Director: LeVar Burton   
Christopher Plummer, Brenda Blethyn, voice of Whoopi Goldberg

As I write this, the holiday season is fast approaching. In case you didn't click on this review from the "new review" section of this web site and instead you brought up this review from the alphabetical or genre file pages of this web site (or you got here via the Internet Movie Database), let me define that clearer: As I write this, the Christmas holiday season is fast approaching. And with the approach of this holiday season, I get a lot of past Christmas holiday memories going through my head. I remember those long and cold Okanagan Valley winters that brought a lot of snow, and meant that I had to help shovel the snow off the long dirt and rock-encrusted driveway even as a youngster. I remember how during the Christmas holidays how my family was environmentally conscious long before it became trendy. We would use the same small plastic pine tree for our indoor Christmas tree each year instead of buying a chopped-down tree each year that would just end up getting dumped in the trash. Outside, we would decorate with lights one of our "live" pine trees with lights each year. Though as it grew bigger each year, we could only reach the bottom half of the tree to decorate it, just like the typically lame Family Circus kids did with their tree in a typically lame Bil Keane cartoon I once saw. And of course, I remember the excitement Christmas Eve brought to me as a kid. I remember being told that Santa Claus was coming to bring me and my siblings a lot of presents, though for some reason I was told not to exit my bedroom and peek into the living room while my parents were still awake.

And, of course, I remember all the loot my siblings and I would find in the living room on Christmas day. (Santa was very generous with us kids.) There were the expected books and candy, but also a lot of today. I was captivated by the toys that Santa brought, though when I look back on them today I can't believe I was so captivated by some of them - anyone remember the electronic game of "Blip", all of which it consisted of was an LED light going back and forth across a small screen? I also remember year after year asking for the "Highway Police Chase Game" I saw year after year in the Eaton's catalog, and when Santa finally gave it to me and I assembled it and put it into action, I was severely underwhelmed. Most of my toy memories are positive, however, and they may be my favorite holiday memories. Though some other memories come close to that. Perhaps the second favorite memory I have of the holidays is Hollywood Christmas entertainment. There was A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I remember clearly how it used to run before it started to be edited down to fit more commercials. And I remember during the Christmas season of 1983 when my parents took me and my siblings to see the movie A Christmas Story. By the end of that movie I was a major fan, a fan of the movie before word-of-mouth spread about it during the subsequent years and brought it new fans. Despite these fond Hollywood Christmas memories, I realized recently that I haven't done that much for this site about Christmas movies, so I headed down to the video store to find something Christmas-related to review.

At the video store, I headed to the family section, where it seems all video stores keep their Christmas movies. I had the faint memory that there was a copy of the Jimmy Durante movie A Christmas Wish, but while I was looking for it, my eyes fell on another movie I had forgotten about - Blizzard. This seemed like a more appropriate movie to review on my site, not just because of the fact it was a newer movie. Blizzard happens to be a rare Canadian Christmas movie (well, there was some American involvement, but it's mostly Canadian.) This fact gives me the chance to rant about a couple of things. One is that it isn't the typical Telefilm-funded garbage - it was privately financed, so it's a real movie. Despite this, it was a big flop when it was widely released in Canada during the 2003 holiday season, a big blow for private filmmaking in Canada. Actually, in one way I'm glad it did because it no doubt made its distributor, Alliance Films, lose several million dollars in marketing and distribution fees. (Alliance Films grew fat over the years with government subsidies and funding, then all of a sudden decided to stop making movies and stick to distribution, without giving the money back.) End of my rants - I'll now get to the movie. Jessie (Jennifer Pisana), is a child who is heartbroken when her best friend moves away from town. To cheer her up, her parents bring in her great aunt Millie (Blethyn, The Witches), who tells her the story of Katie (Zoe Warner), an ice-skating child who had to move away to a new town where she was alone. At the same time at Santa's workshop at the North Pole, Santa (Plummer, in a role that's little more than an extended cameo) finds that one of his reindeers has given birth, and this new reindeer is given the name of Blizzard (who is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg.) As Blizzard grows, she finds she has special powers, and one of these powers one day has her hearing Katie far away crying. Blizzard soon enters Katie's life, and the two of them soon find themselves with an unusual friendship, and one that promises to bring problems into their lives in the near future...

If there's one thing that I absolutely hate about what's to be found in family entertainment in recent years, it's how frenzied it has become. Characters scream at the top of their lungs when they are not spouting off painful wisecracks, and they run around the screen flapping their arms like their heads have been chopped off. So you can imagine how relieved I was to witness an alternative attitude in Blizzard. This movie is both restrained and very gentle in its attitude in a number of different ways. Take the characters, for instance. Aunt Millie is revealed to be a kind of a "hip" woman early on in the movie, but never once does she brag about the things she's done or speak any louder than an assuring tone. Katie is shown to be a heroine who, while wanting to be a good skater, could easily live with not being world champion; she is shown to more wanting to do the right thing whenever a problem comes up. Even the "bad guys" in the movie are not shown to be one hundred percent dastardly evil; Katie's skating rival, while she does sabotage Katie's skates, is shown to have a very demanding father who pushes her. The various events that happen during the movie are filmed in a toned-down way as well - no rapid MTV-like editing or quick jerks of the camera. It's comfortably and leisurely placed. The movie also contains some very assuring messages for its audience as well. It tells us (and also shows us some examples of) what a true friendship is like, and what a true friend should do. As for the possibility of losing a friend, the movie even finds a way to assure the audience as to what to do should this happen.

Kudos also for director Burton (best known for playing Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation) for making the movie look good on what must have been a budget significantly lower than a typical Hollywood movie. The period detail (cars, clothing, etc.) of Katie's story doesn't look impoverished, colors look strong, and the special effects are generally very well done. Most of the special effects consist of reindeers moving their mouths as they talk, or flying around, and these CGI effects mix in well to the parts of the movie when they mix in real reindeers. The best special effects sequence comes when Blizzard flies around Katie while she's skating. It may sound ludicrous, but Burton and the special effects people combine to make this scene feel like it has real magic to it. There are a few moments, however, where Burton seems to have been confined by the limited budget. There's one scene where Blizzard takes off into the air where we don't actually see her take off, nor do we see her in the air until several seconds later (and it's an easily made close-up shot of her). Also, there are a few moments in the movie that suggest Burton should have asked for a script rewrite, or else unwisely had something cut from the movie. Early on in the movie, Katie's father says there are rumors of layoffs at his workplace so they can't afford to buy skates for her. But in the next scene, she is given new skates. There's another scene later on when Katie's music box is broken, and her reaction to this indicates this music box was special to her. But this is the first and only scene we have seen with this music box.

There are some other moments in the screenplay that disappoint. While the movie gives plenty of time to develop the character of Katie, when it comes to her friend Blizzard, it disappoints. Blizzard doesn't get a lot of screen time before she meets Katie, and as a result we don't learn that much about her. And there is the scene where Katie and Blizzard first meet; there's no awe, no sense of wonder. I can tell you that if I met a talking reindeer, I would be agog, and I would be asking it a lot of questions at first. Katie's reaction to the talking Blizzard is just as if she was human instead of a magic animal. As you can see, there seem to be more or less an equal number of good things about Blizzard to negative things about it. So do I recommend it or not? Well, after some time thinking about it, I think I will recommend it. I think its target audience, children under 12 years old, will be entertained by it, even if they don't think it's one of the best movies (holiday or otherwise) that they have seen. As for their parents who watch it with them, I think they will find it painless even during the rougher patches. And hey, it's the holiday season, and all the good cheer has made me feel in a generous mood. I just ask that Canadian readers who like the movie buy it from the American Amazon link just below. Not only will you be supporting this web site, but buying it from the American distributor will mean that not one penny of your money will go to the Alliance company.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Earthbound, The Last Unicorn, Star Kid