Buster and Chauncey’s Silent Night (1998)


Buster and Chauncey’s Silent Night deserves to be a better movie than it is. Despite a talented voice cast that includes Phil Hartman, Jim Cummings, and a young Lea Michele and a couple songs from the songwriting team that gave us Anastasia and Broadway’s Ragtime, this Christmas film suffers from uninspired animation and writing. Still, this tale about the first performance of “Silent Night” works some holiday magic, and if your heart is big enough, you may want to add it to your Christmas queue.

Based on real events, the story recounts the origin of “Silent Night.” The popular carol was originally performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 in St. Nicholas’s Church in Oberndorf, Austria, and Fr. Joseph Mohr did write the lyrics to be accompanied by organist Franz Gruber on the guitar. However, it was Gruber who composed the music and not in fact a skinny mouse named Chauncey (Hartman). Nor did Chauncey’s chubby friend, Buster (Cummings), who wants to gain fame and fortune by playing for the queen (Marie Osmond), figure into the actual story

The rest is reliably fairy tale. The two mice are an odd couple; Buster has ambition to match his waistline while the meeker Chauncey is happy just fiddling on his violin and curling up in a warm mouse hole. Chauncey shows his Christmas, and Christian, spirit when he befriends an orphan, Christina (Michele), and tries to save her from two thieves intent on robbing the church during a welcome celebration for the queen. The harsh and unforgiving Mayor Huffenmeier inadvertently makes life hard for everyone though, and his fat cat wants to make a meal out of the little mice.

Though the film is a direct-to-video effort, I’d hoped for something more than a bonus episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. The warmth of an old Austrian Christmas coupled with a feel-good message of generosity and humility is prime material for a animated family film starring anthropomorphic mice, but nothing builds on this basic framework. Buster and Chauncey’s relationship with Christina is fleeting though the climax turns on their supposedly close friendship. The mice are more believable buddies, but even here they are generic rodents, possible escapees from the set of Cinderella. I was most disappointed with the animation, however. Aside from some lederhosen and Tyrolean hats, it’s hard to tell the story takes place in Austria. I wanted to be swept away by the wintery mountain landscape and walk between the cozy wooden houses. Chauncey’s big, unselfish heart, makes up for some of the film’s shortcomings; we could all use some of that this time of year.

Released: 1998
Prod: Buzz Potamkin
Dir: Buzz Potamkin
Writer: George Taweel, Rob Loos
Cast: Phil Hartman, Jim Cummings, Lea Michele, Marie Osmond, Tom Arnold, Townsend Coleman, Harry Goz, Paul Kandel, Judith Blazer
Time: 49 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016