S the River of Certain Doom!" Wanda says, as she points forward and the camera dips into a large ominous canyon with a rushing river clear at the bottom.

Now would be a perfectly poetic time to learn to fly! Alas, though Nico gets some distance, it's not to be and the entire cast plummets into the river.

Julius and Wanda escape the water, but Nico is drifting on an ice floe, zonked out, and he's heading for a waterfall! I know every cartoon river ends in a waterfall, but if you think about the geography on this one (canyon), it makes no sense.

Sensical or no, they've got to wake Nico up! Julius and Wanda throw rocks at some icicles holding up a large branch; this makes the branch break into the river and blocks the floe from the flow right before the big dip.

But now the current is rolling the branch over -- it won't stay put for long. Niko finally starts waking up, but he can't hold onto the log. The current starts pushing it sideways and over the cliff edge. Nico begins to tumble over! The squirrel and weasel can barely hold on!


Oh, um....never mind. While they were screaming, the log drifed all the way to the other side.

The wolves believe they're dead now, so they can rest for a while and develop their characters further. Wanda asks why Julius is so overprotective of Nico. Julius reveals against the sunset that he once had a family of the correct species, but they were lost to wolves. Ever since then he's adopted Nico instead.

This is followed by another walking montage set to gorgeous backdrops lit by northern lights. Wanda is leading them, which will prove once and for all if she's all talk, or if she really does have North Pole connections.

Looks like she was the real deal. They made it to Santa's Fell, which, it turns out, can only be breached through the green luminous caves of a large mountain, filled with deadly traps. No one has gotten through them without inside knowledge, so....without this weasel they'd pretty much be dead five times over. Julius still doesn't like her, though.

Shortly after, the wolves also make it to Santa's Fell and enter the green cave, but they aren't so lucky. Specs absentmindedly steps onto a weighted panel and two crystal doors slam in both directions, sealing them in.

The Santa's Workshop set piece looks amazing. You can really tell this whole project was a labor of love by some very talented people who just didn't happen to be born in a richer country -- they do wonders with their smaller rendering processors.

Nico can hardly believe he really made it, and rushes over to the Reindeer Runway to meet his dad. The reindeer are out practicing with a dummy Santa, and weren't planning on having an obstruction greet them when they arrived back. After a calamity, they agree to talk.

This time, Santa's reindeer are depicted as fratty bro-dudes who spend most of their time working out, when they're not chilling in their bar drinking carbonated tree sap (your guess on the inebriation that provides is as good as mine). They immediately recognize Wanda, who puts money in the bar jukebox and starts singing for them like old times -- but this time, the lyrics are a bit different. They start getting confused looks on their faces as the song concludes in:

"One of you is Nico's daddy! Yes, one of you is Nico's dadddyyyyyyy!"

"It''s true," says Nico. "At least I think it's true."

All the reindeer look very surprised and somewhat skeptical. "That's impossible, none of us have any kids."

"Well, do you remember taking a young lady reindeer flying one Christmas?"

"Yeah.....thousands of times," they all say. Then it's not only possible, there are likely 63,079 Nicos running around the Arctic, but they still feign innocence.

Nico desperately insists it HAS to be true -- he's come too far to be proven wrong. One of the reindeer bros points out that since the gift of flight is passed down through their children, Nico should be able to fly. If he can do it in front of them, that will prove one of them is his father.

"The key to taking off is FEARLESSNESS," one reindeer hints, as Nico prepares to jump. "As long as far grips you, you won't be able to fly."
That long drop isn't relieving this problem. Nico gets extremely nervous and falls, and another reindeer has to fly down and rescue him. Nico begins to think that maybe he isn't related to the Flying Forces after all.

Oh yeah, that other thing. "THE WOLVES! Some WOLVES are after you guys!"
"Too bad for them, then. No wolf has ever broken through the caves," they insist.

There's a first time for everything. Back at the caves, Black Wolf furiously pounds on the crystal door imprisoning him, letting out a giant howl. This howl is somehow strong enough to shatter crystal, so the door breaks down. Some wolf trap.

Just as Nico is sorrowfully turning to leave, the wolves arrive. Santa's reindeer are caught totally off guard and can only stand there, frozen. They can only fly if they're unafraid, and they're yellowing the snow this very second. WHO CAN SAVE THEM? ....well, it's obvious.

Nico hollers in their direction. Astonished and angry to find him and his friends alive, they start chasing them instead. As before, Nico and the small rodents are no match for clawed, fanged canines, but they can slow them down at least. It's a climactic ten minutes of one-upsmanship and narrow escapes that I'm running out of time to describe. Just trust me and watch this special sometime -- it's good, really.

Eventually Black Wolf corners Nico at the top of a large tree. As Nico is struggling to stay out of his reach, the top branch snaps and he tumbles while Black Wolf laughs in triumph! Of course, THIS is the moment when Nico learns to fly----OUCH, nope, I guess not.

The TRUE moment he learns to fly is when the wolves take control of Santa's sleigh and are about to eat Julius. With his father figure in danger, he can't resist the urge to be brave and fearless, and takes off like a shot. ...AFTER he falls off a large cliff of course; it needed something extra.

Black Wolf falls off the sleigh and through the clouds to his presumed demise. Santa's reindeer are saved and start whooping cheers for their new friends.

"Hey," says one of them to Nico. "My name's Prancer, but you can call me....Dad."
"YOU'RE my dad?" Nico says overjoyed.
"Yeah.....yeah, I guess so," Prancer says sheepishly. He's stocking up on rubbers from now on.

Nico has a new home with Santa's sleigh team.....but is it really what he wants?

Of course not; as thrilled as Nico is to finally meet his real father, he'll always value Julius as the one who raised him. Julius figures Nico is gone forever, but after a test ride in the sleigh with the other Reindeer Bro-Dudes, he returns to the herd. He can always revisit Santa's Fell whenever he wants; I mean, he can FLY there now.

End-of-movie couplings: Specs and Poodle; Julius and Wanda.

Why didn't it fit in?
Well, it still has time to -- CBS hasn't stopped airing it yet and they usually slot it after Frosty.

You know what makes this so good? This perfectly captures what Santa feels like to a little child. To kids he's this far-off, awe-inspiring superbeing, and the epic feel of The Flight Before Christmas evokes that childlike sensation to viewers of any age. If you see it, buy it! You can always swap out the cover.