Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Kirk R. Thatcher
Written by: Tim Burns & Christopher Baldi
Starring: Mary Steenburgen, Jay Harrington, Genevieve Buechner, Graham Verchere, Linden Banks & Chris Bridges
Though he’s been dead for over two decades, Jim Henson’s magic lives on through his various films and other projects that followed his passing. TURKEY HOLLOW is the newest creation from the Jim Henson Company, but it’s not like the recent lackluster Muppet specials that have aired on the small screen. Instead, this made-for-TV holiday film (the holiday being Thanksgiving) was actually a concept from Henson before he passed away. Originally under the title THE MUSICAL MONSTERS OF TURKEY HOLLOW, the project reached a level of production where some of the original puppets were actually built and then shelved later on. We’ll never know how potentially heartwarming and imaginative Henson’s take on TURKEY HOLLOW may have wound being, but I’d wager it would be significantly more compelling than this middle-of-the-road Lifetime movie.
Ron, a recently divorced father, is taking his two kids (teenage Annie and young Tim) to the small town of Turkey Hollow to spend Thanksgiving with their strange vegan Aunt Cly. Though Annie is bored by the change of scenery (no cell phone service, of course) and new menu (no turkey!), Tim is intrigued by the legend of the monstrous Hoodoo. This creature supposedly lives in the forest of Turkey Hollow and Tim sets out after dark to find it. However, he accidentally lets loose a bunch of turkeys from Cly’s grumpy neighbor. This results in his aunt potentially losing her home if she doesn’t come up with ten thousand dollars by noon on Thanksgiving. Tim and Annie go looking for the lost turkeys in the forest when they run into a band of strange monsters (Squonk, Zorp, Burble, and Thring). Together, these kids and monsters must uncover the secret of Turkey Hollow to save Cly’s farm.
I pretty much have a self-regulating rule regarding Lifetime movies. That rule being that I simply won’t bother with 99% of them. There are exceptions (BIG DRIVER, PROSECUTING CASEY ANTHONY), but these are few and far between. For the most part, I think Lifetime movies are some of the worst made-for-TV films in existence (alongside the Syfy channel). I watched TURKEY HOLLOW because it resembled old-school children’s films like LABYRINTH and THE DARK CRYSTAL (both of which were huge parts of my childhood). While the monsters in TURKEY HOLLOW delivered nostalgic feelings that only Jim Henson’s puppetry can bring, they don’t take up as much screen time as they probably should. When they do show up, these four creatures (who can only say their names, much like Pokémon) only serve as means to an end. The creatures are the perfect blend of ugly and cute, but they aren’t a significant portion of their own movie.
This brings me to the characters. Mary Steenburgen seems bored as Cly. She is supposed to be a quirky aunt (at least that’s what I gathered from how other characters describe her), but Steenburgen seems like she’s in a hurry to woodenly rush through her lines and be over with this film. At least, Jay Harrington puts effort into his role as the recently divorced father (which hits all the expected clichés). Graham Verchere and Genevieve Buechner are both serviceable as the leads, but they’re your stereotypical grumpy teenager and curious younger sibling. These characters attempt to have heartfelt moments later on that feel forced because not a whole lot of effort is made to flesh them out. I know this criticism may sound silly (especially being that this is a Lifetime movie for children), but the magic of Jim Henson’s original specials/movies came from good characters and a sweet sense of humor. Without a doubt, the best performance comes from Linden Banks as the over-the-top villain. Oh, Ludacris also pops up to narrate for some inexplicable reason.
TURKEY HOLLOW suffers from is a by-the-numbers screenplay that has faux heartfelt moments, mixed bag characters, and an interesting plot point that’s too easily written off by the end of the film. That last gripe is especially frustrating for me, because TURKEY HOLLOW could have easily gone to a slightly edgier place (think LABYRINTH) and it didn’t for the sake of lazy screenwriting. The film isn’t horrible and I enjoyed the four musical monsters, but there are simply too many problems (in both plot and performances) that weigh this film down. This isn’t a bad way to keep your kids occupied for 90 minutes, but viewers seeking old school Henson nostalgia might find that feeling to be fleeting before this film reveals just how dull it actually is.