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Film / Prancer

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Prancer is a 1989 Christmas-themed family film directed by John D. Hancock.

Eight-year-old Jessica Riggs (Rebecca Harrell) believes in Santa Claus and flying reindeer even though her father John (Sam Elliott) and older brother Steve (John Duda) seem to believe she's too old to do so, and even her best friend Carol (Ariana Richards) has long since given up believing. When Jessica discovers a wounded reindeer in the woods near her home of Three Oaks, Michigan, she's convinced it's Prancer, Santa's missing reindeer. She becomes determined to take Prancer to a local ridge so Santa can come and retrieve him, but faces many obstacles in the process.

A Direct to Video sequel, called Prancer Returns and featuring a completely different cast, was released in 2001, a second Direct to Video sequel called Prancer: A Christmas Tale with a completely different cast, was released in 2022.

Associated tropes include:

  • Abusive Parents: John Riggs is not classically abusive, nor does he mean to be in any context. However, his financial troubles and lack of support at home often lead him to be very abrupt and sometimes verbally harsh and borderline abusive with Jessica. During one scene, he forcibly drags her into his vehicle, which could be disturbing for some viewers.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played with. Played pretty straight with Jessica's dad, at least initially, but justified since if he knew about Prancer, he wouldn't react well. Subverted with Dr. Benton, the vet who eventually helps Prancer (after Jessica clings to his car and angrily convinces him with a mild "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Though they don't play big roles, it's clear Jessica's Aunt Sarah and teacher, Ms. Fairburn, cares about her and want to make sure she's doing okay.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Steve sees Jessica as this, up until the climax.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Jessica feeds Prancer Christmas cookies. Justified in that she's a kid and couldn't take feed from her family's barn without her dad, who she doesn't want to know about Prancer, suspecting anything. Prancer can probably eat them just fine, if he's a magic reindeer...
  • Bait-and-Switch: Jessica is horrified when Mr. Drier the local butcher buys Prancer from her father. Fortunately it turns out Drier only wants Prancer as a mascot for his shop and isn't planning to kill him for meat.
  • Big Fun: The local cop is a plump, smiling man who stops his patrol route to feed Prancer at the butcher's.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Jessica, when she dreamed of the plastic reindeer (Prancer) falling.
  • Children Are Innocent: Jessica, despite the fact that most people around her seem to want her to grow up too fast.
  • Cool Big Bro: Jessica's older brother Steve doesn't start out this way, but becomes one when he decides to help Jessica spring Prancer so she can get him back to Santa.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Old Lady MacFarland after Jessica cleans up her house to make up for the damage she and Carol did to it while sled riding. Mrs. MacFarland is more outgoing as a result and actually shows concern for Jessica later on in the movie.
  • Foreshadowing: While walking home from school, Jessica saw a plastic reindeer fall from a Christmas decoration being hung above the main street in town, which she concludes is Prancer. This scene gets a later Call-Back in Jessica's dream.
  • Good Shepherd: The unnamed local minister, shoe reads the newspaper article about Jessica and Prancer during a sermon, seeing it as an encuraging sign of innocence and belief in the more cynical modern world.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Occurs with the town vet, crabby old Mrs. MacFarland, and even Jessica's own father.
  • Heroic BSoD: Jessica has one after her attempt to rescue Prancer leads to a serious injury. She gets better, though.
  • Kindly Vet: Averted with Dr. Benton, the crusty veterinarian of Three Oaks. As it turns out though, he's not a bad guy; he actually ends up helping Jessica later.
  • Mall Santa: Jessica goes to the Santa at the local mall to tell him she has Prancer, thinking he's the real Prancer. He tells his friend the local newspaperman, who's touched and writes a story about Jessica and Prancer which is kind and moving in spirit, but also blows the secret.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Jessica finally does get Prancer to Antler Ridge for Santa to retrieve him. She turns her back, and he disappears. Dad speculates that maybe he flew away. There's no proof of course, but we do hear bells in the background... Then we and they see a streak of light hurtling into the sky and joining with the distant, shadowy form of Santa's sleigh being pulled by the other reindeer as it flies past the full moon.
  • Missing Mom: Jessica's mom apparently died, perhaps as recently as a year prior to the story.
  • Nephewism: Jessica's father tries to enact this on his daughter (which would make it Nieceism). The family is struggling financially, and John Riggs knows he can't give his little girl the opportunities she deserves, so he wants to send her to live with Aunt Sarah. The problem is, Jessica doesn't want to go and is pretty vocal about it. Her dad eventually decides she's better off at home with him.
  • No Indoor Voice: Jessica loves singing, and Christmas carols in particular. Because of this, she suffers from the trope while singing.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Towards the beginning of the film, Jessica tries to get her father's attention, but he simply brushes her off.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jessica gives a mild, but effective one to Dr. Benton: "Doctors are just liars! They never make anyone better!"
  • Santa's Existence Clause: Jessica is kind of a subversion. No one actively tries to convince her there's no Santa Claus or reindeer, although her best friend Carol expresses skepticism and her dad, in a moment of frustration, exclaims, "Look, reindeer don't fly, okay?" It's not said whether Jessica convinces anyone Santa does exist, but her dad and some others in town sort of have a Heel–Face Turn on the issue.
  • The Scrooge: Old Lady MacFarland until Jessica does odd jobs for her and reintroduces her to the joy of Christmas.
  • With Friends Like These...: Jessica's best friend Carol sometimes falls into this. She's openly skeptical about Santa and also implies there is no God or Heaven, which is worse when you recall Jessica's mother is dead. Jessica herself gets a moment of this in getting mad at Carol and accusing her of revealing the secret when she really didn't.