New York Times
A team led by Matt Groening, creator of ''The Simpsons,'' has transformed the children's book (by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh) into a witty hourlong musical in which Olive, a plucky little dog, saves Christmas from the clutches of an evil letter carrier whose mind and muscles have been twisted by too many sacks of junk mail. The show, directed by Oscar Moore, has antic fun with Mr. Groening's Crayola-hued palette, bombarding you with deceptively simple-looking images that keep revealing more depth as you watch.
Just as clever is the script by Steve Young, who also wrote the lyrics to the songs, with music by Christopher Tyng. Their best collaboration is the postman's big number, in which he explains to Olive just why he wants to scuttle Christmas. Dancing his government-approved shoes off to toe-tapping swing accompaniment by the band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the malevolent mailman (with a voice supplied by Dan Castellaneta, taking a busman's holiday from his Homer Simpson role) wails:
They cut down bigger, fatter logs,
So I can bring more catalogs.
First class, third class, book rate, bulk.
Is it any wonder why I sulk?
The plot turns on the announcement by Santa Claus (Edward Asner) that he may not be able to make his rounds this year because Blitzen is injured. Olive (Drew Barrymore) hears the news bulletin on the radio in her doghouse, where she is looking happily forward to Christmas with her owner, Tim (Jay Mohr). Olive's pet flea, Fido (Peter MacNicol), doesn't quite hear the sound bite. So when Santa says, ''Maybe we'll make do with all of the other reindeer,'' Fido is sure he said, ''Olive, the other reindeer'' and urges Olive to high-tail it to the North Pole to bail Santa out. So Olive, along with her pal Martini (Joe Pantoliano), a larcenous penguin who steals office supplies from the zoo and sells fake Rolexes on the street, heads north, pursued by the postman. They make friends along the way, including Blitzen's cousin Schnitzel, who can't fly but can sing (with the voice of Michael Stipe of R.E.M.).
Olive reaches Santa, who is a bit dubious that this little dog can help him. ''I know I don't look like much, but give me a try,'' says Olive. Santa does, and you can guess the happy results. Of course, the Christmas that is rescued here is of a most secular sort, just like the ones you used to know. The only religious symbol on view is the menorah that blazes atop Santa's house, although many viewers will recognize the beaming man in white who wordlessly steps onto his balcony in Rome to accept his gift from Santa, a Phillies baseball cap. (It's scarlet, see, with an ornate P for pope.) Additional viewings will no doubt reveal more clever gems, like the repeated references to Johnny Marks's 1949 pop song, ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,'' the source of the show's title. When Olive gets to the North Pole, she hears about reindeer games, but when she inquires about Rudolph, she's told that he's only an urban legend.
Is this holiday tale just too icily hip for its own good? Nah. Good does triumph over evil, and love over hate. Nobody gets hurt. And, hey, it's a girl dog who saves the day. So enjoy. But keep an eye on the mailman. This just might be the year for a gratuity.
OLIVE, THE OTHER REINDEER
Produced by the Curiosity Company, Flower Films and Fox Television Studios. Matt Groening, Drew Barrymore, Claudia De La Roca and Nancy Juvonen, executive producers; Alex Johns, producer. Directed by Oscar Moore. Based on the book by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh. Written by Steve Young. Music by Christopher Tyng.