Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maybe there'd be more magic if Skates had been sharpened

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Good intentions and a kind heart are an excellent start, but those qualities alone do not a Christmas classic make.

Not even if they're set in the context of this country's national obsession, and peppered with voice contributions from some legitimate Canadian-TV legends.

All of which is a bit unfortunate, because the new CBC animated special The Magic Hockey Skates really does try its very hardest to be a wonderful Canadian Christmas yarn. But it falls short, simply because it's a great message wrapped in a rather average -- and, occasionally, clumsily told -- story.

Despite being touted by CBC's promotions department as "an instant classic," The Magic Hockey Skates is more likely to be forgotten as quickly as the latest non-update from hockey-lockout podium preachers Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr.

The story is simple, earnest and mildly charming, focused on a young man named Joey who dreams of playing in the big championship game. Unfortunately, when he awakens from that dream, his excitement over the first big snowfall and the prospect of outdoor hockey is tempered by a reminder from older brother Zach that he's not much of a player because he can't skate very well.

Joey is convinced, however, that his on-ice prowess will improve immediately if he can just get his hands on a pair of brand new Rocky Rockets skates -- the brand worn and endorsed by his pro-hockey hero, Rocky St. Jean (voiced by Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux).

When the boys' father takes them to the local hockey shop, however, all three experience a severe case of sticker shock, and it's clear that the family's limited funds will force them to choose between a new goalie mask for Zach, who's headed for the big holiday tournament, or new skates for Joey.

Joey, generously but with obvious disappointment, allows his dad to escort him to the second-hand skate rack, and his sad-faced survey of the pre-owned merchandise attracts the attention of an elderly clerk named Nick, who bears a striking resemblance to a certain red-suited gift-delivery guy.

Nick whispers to Joey that there's a pair of used skates in his size that are, in fact, magical because they have three hockey wishes in them.

"All you have to do is believe enough to make them," he says with a wink.

What follows, of course, is a series of events that reinforces the idea that believing in magic is to be encouraged at this special time of year, but also reminds youngsters that there's no substitute for hard work when it comes to improving your hockey skills.

Nice sentiments, both, but they're delivered in a manner that is devoid of the sort of whimsy and universal humour that are the hallmarks of the enduring seasonal cartoon classics -- Grinch, Charlie Brown, Rudolph and even more recent fare such as Prep & Landing -- that have earned places in the must-see Christmas TV catalogue.

And because of that, The Magic Hockey Skates is unlikely to endure beyond a few scheduled December screenings. It has heart, but none of the seasonal spark that makes the best Christmas shows so special. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2012 C3

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