If you have not already started viewing, holiday movie season is officially underway with the passage of Thanksgiving. You do not have to apologize for starting early anymore as of now. As you gather with family you may well find yourself toggling amongst the new holiday films available on our ever-growing streaming options, so I have bravely screened three new holiday movies for you because turkey makes you sleepy and there’s too much out there.
Disney+ is the shiny new kid on the block, and of its relatively few original programming options, one is a Christmas movie. In “Noelle” family members dispute over which one of them should take over from Santa. It’s like “Succession” set at the North Pole. In keeping with his trend of playing a man reluctant in his profession, “Barry” star Bill Hader is Nick Kringle. He is the son of Santa, and after Santa dies — yes, dies — Hader is next in line to play Santa, like generations of his ancestors before him. Of course, he is reluctant and unprepared.
His sister, Noelle, played by world-class charmer Anna Kendrick, is brimming with Christmas spirit as well as the sleigh-driving, gift-selecting, kid-understanding expertise that her brother sorely lacks. After a few minutes of his hilariously flummoxed faces, Hader heads to Phoenix, leaving Christmas in the hands of his cousin, a calculating nerd from the North Pole IT department who wants to deliver gifts by drone and develops an algorithm that determines less than 3,000 kids globally are eligible for the Nice List.
This entry is the most colorful and traditionally jolly of the newcomers and as such, pretty silly. Kendrick is delightful, but the film doesn’t harness her gifts properly some of the time, and there is a tonal problem. There are some good jokes and the cast — which includes Shirley MacLaine as a cranky elf — is game, but the sum is less than the whole of its parts.
Some of those good parts include a very good North Pole set, a quality highly valued by my home viewers, and a charming, fish-out-of-water character in Noelle, who resembles Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf when he guilelessly walks through New York City. In terms of movies about Santa’s relatives, “Noelle” is much better than the one where Vince Vaughn plays Santa’s brother.
Over on Netflix, supreme teen writers Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson and that tear-jerker John Green wrote a cute little holiday YA book called “Let it Snow,” which is adapted into a teen rom-com starring Kiernan Shipka. Employing the ensemble, multiple interconnected storyline approach, “Let it Snow” takes us through one day in the lives of some small-town teens, struggling with various one-sided crushes on one another.
This one is really for teenagers, as emphasized by several rather pointed uses of somewhat silly phallic euphemisms, desperately tacked on for a bit of edge. Joan Cusack is one of the few adults in it, as a quirky tow truck driver who wraps tin foil around herself and provides the particularly lame voiceover. “Let it Snow” is a serviceable teen romance that is really more about snow than Christmas. I cannot rate its representation of Santa’s workshop as it does not feature that all-important location. But I love Shipka and it has Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope) from “Descendants” in it, which you will find exciting if you are, as I mentioned, a teen or tween.
The most artistically accomplished and sophisticated new holiday flick, by far, is the animated Netflix original “Klaus,” an absolutely beautiful hand-drawn cartoon about Santa’s origins. Jason Schwartzman stars as Jesper, a spoiled rich boy whose father, the powerful Postmaster General, dispatches him to a very remote, frozen island where he must deliver 6,000 letters or be cut off from his inheritance. Not since “Miracle on 34th Street” has the relationship between Santa and the mail service been explicated so effectively.
If anything, this film suffers from being too sophisticated. “Klaus” is almost shockingly subtle and refined. When Klaus accidentally receives a missive from a sad little boy and forces Jesper to deliver a toy to cheer him up, the postman realizes that by making the town’s children, who are miserable and uneducated due to a long-held feud between two ancient clans, write letters to Klaus, he can greatly increase the flow of mail and get himself back to his luxurious lifestyle at home.
And yes, it is slightly complicated, but the result is a film that manages to be about Santa and Christmas without being cheesy or clichéd. It is sensitive and gorgeous to look at and the all-important Santa’s workshop location is indeed wondrous. It is not as glitzy as the candy colored world of “Noelle,” but “Klaus” is a much more satisfying and memorable holiday story. It is accomplished and original and beautiful, but some less patient viewers might actually miss the clichés a bit.
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