Disney+ didn’t start streaming in the UK until March this year but it debut in the certain countries last November. One of the first original films to be released on the service was this Anna Kendrick Christmas film. For the subscribers like myself who didn’t have access to Disney+ last year, the film was released last month. I can’t say that I was exactly relishing the idea of watching Disney’s answer to Fred Claus and it was only partly because I find Kendrick’s quirky schtick a bit tiring. However, I need to start making the most of my subscription at some point. The only things that I’ve watched on it so far are The Simpsons, The Lizzie McGuire Show, and Recess. I have plans to watch a load of Star Wars and Marvel stuff over Christmas but, until then, I’m always looking for opportunities to watch.
I have to be honest, I’ve never been a massive fan of films that extend the Claus family. I don’t get the need to try and humanise Santa by giving him a wife, children, brother, mother, father etc. It’s the same reason that I’m against the obsession with pushing a romance between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. They don’t need it and it really takes away from why they are such memorable characters. The joy of Santa is the mythology that goes alongside him. He’s a magical figure who sneaks into children’s bedrooms at night to give them presents. Doesn’t every attempt to make him seem more like a “normal man” just make the whole thing creepier? Wouldn’t it be better if he were just some obscure mythical being who was absent for the rest of the year?
Whatever my feelings on the subject, it seems clear that this is one idea that isn’t going anywhere. In Noelle, we are introduced to Santa’s two children Nick and Noelle. As the male heir, Nick is being prepared to takeover from the big guy when the time comes while Noelle is given the job of spreading Christmas cheer and making cards. Okay, so far so patriarchal. However, when the time comes for Nick to step into the red suit, he starts having second thoughts and runs away from the North Pole. Their tech-mad cousin Gabe is next inline but he only succeeds in making overly harsh changes. So, Noelle takes it upon herself to track her brother down in Phoenix. Can she convince him to come back? That’s if Nick even is the right person for the job.
One thing that I can say about this film is that it’s hardly the most original. We’ve seen plenty of films about North Pole residents experiencing the real world and helping the people that they meet. We’ve also seen films about the succession of the role before. And it’s certainly not the first time that we’ve seen a tech geek trying to modernise the job. As one of their first Disney+ releases, this was a pretty safe bet. Anna Kendrick is well-liked and doesn’t ever do anything awful when playing Noelle. Likewise for Bill Hader as her brother Nick. The problem is, neither of them can be accused of doing anything that memorable either. Noelle is basically Buddy from Elf but without Will Ferrell’s effortless silliness.
It’s not that the film is bad but it just feels as though such a small amount of effort was put into creating it. It’s better than the majority of the stuff that Netflix usually churns out at this time of year but it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is something of of Franken-film. It’s all so familiar and unoriginal. Why not just watch Elf and have done with it? At least there are funnier moments to enjoy in that one and much less awful CGI to contend with. Plus, there’s no elf played by Shirley MacLaine who looks lost and wondering how she ended up in this position. Although, I don’t really think that Noelle was a film that was intended to be great. Because, spoiler alter, Noelle is here to flip the script and show us what life would be like with a female Father Christmas. Quality was clearly something that came below gimmick on the list of must-haves.
Now, you know me, I’m here for the inclusion of women and feminist ideals. Especially in children’s films. This is a film that was clearly trying to be progressive and modern but it never quite comes together. Whatever statement it thinks that its making just gets lost. It doesn’t add anything to the myth and certainly hasn’t changed anything. It just feels kind of pointless and superficial. As though Disney are trying desperately hard to prove that they champion women but without ever really thinking about it. I’m not normally one of these people who bemoans gender swapped narratives. I’m a fan of them when they’re done right and I think the idea is sound in theory. However, I do genuinely believe that there are stories that don’t need to be gender swapped. Santa Claus is one of them. I don’t think any young girl out there would feel too bad about Father Christmas being a man. It’s not the same as having female superheroes or a female Doctor. It just feels too gimmicky to be meaningful.