Disney's animated "Prep & Landing" special was one of TV's more pleasant holiday surprises of 2009, so there was some enthusiasm about the prospect of a sequel, subtitled "Naughty Vs. Nice," which ABC will debut on Dec. 6.
To say the new half-hour doesn't quite measure up to the first would be accurate, which doesn't mean this latest pre-Christmas adventure is without its charms.
Indeed, it was perhaps inevitable a second "Prep" couldn't match the inventiveness of the first, focusing on a team of elves who -- "Mission: Impossible"-style -- pave the way for Santa's arrival, checking out houses and making sure all's well when it's time for the Big Guy to slide down the chimney.
Written and directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton (and again exec produced by John Lasseter), "Prep 2" returns to the team of Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley) and the chipper Lanny (Derek Richardson), while introducing a rambunctious new elf, Noel (Rob Riggle), part of a Coal-Elf Brigade responsible for dispensing yule-tide justice to naughty kids.
It's clever enough, and there's actually a rather sweet message about sibling rivalry and resenting a new arrival that will surely resonate among young kids. What's lacking, mostly, is the sense of freshness and discovery that enlivened the original, while the whole "We have to save Christmas" set-up tastes a bit more stale this time out.
Still, "Prep & Landing" reflects how the Pixar brass have gradually put their stamp all over Disney's animation efforts, including the expansion into annual TV events with this and the recent Disney Channel spec "Pixie Hollow Games." It's all a shrewd way to keep franchises alive and incubate new ones -- and like everything Pixar does, including the rare disappointments (you know who you are, "Cars"), it's been hung out with meticulous care.