Just in time for the holidays – and to launch the new Disney+ streaming service comes Noelle, an original Christmas-themed movie starring Anna Kendrick as the daughter of Santa Claus, aka Kris Kringle (Bryan Brendle). She loves everything about Christmas, but still wishes she could do something important besides bring holiday cheer and support her brother Nick (Bill Hader), who is destined to become Santa after their father dies. As Nick trains to be Santa he struggles with things that should naturally to Santa, like flying the sleigh, telling the difference between the nice and naughty children, and understanding all the languages of the world.
Days before Christmas, Nick is about to have a meltdown, so his loving sister suggests that he get away for the weekend to clear his head in time for the big day. But when he fails to return, chaos ensues at the North Pole and everyone blames Noelle. A less than suitable replacement is chosen in Nick’s absence. Gabe (Billy Eichner), their tech savvy cousin, thinks he can deliver presents using Amazon Prime and develops an algorithm that excludes all but a little more than two thousand children in the world as being nice.
Noelle feels guilty and with a push from her nanny, Elf Polly (Shirley McLaine), she hi-jacks the reindeer and sleigh to find her brother, tricking Elf Polly to come along. Their adventure leads them to a decked out shopping mall in Phoenix where Noelle comes across people just trying to do their jobs, boost their bottom line, and be good parents to their kids for Christmas. The reindeer also prove to be a huge boost to sales as people gather to feed and interact with them, while Noelle desperately tries to track down her brother with the help of a private investigator, Jake Hader (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and his son Alex (Maceo Smedley), whose only wish is to have his entire blended family together on Christmas morning.
In the course of her search and rescue mission Noelle begins to understand what Christmas is really all about, and how she has more in common with her famous father than just his last name.
Written and directed by Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice, The Rewrite), Noelle hits most of the beats you’d expect in a film that heavily focuses on the importance of family and friendship during the holidays (while conspicuously omitting any mention of religion). Anna Kendrick delivers a funny and sweet performance that plays to her her natural gifts for comedy, like when she mistakes sunblock lotion for food or stands inside of a freezer as she finds living under the Phoenix sun too hot. There’s also the expected romance viewers are used to seeing in both Disney Princess films and those that usually air on channels like Hallmark and Lifetime.
Shirley McLaine is a treasure, though sadly underutilized in this film, making her little more than a glorified babysitter, first to Noelle, and then to the reindeer, who seem more accepting and well-adjusted to the holiday crowds then most humans. Speaking of reindeer, the baby named Snowcone probably stole the whole film with his adorable cuteness and the way his little personality totally lit up the small screen.
Bill Hader was probably the weakest link as his delivery lacked the necessary charisma a film like this needs, though it might have just been the way his character was written. It’s tough being the expected successor to Santa when you’re almost expected to fail. Billy Eichner, despite having fewer lines and screen time than his counterparts, gave a strong performance as the antagonist, creating a fun character to root against.
Noelle is a sweet Christmas adventure with many heart-warming moments that drew a tear to my eye, but I’m a sucker for movies like this. Anna Kendrick makes an adorable lead you’ll keep rooting for as she learns the true meaning of the holidays in the modern world. It’s a classic and predictable setup that works, especially when Noelle suddenly communicated sign language to a deaf girl, or when she realizes for the first time that Christmas around the world is much different than it is at the North Pole, where things like poverty, homelessness and hunger don’t exist. Noelle is definitely a fun treat for the whole family and a great sign of what’s in store for the new Disney+ service.