I have a confession: I started listening to Christmas music in October. Before Halloween even. I’ve also been trying to put up our Christmas tree and decorations for the past three weeks.
I know, I have a problem.
It’s probably even sadder that I watched a Christmas movie on Disney+ before I even let us queue up “The Mandalorian,” when most everyone I know was chomping at the bit to see the newest storyline in the “Star Wars” saga.
I HAVE watched the first two episodes, but only after I watched “Noelle,” a holiday offering from the House of Mouse starring Anna Kendrick.
Kendrick stars as Noelle Kringle, daughter to jolly old Saint Nicholas himself. With an older brother destined to one day don the red suit, the only role Noelle will ever have is to be Santa’s biggest cheerleader. (Seriously, as a child she’s told her only job is to be jolly and spread cheer.)
When we see Noelle again, she’s an adult and her father has been dead for six months. (Yes, this Christmas film kills Santa Claus.) Her brother, Nick (Bill Hader), has been rigorously training to become the new Santa. Needless to say, it’s not going well. Noelle suggests he take a weekend off and leave the North Pole for a couple of days. Unfortunately, he doesn’t come back.
With all of the North Pole hating her for losing Santa, and her cousin Gabe (Billy Eichner) given the potential to destroy the holiday entirely, Noelle heads out to find Nick and bring him home. With her nanny elf, Polly (Shirley MacLaine) and eight reindeer at her side, Noelle heads to sunny Phoenix. There she meets a private detective, Jake (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who agrees to help her find her brother. Jake’s got an ex-wife and a strained relationship with his son, Alex (Maceo Smedley), with whom he continually struggles to connect.
“Noelle” might be an original film, but it’s got a sense of nostalgia and familiarity to it. Phoenix isn’t an overly friendly city. Jake and many of the folks Noelle encounters have forgotten the magic of Christmas. They definitely don’t believe in Santa, much to her chagrin. And then there’s Jake and his son. It’s a predictable storyline, and we know as soon as we meet them, Noelle will save the day.
Everyone in this film has a predictable storyline. The overworked shopping center manager? You know she’s gonna get a vacation and a happy ending. Jake and Alex? You know they’ll be fine. Even Snowcone, the baby albino reindeer who’s just too small to fly Santa’s sleigh, is a sure-fire happy ending. We see the trajectory of Noelle’s journey a mile away. It’s all super predictable.
Do you avoid “Titanic” because you know the boat’s going to sink? Do you not go into a superhero movie knowing the bad guy loses? (Not counting “Avengers: Infinity War” here.) Does a rom-com ever end with the leading lady single and drowning her sorrows in ice cream?
The magic of “Noelle” isn’t how her story ends. It’s the adventure she takes us on. Kendrick is absolutely delightful in basically everything she’s ever in, and she’s crazy funny. Whether it’s a dry wit, a silly pun or a sarcastic barb, Kendrick makes us laugh. She also makes us feel. Noelle isn’t just saving Christmas or trying to convince her brother to be Santa. We watch her grow and evolve from a slightly spastic young woman who loves presents, ribbons and glitter to a mature successor of her family’s legacy.
Hader is another one that I’ve truly grown to enjoy watching. He and MacLaine offer up laughs of their own while also playing the straight man to Kendrick. Plus, did I mention it’s Shirley Freakin’ MacLaine?
Bottom line: “Noelle” isn’t the kind of cinematic present that is wrapped in the finest paper bearing colorful bows and ribbons. It’s the gift your aunt and uncle wrapped in old newspaper. However, you’ll be happy with what you find inside. And, no, it’s not an iPad. (You’ll get that joke later when you watch this one.)