17th December: Noelle

Image: Disney

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy! 

Year: 2019

Director: Marc Lawrence

Writer: Marc Lawrence

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Shirley MacLaine, Billy Eichner

This feels very familiar. The message, the story, the Santa succession: it’s all heavily reminiscent of Arthur Christmas, a film which I loved. Noelle however, tells a pretty similar story, but is a noticeably weaker version of it. There is much less of an exciting thrust to the action; it’s not as funny; there’s much less visual pizzazz; there is a lot less complexity in its story. Marc Lawrence’s film is sweet and well-intentioned, and does carry a different but equally heartwarming message to Arthur Christmas, but it rings more hollow, and getting there is a lot less fun.

So far, other than Happiest Season, there have been few recent Christmas films in this Christmas Movie Advent Calendar. I will be rectifying that in the coming days as I take a look at some of the latest offerings in this vast genre of films. Much of the Christmas output in recent years has been on streaming services, with Netflix seemingly producing a new festive film every time I breathe. We will get to them later, but for now I am turning my attentions to one of the few Disney+ original movies so far, Noelle.

Technically a 2019 film, releasing on the streaming platform last Christmas in the States, Noelle has only just had its UK release. We didn’t even have Disney+ here until March, so what did you expect? The film’s plot, the ending of which is obvious from its very beginning, concerns the titular Noelle, played by the always charming Anna Kendrick. She is Santa’s daughter, incredibly keen on Christmas but always given little to do in the lead-up. Her brother Nick, on the other hand, has lots to do as he is next in line to be Santa Claus.

Yes, being the big man in the suit works a lot like the monarchy apparently, with the next male in-line the immediate successor. The problem is that, when father Santa dies, Nick doesn’t take very well to the new role, and doesn’t particularly enjoy it either. Therefore, he flees the North Pole and ends up in Phoenix, Arizona working as a yoga instructor. Nick is played by Bill Hader. Bill Hader as Santa’s son who abdicates to become a yoga instructor. I mean, how can you not be on board with this?

When Christmas goes to shit because tech-mad cousin Gabe (Billy Eichner) has taken over, Noelle must try to find Nick and convince him to fulfil his destiny as Santa. On the way she meets a classic ‘grumpy but kind-hearted’ PI called Jake, played by Kinglsey Ben-Adir. With this set-up, everything goes much as you’d expect, and nothing really jumps out as especially memorable or worthwhile.

The ‘heartwarming’ emotional moments are what really lose the film points. They are convincingly delivered, but there’s just no specificity or verve to the writing, no deep emotional connection to the characters. Everything, down to some slightly dodgy CGI reindeer, could be described as ‘very Disney’ in the negative sense. It feels like good wholesome viewing but without anything that special about it. Something that could easily get lost in the holiday movie shuffle.

That is if it weren’t for the cast. The film excels in its lighter moments, not quite when making jokes, but with little asides and a swift pace to the action. Kendrick is such a charismatic lead, sweet as cherry pie with a little hint of edge (please, please watch A Simple Favour to see this quality exploited brilliantly), and handles the fish-out-of-water stuff with a lovely subtle comic touch. In the scenes he has, Hader is good fun, as are Eichner and Shirley MacLaine as old Elf Polly.

It is the less well-known Ben-Adir who proves a highlight, though. Magnetic as Malcolm X in the soon-to-be-released One Night in Miami…, before long he will be a big star with awards attention I promise you. Here, he is immensely watchable with a fairly simple part, the kind of actor you just enjoy watching talk. One of the film’s greatest strengths, something individual that does recommend it, is the relationship between Noelle and Jake. Lawrence doesn’t quite go where you think with this one, and the film is better for it.

A basic, mid-level film that has been harshly treated by some, I found Noelle to be a perfectly enjoyable watch. It’s not too long, and even though it hits all the expected beats, they are good beats to hit. The cast carry the film, really, but they are enough to recommend it alone. Noelle is hardly essential, but it’s worth a watch.

Where it Ranks

I’m actually feeling quite a lot of positivity towards this film, now. It put a smile on my face, what can I say? So I feel bad putting it so low down. But this is the kind of film that bumps the better ones up the table. People think How the Grinch Stole Christmas is too low at ninth, but the more Noelles fill out the bottom of the table, the higher ninth starts to look. It is actually a very hard choice between this and The Holiday, but I think there is more to that film overall. So Noelle will have to settle just below it.

  1. Die Hard
  2. Happiest Season
  3. Klaus
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. Black Christmas
  6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  7. Elf
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  10. Love Actually
  11. Gremlins
  12. Home Alone
  13. Krampus
  14. Nativity!
  15. The Holiday
  16. Noelle
  17. The Santa Clause
  18. The Grinch

Andrew Young

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