Noelle feels like a couple of half-hashed-out ideas masquerading as a feature movie. It’s a launch title for Disney+, although it was original scheduled to be released in theaters. Whether the Mouse House decided it wasn’t good enough for the big screen or not is something we’ll probably never find out, but streaming is probably the best fit. A family can watch it at home on a cold winter night, get a couple of laughs, and then move on without making it a whole event.
The plot follows Noelle Kringle (Anna Kendrick), the daughter of Kris Kringle/Santa Claus and the sister of one Nick Kringle (Bill Hader). Kris dies and Nick has to take up the Santa mantle. It stresses him out, he disappears, and she has to try to locate him. The majority of the film is set in Arizona and follows Noelle and her nanny, Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine), as they try to track down Nick as well as make glib observations about the world around them and the way Christmas works in the real world. Meanwhile, at the North Pole, Cousin Gabriel (Billy Eichner) is preparing to step in on the off-chance Nick can’t be tracked down. And he wants to modernize and streamline the Christmas process, removing the magic and replacing it with technology.
The latter plot point might make for an interesting movie. It’s almost a footnote in Noelle. Most of the film plays like a half-baked Elf, made watchable only because of the talent of the actors on-screen and the occasional joke or genuinely sweet moment. The whole project is designed to tug at your heartstrings and remind you What Christmas Is Really About™, like most of these movies, and it does so in very obvious ways. One of the final scenes has a character stand up in front of the others with the sole purpose of explaining the point of the production.
All of that is what you come here for. It’s to be expected and it’s almost tough to knock a Christmas movie for delivering the most basic and obvious messages. Doing so at the cost of more interesting developments, strong characters, jokes, and other things is when it becomes a problem. Only the protagonist has anything resembling a character, the jokes are few and far between, and its moments of sweetness are undercut by how simple it all is. There are heart-wrenching commercials on TV but you don’t see them being called great cinema. Bill Hader is completely wasted in a supporting role. The CGI is hilariously bad. It has good potential elements and ideas and just doesn’t use them, favoring instead to fall back onto basic Christmas movie tropes.
The only fresh aspect to Noelle is its progressiveness, which I’m sure will anger certain audience members. It would be a spoiler to say where the biggest tradition-breaking element comes in, but you’ve probably already figured it out. The freshest take that the film has to offer is that blindly following traditions is a bad idea, and that new ideas can be worthwhile if there’s a reason to use them. Unless, of course, that involves delivering presents with drones instead of a sleigh and reindeer. It’s not the most effective message and it’s not the film’s focus. Again, an idea that would have made for a better movie had it been explored in more depth.
Noelle is a simple movie whose gist you can probably figure out based just on its trailer. That doesn’t make it entirely worthless—it’s a harmless and sometimes entertaining movie with a few jokes and a couple of heartwarming moments—but it does mean that unless you’ve exhausted the Christmas Classics, you’re not going to find much value in it. And if you have done that, then you’ve seen almost everything it has to offer. It falls firmly into the “another one of these things” category, where it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from countless other similar movies.
Conclusion: Noelle has some fresh ideas but pushes them aside to deliver a bland Christmas movie like so many others before it.
Recommendation: It’s hard to recommend Noelle to anyone except those who want to see a new movie on Disney+.
- Rating - 4/104/10