THE LITTLE TROLL PRINCE (syndication, 1987)

Why was it such a misfit?

Go figure that a special that fully and unabashedly embraces the true meaning of Christmas is a misfit during its own holiday. Unlike a production such as Christopher the Christmas Tree, which mentioned Jesus once or twice, Hanna-Barbera's The Little Troll Prince goes far enough to technically classify as a religious special. So it should serve as a warning to those readers who celebrate the season by protesting nativity statues in public parks....this one ain't for you.

Actually, the Christian readers won't like it very much either. It's very slow, very simplistic, and very, very, oh-so-very 1980's Plush-Toy Cutesy. It runs an hour, but could have easily been cut down to 15 minutes without losing any of the key scenes in the plot.

Here's something you don't hear often: nothing. For the first three minutes, there's no spoken dialogue. Two Swedish Cabbage Patch Dolls help their father carry a tree home, while within said home, a really small boy decorates the attic for Christmas with the help of his woodland animals. The first thing he says, after the three-minute mark, is that all he needs is a tree...which will be taken care of once the girls get home.

He prepares for this by sawing a hole in the floor. The tree they brought back was so huge that its top broke through the ceiling and became the boy's tree as well. This was, in fact, intentional, because they know the troll is there.

Or rather, that the gnome is there. The boy, named Bu, explains he's really a gnome, and that gnomes are good while trolls are evil. Gnomes live in the forest, while trolls make their residences up in the mountains. Got it?

"For the trolls, everything good is bad, and everything bad is good! Up is down, black is white, and Rush Limbaugh and Rosie O'Donnell are each other. How do I know all this? Because, believe it or not, I wasn't always this way. In fact, one year ago, I was the Prince of the Trolls!" Flashback time.

The King and Queen of Trollkind, named Ulvik and Sirena respectively, are upset about the way their eldest boy turned out. There's only one element of this cartoon that keeps it from being solidly lame: the King is a two-headed troll voiced by Jonathan Winters and Vincent Price at the same time. awesome. What a concept!

Ulvik yells at Sirena, blaming her inferior genetic material for causing Bu to not appear as ugly as a troll should, for she only has one head. Sirena yells at him back, claiming he favors their other two children better than Bu. What really sticks in King's craw is that, since Bu was the first-born of his family (and yet shorter than his siblings by feet), he's the Crown Prince and will rule the Troll Kingdom someday. There must be some way to make sure he turns out nasty and proper before it's too late! He stomps down to Sinister School, which is the opposite of Unsinister School.

The head of the Sinister School, Professor Nidaros, is played by Don Knotts, and I never would have guessed. In every other part I've seen Knotts play, he's a wide-eyed man with a shaky, yokely voice. He's making a completely different type of voice this time and it works; who knew the old coot had such range? The professor sings a song here, but it barely qualifies as one....he flatly recites the evil deeds trolls are supposed to take part in while a musical score tries to make a three-note melody out of it.

Just as he's finishing his "ditty," Ulvik kicks down the door and demands to know what he's been teaching these troll kids. Nidaros has a few of them recite from the Troll Bible: "Do unto others before they do unto you!" The professor asks them how they treat those who are different. "SHUN THEM! IGNORE THEM!" He asks a troll what they think of people. "People can't be trusted! They chase trolls and step on them!"

Satisfied, the professor turns to Ulvik and asks, what's the problem? Things seem fine to him. Ulvik demands Prince Bu recite something.

Prince Bu meekly gets up and recites a few of the Troll Tenets with a shaky weakling voice. This pacifies Ulvik. "Okay, I guess he's fine. Sit down, Bu."
"Thank you," Bu says.
And just like that, Ulvik is unpacified. "DID HE JUST SAY THANK YOU???" The class is immediately dismissed so the King can chew the professor out, maybe literally.

The two younger princes, now stuck outside with nothing to do, discuss the situation with Bu. One wonders why they just don't eat him -- then one of THEM would be the Crown Prince and this whole matter would be settled. Another prince points out their father would kill them if they tried that, and yes, they get to use the word "kill."

"All right, how about this?" suggests the third prince. "We can make him get rid of himself. Here's what we'll tell Bu....."

The three trolls run up to Bu and say, "Have you heard the rumors about what's going on in People-Land?" That's not one of my quirky rephrasings; they really called it that.
"No, what?"
"They're doing STRANGE THINGS.....hanging wreaths on their doors; outlining their houses in lights! It could mean they're planning an invasion of the Troll Kingdom!" There's no hint if trolls really believe this, or if they know better and also know Bu won't.

"As Prince, it would be your duty to investigate this!"
Bu is useless in many ways, and being too cowardly to investigate things is one of them. "I....I don't k-know...." he stammers out.
"Think of how proud your father would be of you!"
Bu perks right up at that. If he alone found proof of human invasion plans, that would prove his worth to dear ol' Dad!

They lead him down a mountain and to a rickety old bridge. "You first, we insist," they tell Bu. It's obvious what they want to happen, but the bridge holds, and then they're forced to make it across as well. They really don't want Bu to survive this trek down the mountain, because whether they believe a human-troll war is imminent or not, they definitely think any human being would kill them on sight.

But it's not to be. Bu avoids all the hazards easily, and since the other trolls can't abandon him without his figuring out what's up, they all find themselves in human territory: a Norwegian village. "You check out that house.....see if it's safe!" a troll says while pointing in fright. This is their last hope for getting rid of Bu.

Bu looks inside and sees a woman baking gingerbread men. Or are they flattened, dehydrated and oven-crisped TROLLS?? AIIIEEEEEE!
All four run for their lives....but not before grabbing Bu, tieing him to the top of a tree and leaving him there to get cookie-fied. They've waited long enough. If these humans really eat trolls, Bu won't be back to tattle on them for this.

It isn't long before people, one with an axe, approach the tree Bu's attached to. They're the two girls we saw at the front end of the special, along with their father, out to get a Christmas tree. They cut it down and end up carting Bu inside their house, discovering him only when they've started to decorate the tree.

Bu demands to know what's really going on. The girls explain they aren't planning an anti-troll uprising, they're celebrating Christmas. Now Bu wants to know what Christmas is about, so the pair give him the full story: the Savior, the manger birth, the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. They tell him God did these things because He loves everybody. "Well, not TROLLS -- nobody can possibly love us."

"Oh, no, God loves everybody, including evil trolls." Upon finding this out, if you can believe it, Bu's heart starts beating for the first time. How was he alive before?

Then he hears a noise outside -- oh noes! It turns out the King wasn't fooled by the ruse the other trolls tried to pull off, and and now has one of his minions searching for Bu. But this minion isn't lovable, yellow and squeaky -- he's a giant hideous wind monster who freezes Bu and carries him off to jail!

The other princes have framed Bu, claiming he was the one doing the very things they tried to do to him. Now stuck in prison awaiting his trial, Bu has a small Bible to read to pass the time, which was a gift from the two girls. It's here he finds out the true Golden Rule, and as he keeps reading, his nose starts shrinking and his tail starts shortening.....

Bu is called before the Council of Elders, six trolls who will decide if he's still worthy of the title Crown Prince. The other princes and Sirena say no. The King, however, is still protective of his boy, and insists on a full trial. As Bu stands there on the courtroom floor, Ulvik asks him to recite the Troll Golden Rule.

But he doesn't; he recites the real Golden Rule instead, and the outraged court accuses him of blasphemy. "I'm sorry," admits Bu, "but I have a heart now! A heart that's full of God's love! And I love everybody, and----" at this point, if you're hungry for something edgier, try putting on an early-season episode of Full House.

As Bu speaks of wuv, his physical body changes further.....his tail and nose shrink in size again, and his ears lose their points. He turns from a troll into a gnome, right there in court. Upon seeing that sight, even his father disowns him, and leaves Bu to the mercy of the court. The court, of course, has no mercy for such mush, and chases Bu out of the Troll Kingdom and into the night.

Bu is homeless now, or so he thinks. The next morning, after he wakes up under a tree, some gnomes pass by and point him out as one of them. Bu can't believe it until he sees his own reflection in some ice. He's okay with this; he was never much of a troll anyway. The gnome community lives in the forest next to the girls' village, and so Bu made his residence in their attic.

Which brings us to present day, 1987, and Bu with his critter friends. He reminds the audience that "this may have been a fairy tale, but God's love is real!" The camera pans away into the sky and the credits roll.

Why didn't it fit in?
The Little Troll Prince was made explicitly for Christian audiences, so there weren't many channels that could show it. Despite its limited audience, there's a lot of legendary talent behind it -- the voices of Vincent Price, Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts, Cloris Leachman and Rob Paulsen, the Hanna-Barbera animation, and Andrea Romano as voice director. There's only so much a good production crew can do with a bad script, though.

This special, combined with The Cabbage Patch Kids' First Christmas, is now available on DVD. Or more accurately DVD-R.