Day 3 of this festive cinematic series and it’s another new (well, newish) release, this time the advent calendar has opened up on a review of Disney’s Noelle.
As we all know, Father Christmas – or Santa as he’s become more commonly known – has been running a pretty tight ship for a good while. There’ve been quite a few films over the years which have tried to explain just how he manages every year to get to everyone in one night, and Disney, who have already had a stab at their own theories with the Santa Clause films, have come back with another suggestion around the story behind the jolly figure in red.
Noelle is the story of the heirs to the Santa mantle, namely Nick (Bill Hader) and the eponymous hero of the story, played by Anna Kendrick. The film explains early on that Santa is a title handed down the generations of the Kringle family, and with the sad passing of Nick and Noelle’s father, it’s time for a new Santa to take over proceedings. Noelle has all the skills needed to be ideal for the role – “the twinkle” as the film calls it – but thanks to the trappings of tradition, she has one big red mark against her: she’s not male.
Even worse, Nick isn’t ready at all for the responsibility and he decides to make a break for it five days before Christmas, so Noelle makes it her mission to ‘borrow’ the reindeer, bring back Nick and make sure all goes as planned on the 25th.
It’ll come as no shock to anybody regarding where this story leads, and the film seems pretty happy to hit its beats without much in the way of surprises along the way. It’s altogether unassuming visually too, and Noelle has more than a touch of the TV movie about it; that the film premiered on Disney+ comes as no surprise. Under the relatively low-budget looking surface however, there are some bright moments which suggest a potential greater than the end product.
First of all, Kendrick is absolutely delightful here. She’s on full-beam cheesy smile and Christmas cheer mode throughout, and the energy she brings to her role could light up even the most dour of doorways. While the supporting cast aren’t always on the same wavelength – Billy Eichner is sadly miscast in his role as the tech-savvy sorta-antagonist – there are still some honourable mentions: Shirley MacLaine as Noelle’s grouchy elf helper is great fun to watch, and Kingsley Ben-Adir does really well as a more than capable straight man to Kendrick’s fish-out-of-water North Polian (North Poler?) in the American Midwest.
Where Noelle also does surprisingly well is in its writing; writer and director Marc Lawrence has whipped up a screenplay which backs up its main character with a kindness and sincerity throughout which is really quite refreshing for a modern family film. One particularly touching moment emulates the sign-language scene from the 1994 version of Miracle on 34th Street, and Noelle absolutely earns it.
Combined with a timely message challenging the patriarchal institution of Santa Claus, Noelle feels like a film which should have been given a little more of a shot than Disney ultimately allowed. Sure, the House of Mouse was desperate for original content when it launched in the US around this time last year, and if anything, when watching Noelle, there’s a sense that this film’s destiny as a straight-to-streaming movie was an executive decision during its development, rather than the plan from its inception.
With a little more development and budget, Noelle could have been a substantial Christmas feature (it already has the adorable animated animal ripe for marketing and merchandise). All respect due to other direct-to-streaming films, but Noelle feels like it was wasted as anything less than a major release. Hopefully with more people now able to catch it on demand, Noelle can at last capture the audience it deserves.