Since it’s 2005 debut, Elf on the Shelf has been a mainstay in many parents homes. But the holiday character might want to shift his judgmental stare from children to the serious competition coming his way: A new toy called Reindeer in Here offers a similar appeal to the elf, but it alleviates everything creepy about that holiday toy-tinkerer.
Created by Adam Reed, a television producer and father of two, the Reindeer’s concept is simple: Take everything you hate about Elf on the Shelf — children can’t touch him, he’s an evil creeper who spies on kids, and parents have to come up with zany adventures for him every night (when they’re exhausted from chasing around their little ones all day, no less) — and do the absolute opposite. It’s brilliant.
The Reindeer’s backstory starts with Santa trying to solve a big problem: How can he get to know every child in the world better? That’s when the ‘Reindeer In Here’ chimes in with his idea: “You have a lot of reindeer,” he tells Santa. “Why don’t you send us early in December and let us live with the children?” The thought is by spending time with the kids ⏤ doing activities, seeing their homes, meeting their family and friends, and snuggling with them in bed at night ⏤ the reindeer could report back to the big man about the millions of kids waiting for him to slip down their chimney on Christmas day. So, yes, technically still spying, but in a clearly less creepy/more subtle way. “That’s amazing,” replies Santa. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
And that’s how this new tradition, free of the tyranny of the elf, begins. Each year, the reindeer are supposed to “arrive” in early December as children’s first early Christmas present from Santa. Parents read the book with them, and then the kids spend the entire month with their reindeer. Hopefully, it will become their new best friend. They never need to know Reindeer is only being their friend because he’s on a top-secret mission. Who knows, maybe they’ll develop a true friendship that outlasts the holidays?
Reed came up with the idea in 2015 while looking for a holiday tradition he could enjoy with his daughter. “I had never actually seen the Elf on the Shelf,” says Reed. “I opened the box, and I was shocked that this creepy little elf is the thing that was kind of everybody’s Christmas tradition. It’s not inviting, it’s tiny, I didn’t understand it so I didn’t buy the product.” And he isn’t alone. As popular as Elf on the Shelf has gotten, there’s genuine backlash against the little red imp. As far back as 2012, The Atlantic described the phenomenon as a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a ‘tradition.’” And you know there’s something amiss when Good Housekeeping publishes a story titled, “I Really Hate ‘Elf on the Shelf.’”
But ‘Reindeer In Here’ is the antithesis of Elf’s “no touching, all tattling” ways. Kids can touch it, play with it, sleep with it, and best of all, parents don’t have to brag on Facebook or Instagram about the clever way they staged it each night.
“My tagline was less stress, more Christmas,” says Reed, who pulls no punches about his ire for elves on the Reindeer website. “That was really what I intended.” And unlike the generic and sketchy-looking elf, the reindeer has an inviting aesthetic honed by more than two years of Reed’s writing and re-writing of the story alongside illustrator Izzy Bean.
“I spent months researching the most successful characters both in animation in plush [toys] — whether they be Disney characters or something else — and focusing on their characteristics,” says Reed. “If you notice, my reindeer has one antler smaller than the other, and that was a very conscious decision. Because what I wanted was it to be unique and special.”
And Reed certainly knows a thing about creating compelling stories. His day job as a television producer has led to the creation of such shows as Gene Simmons Family Jewels and most recently the Lifetime movie Oscar Pistorius: The Blade Runner Killer.
“Basically I have two full-time jobs now,” says Reed. From 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. he works his day job, and after giving the kids baths and dinner, he heads back to work from about 9 p.m. to about 3 or 4 a.m. to get ‘Reindeer In Here’ ready.
But he’s not complaining. Quite the contrary, he sees ”Reindeer In Here” as a rare once in a lifetime opportunity. “What I really want to do is to create a new Christmas tradition for families along the lines of a Rudolph or a Frosty,” says Reed. “I would love this to become an animated special at some point.”
Who knows, maybe if he (and his idea) is good, Santa will leave a cartoon network deal under his tree. And things are looking pretty great: Reindeer in here just launched on Black Friday and sold out by the end of the day.
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