Every single franchise, it seems, must have a Christmas special at some point. The likes of ShrekStar WarsCharlie BrownMystery Science Theater 3000Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even Red vs. Blue have all succumbed to Christmas episodes, upholding the unwritten law for franchises to propagate Yuletide cheer. 2011’s Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas is the latest continuation of this tradition, following on from its franchise’s three theatrical predecessors and serving as a reminder that a new feature-length Ice Age movie is due in Summer 2012. The stench of commercialism plagues the notion of this Christmas special, but A Mammoth Christmas is surprisingly enjoyable for what it is. It conjures up an inventive, fresh Christmas origin story, and the intriguing narrative is complemented by strong visuals, humorous dialogue and situations, and lots of holiday fun. The kids in particular will love it.

As Christmas approaches for the Ice Age characters, Manny (Romano) brings out an heirloom for the celebrations: a generations-old Christmas rock. Unfortunately, Sid (Leguizamo) promptly shows up and crashes the party, accidentally destroying Manny’s rock amidst his usual daft antics. In a fit of frustration, Manny tells Sid that he’s on Santa’s Naughty List, leaving the gullible sloth in tears. To get himself off the naughty list, Sid sets out with Crash (Scott), Eddie (Peck) and Manny’s daughter Peaches (Bravo) to find the North Pole and pay Santa a visit. Meanwhile, Manny, Ellie (Latifah) and Diego (Leary) frantically chase after them. Suffice it to say, things get worse before they get better.

One especially niggling thing sticks out about A Mammoth Christmas from the very outset: the Ice Age movies are set between ten thousand and three million years ago, yet the gang celebrate Christmas as we know it despite predating the season’s namesake by potentially millions of years. Dialogue even references both Miami and airplane vomit bags. But then again, Ice Age has never interested in historical accuracy – these movies are prehistoric family-friendly fantasies, not documentaries. Kids won’t think too much into the implications behind this special, but adults may raise a few eyebrows. Additionally, A Mammoth Christmas is not a carefully-designed Christmas special rife with messages. Instead, the special is interested solely in shallow pleasures, and, fortunately, that’s where it succeeds. For what is essentially a cash-in, the script is surprisingly witty. Funny dialogue abounds, jokes are fired at a rapid rate and character dynamics are as strong as ever, making this funnier and more enjoyable than at least the last feature-length Ice Age instalment. Scrat is up to his usual tricks here as well, showing up occasionally to engage in more of the slapstick antics we’ve come to expect from the sabre-toothed squirrel.

The Christmas television specials of yesteryear featured solid but nevertheless primitive animation. A Mammoth Christmas is comparatively perfect, with state-of-the-art animation yielding a gorgeous visual treat. Additionally, all of the Ice Age regulars loaned their voices to this special. By now, the ensemble of actors seem completely comfortable in the prehistoric skin of their respective roles. Thus, we have John Leguizamo who slipped back into the role of Sid as if no time had passed, Ray Romano leaning on his typical shtick, Denis Leary assuredly delivering one-liners, and the pair of Seann William Scott & Josh Peck playing well off one another as the antagonising twin possums Crash & Eddie. In terms of the newcomers, an enthusiastic T.J. Miller is both amusing and enjoyable as Prancer.

With its short running time of about 21 minutes excluding credits, A Mammoth Christmas is lean and nimble. This is both a blessing and a curse – on the one hand the storyline is furiously-paced and never lags, but on the other hand a few developments and plot points feel rushed. Despite this, Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas is destined to fulfil its goal of entertaining young children. Is it strong enough to find its way into the pantheon of great Christmas specials? Maybe. It’s definitely enjoyable, and it’s nice to have a contemporary alternative to the overplayed specials of yore. Plus, it’s destined to please kiddies who enjoy the Ice Age series, making A Mammoth Christmas a good choice for entertainment on Christmas when there’s not enough time for a full-length feature.