Less-known Christmas films: Santa’s Little Yelpers

Is The Asylum’s Santa’s Little Yelpers a hidden Poundland Christmas gem? Er, read on to find out…

Santa’s Little Yelpers (originally: Golden Winter, a name presumably changed to avoid sounding like something a sexual deviant would pick from the menu of a shady massage parlour) is a Christmas kids’ film made by The Asylum.

The Asylum, as a rule, does not make good films. Appreciating that, among the knock-off ‘mockbusters’ and Netflix-plumping mega-monster flicks, might there sit a shiny gem of a Christmas picture? A movie, yes, written in under ten days for less cash than the average parent spent on Minions Kinder Eggs this summer, but a real bobby-dazzler nonetheless?


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To begin with, Santa’s not even in it. That means the titular little yelpers—Rory (likes jumping out of boxes), Snoozer (narcoleptic), Tinkle (incontinent), Jumper (no discernible character traits) and Scarf (doesn’t even wear a scarf)—have only themselves to help. And help is what they need, because these puppies find themselves in a parlous Christmas situation.

That’s thanks to the Coopers, a terrible couple who do a terrible thing. Upon experiencing financial hardship, the Coopers abscond from their soon-to-be-repossessed house without making any arrangements for the dog and five puppies contained therein. Off they drive Beverly Hillbillies-style with their rocking chair tied to the roof of their car without a second thought for the mess they’re leaving behind, or for the messes that mess will, in turn, leave behind. (Side note: Santa’s Little Yelpers is remarkably free of dog poo. I lived with litters of golden retriever puppies as a child and believe me, within ten minutes of free ranging, the Cooper home would be a wall-to-wall shit toboggan.)

Abandoning their pets turns out to be yet another financial stumble by the Coopers, as the dogs in question are pedigree chums and worth plenty cash. It was likely that kind of shaky grasp on matters pecuniary that got the Coopers into this pickle. That and the global banking crisis, which is in many ways the real villain of this piece.

Speaking of villains, you have to hand it to The Asylum. Against all the odds, they’ve managed to make adorable retriever puppies—the gold standard of cuteness—into beasts of eldritch terror. They’ve done it by making the pups talk using superimposed CGI mouths that reveal rows of piranha-like teeth with every cutesy utterance.

See? It’s essentially what Adam and Joe did in those Star Wars toy spoofs, but much less convincing.

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The film also fails to convince in a few other areas, the first being that anyone involved watched it before the DVD was burned and sent out to shops. If they had, they might have helped its audience suspend their disbelief by editing out this unexpected cameo of a cameraman/puppy trainer’s foot.

Or covered up the names printed on the puppy actors’ collar tags, none of which appear to be Rory, Tinkle, Snoozer, Jumper or Scarf, and all of which appear to be “Daniel”.

Or considered the fact that dogs just aren’t very good at acting. As a species, they lack nuance. At the poignant moment when the mother dog is being led away from her puppies in distress, the dog actor is clearly chuffed to bits and wagging her tail like it’s Christmas. Which it is.

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The makers might also have considered reshooting this scene, in which the parents of young Oliver display unimprovably weak deductive skills by fretting about where he’s gone on his bike, despite said bike being parked outside the house in the establishing shot.

That’s also Oliver’s bike helmet and rucksack, both of which he is currently wearing on the other side of town, on the kitchen table.

Oliver’s mum and dad are right to fret, though. Due to that mainstay of the modern Christmas movie, career-obsessed parental neglect, their good-hearted son has joined The Ghost Gang, a band of adolescents who describe themselves as “a radically super-bad gang” and achieve this by wearing sleeveless jean jackets.

It’s when The Ghost Gang, led by Sleeveless Jean Jacket Jimmy, break into the Cooper’s vacant house and discover the abandoned puppies that things get complicated.

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Too complicated, by a long chalk. First there’s a plan to sell the puppies for their weight in Skittles on Craiglist, followed by an unrelated plan to have Oliver steal a necklace from a school friend’s house and a bit with a cat, followed by another plan to sell the puppies to someone starting a fur factory in China and a bit with a racist Chihuahua, quickly superseded by a plan to steal $10,000 from a local charity while disguised as elves. That’s at least four more plans than this film, or any film, needs.

The late-in-proceedings arrival of Jean Jacket Jimmy’s uncle, Frankie Fagin, who takes command of The Ghost Gang and masterminds the plot to steal the charity money, momentarily promises an homage to Oliver Twist. That promise is immediately broken by the arrival of Frankie Fagin’s sidekick, Ralphie No-Toes, a man without any toes. There aren’t any such characters in Oliver Twist. For all his faults, even The Artful Dodger had toes.

Reassuringly, everything resolves itself at an action-packed Christmas party where the puppies are reunited with their mother, the thieves get caught, and Oliver’s dad gets a promotion. This scene is actually pretty neat, as each character uses their own peculiar talent to save the day. Rory jumps out of a box. Tinkle wets herself. And Oliver and his dad, in a moment of convoluted triumph, finally get to kick a football together, right into the face of Frankie Fagin.

It’s all wrapped up by the family agreeing to downsize, spend more time together, and adopt six dogs. “I don’t care about having nice things,” Oliver tells his mum (Elizabeth Shannon in a Bluetooth headset), “I just want us to spend time together. And adopt six dogs.”

“The more the merrier!” says Oliver’s dad, and then there’s a song about a special time to believe something good can happen and holding hands and being together and counting on each other and making glowing stars shine and counting on me and being in my heart and finding a home right here with me in this cold winter when the snow comes down and darkness and glowing stars to make things shine and being your shelter my friend in this crazy world and keeping you safe and finding a home in my heart.

Is Santa’s Little Yelpers a hidden Christmas gem? No. It isn’t. But it is a film that, once watched, will make you appreciate all other films and the relatively titanic efforts made in them for stories to be told in which the sound doesn’t periodically drop out and nobody can see what kind of shoes the camera operator is wearing. Films like Disney’s Air Buddies franchise, which look like Laurence Of Arabia next to this.

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