Directed by: Marc Lawrence. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Shirley Maclaine. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 12, 2019.
This review contains spoilers.
When Santa Claus dies, the mantle is handed down to his son Nick Kringle (Bill Hader), but he’s scared to take on the role and runs away to Phoenix. His sister, Noelle Kringle (Anna Kendrick) must track him down and bring him back so they can save Christmas.
Noelle has some solid fish-out-of-water humour as Noelle goes to Phoenix to find her brother, which gives it an Elf vibe and there’s nothing wrong with channeling a great movie. I’m also convinced that Anna Kendrick makes any film better and it’s no different here as she brings such a charm to this film. Kendrick truly embodies Christmas spirit as Noelle, as Noelle herself learns what Christmas is all about. Bill Hader’s also good as her brother Nick, and their chemistry is enjoyable. Like Kendrick, Hader can make any film better. Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) who helps Noelle is also great acting alongside her.
The story itself is predictable, but to be fair, it would be an honest challenge to find a Christmas film that isn’t predictable. Of course we know by the end that Noelle becomes Santa, but it’s the journey that matters. Some of the moments where everyone but her notices that should be the real Santa are sweet, notably when she speaks to a young girl using sign language though she doesn’t know sign language, as only natural Santa’s have a knowledge of every language. Noelle is a good character in her own right, but Kendrick and her general wholesomeness really makes her come alive.
A problem with the story here is a lack of conflict. The main conflict is getting Nick back to the North Pole so they can save Christmas because of the Christmas deadline. Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, Mrs. Claus (the delightful Julie Hagerty) is stressing because the interim Santa Claus isn’t working out. By the way, Noelle isn’t simply handed the Santa reigns from the start because the role of Santa is “traditionally” played by a man. This interim Santa is their cousin Gabriel Kringle (Billy Eichner) who works in the technology department. He wants to take some of the joy out of Christmas and deliver presents by drone, and he also comes up with an algorithm for the naughty and nice list that only has less than 3,000 “nice” children in the world because all the kids have minor infractions. The film dips its foot into this conflict but it never really feels like it comes into fruition as it’s all talk. The conflict would be nice, though it would have felt like the Toy Santa villain plot in The Santa Clause 2 if it had actually embraced it, and instead feels like filler.
Noelle’s “friendship” interest here is private investigator Jake Hapman (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who helps her find Nick in Phoenix. Her relationship with this man is fine and it’s unclear throughout if it’s platonic or a love interest, or just a friendship based on the spirit of Christmas and helping each other out. Either way, they’re fine together and Noelle’s friendship and kindness to his son Alex (Maceo Smedley) is charming.
Despite its flaws, I think Noelle is a good film as Anna Kendrick’s performance just distracts so well from any shortcomings, and it’s fun throughout, too. It’s also a solid first effort at an original film on the Disney+ service. And in terms of Christmas movies, I don’t know if I’d watch this every year, but Anna Kendrick would sure make me consider it.