Suspended Animation #223
To land on the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea, each plane has an extended hook attached to the plane’s tail called a tailhook to snag one of four arresting wires, sturdy cables woven from high-tensile steel wire, stretched across the deck.
Landing Signals Officers help guide the plane in to a successful landing through radio communication as well as a collection of lights on the deck. Since Santa also pilots a flying vehicle and must make landings on multiple unusual surfaces, Disney storyman Chris Williams wondered if the jolly old elf also might have a flight crew doing the preparations on Christmas Eve.
Williams worked in the story department for Mulan (1998), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) and Brother Bear (2003). He went on to co-direct the feature Bolt (2008) and later Big Hero 6 (2014).
He pitched the idea among others to Walt Disney Animation Studios’ then new program to revive original seven minute shorts to precede Disney theatrical features.
When he got called on to co-direct Bolt, the project was shifted to Stevie Wermers-Skelton and Kevin Deters who had both co-written and co-directed the first short for the new program entitled How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007) about Goofy’s difficulties in installing his new home theater system in the tradition of the classic Goofy “How To” series of shorts.
However Chief Creative Office of Disney Animation John Lasseter was so excited by the story premise that he marched over to the office of president of ABC Entertainment division Stephen McPherson and pitched the idea for a new half-hour Christmas special like the ones he remembered watching growing up.
“We had already begun working on our second short, The Ballad of Nessie (2011), when John (Lasseter) approached us with the idea of turning Prep and Landing into a holiday special,” Wermers-Skelton said. “This is right before Christmas in 2007. So I got to spend the holidays thinking about how Kevin and I were going to do this new Christmas special.”
“Chris had already created the characters of Lanny, the excited rookie, and Wayne, the jaded veteran,” Deters stated. “But that was just for the seven-minute-long short version of Prep & Landing. We were looking to tell a far bigger story with these characters. So we worked closely with John to expand our storyline, flesh out the world of the North Pole and these elves.”
The special entitled Prep & Landing aired on ABC December 8, 2009, and was not only the highest-rated Christmas television special of the year, but received critical acclaim. The industry trade newspaper Variety called it “clever and colorful…considerably smarter than the average kids special.”
As a result, a sequel Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice (that aired December 2011) was immediately green-lit, as well as a seven minute short to help fill the gap before its premiere and keep the franchise prominent in an audience’s minds, Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret Santa (that aired December 2010).
The expectations for the sequel were very high with Hallmark producing a line of Prep & Landing-related toys and ornaments. Other merchandise was produced as well.
However, one thing that animation fans may have missed was an eight-page comic book story of Wayne and Lanny preparing The Avengers mansion entitled Prep & Landing – Mansion: Impossible! (November 16, 2011) that appeared as a back-up story in the “all ages” editions meant for younger readers of Marvel Adventures Avengers No. 19, Marvel Adventures Super-Heroes No. 20, and Marvel Adventures Spider-Man No. 20.
The premise is that even superheroes can be on Santa’s Nice List and can expect a visit from the jolly old elf. The significance of readying the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ mansion for a visit from Santa is lost on Wayne and Lanny.
For them, it’s just another night on the greatest job ever, although they run into some unusual Stark technology that identifies them as rats and tries to eliminate them and they end up sledding down the stairs on Captain America’s shield and blasting Stark’s menacing techbot with Iron Man’s glove that has become stuck on Lanny’s head.
On Christmas morning, Hulk is happy that Santa brought him a new pair of purple stretchy pants, remarking that he always knows what Hulk needs. A confused Jarvis discovers one of the destroyed Stark devices.
Realizing that the assignment was more stressful for them than usual, Magee offers that next year she will assign them to a school for gifted children: Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Children, the home of the X-Men.
The story was written by Kevin Deters with art by Joe Mateo, who had received an Annie nomination as a storyboard artist for his work on the first special and also storyboarded the second one as well.
“I thought that Prep & Landing would lend itself well to the comics medium. For me, it was important to let the worlds kind of touch on each other, but they don’t really interact directly,” Deters said. “Our approach is a little more tongue-in-cheek. They’re not fighting supervillains together or anything like that. They don’t have a real appreciation for where they are, and that’s kind of an important distinction for me.
“The humor comes from the fact they are clueless about the inhabitants while the readers see glimpses like the Hulk stealing one of Santa’s cookies and Lanny commenting he must really be in the Christmas spirit because he is totally green.”
Artist Joe Mateo said, “When storyboarding, I don’t have to be super-tight with my drawings as opposed to comic book illustrations, which are typically more detailed. We only had eight pages, but we had so many awesome ideas, we could have made a graphic novel out of it.”
Both Deters and Mateo claim to be life-long fans of superhero comics. Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada was already a fan of Prep & Landing.
“We’re all big fans of Prep & Landing, so bringing them into the Marvel Universe was a no-brainer,” said Axel Alonso, who is Marvel editor-in-chief. “I just hope that Lanny and Wayne have an easier time at my house this year than they do at the Avengers’ Mansion!”
“I love Prep and Landing. I love the whole concept of Santa having these high-tech, stealth, elf squadrons that help him get each house prepared for Christmas,” said John Lasseter “It’s already so much fun combining this super secret spy world mixed in with the North Pole, and then to add the Avengers into the mix – spies, Christmas and comics – three of my favorite things!”
Originally the story was announced as Elves Assemble! as a parody of the famous “Avengers Assemble!” battle cry.
The Prep & Landing sequel was nominated for 11 Annie Awards, winning four. It won one Primetime Emmy from three nominations. In 2011, it was reported that a third Prep & Landing holiday half hour special was in pre-production, but it was apparently abandoned when the sequel failed to match Disney’s expectations for the sequel.
By the way, elves Wayne and Lanny make a brief cameo appearance in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (2017) also co-written and co-directed by Deters and Wermers-Skelton. As Olaf stands in front of a fireplace watching four kids in nightgowns hang up their Christmas stockings, to the far right side of the mantle are carved wooden figures of the two characters right next to a Yule Goat (a Scandinavian tradition).