Most Christmas movies I assume will be absolute garbage. Shame on me for making such assumptions. I forget which review I wrote this in because I have seen so many Christmas movies lately, but somewhere I made the claim that most holiday films are cheap money grabs. If I have not made this point already, I am making it here. Hence, when trying to find yet another seasonal flick, I applied the above theory when I happened upon Noelle on Disney +. There were signs that this might not be the dumpster fire for which I braced. It has Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader, not to mention longtime Hollywood veteran Shirley MacLaine. I did not notice this last one in any of the promotional material, though she was there, so I presumed that whoever it was in charge of casting got lucky with her. As seems to happen more times than I care to acknowledge, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I want people to remember this statement the next time they believe I go into a movie with my mind made up beforehand as to what I will think.
Noelle is actually the title character, Noelle Kringle. If you recognize the last name, then it will probably come as no surprise when Kris Kringle (Jay Brazeau), Santa Claus more familiarly, comes down the chimney. We see young Noelle (Oakley Bull) awaken to the clatter, but we quickly find out that Santa is her father. They are soon joined by Mrs. Kringle (Julie Hagerty) and Noelle’s brother Nick (Owen Vaccaro). After a brief reunion, Kris turns to his son, places his famous red stocking cap on the boy’s head, and names Nick the successor to the title of Santa Claus. With a momentary flutter of disappointment, Noelle enthusiastically endorses her brother. This support continues into adulthood when a grown-up Nick (Bill Hader) is suddenly thrust into the position of being the Jolly St. Nick upon dad’s death. Noelle (Anna Kendrick), seeing her brother’s unpreparedness for the role, tries to coach him up with her Christmas spirit, something her dad had left in her charge. When even her exuberance cannot seem to break through his anxiety over stepping into dad’s enormous shoes, she suggests that Nick take a break and visit some place warm in order to loosen up with Christmas on the horizon. Nick takes this advice a bit too literally, and does not come back at the agreed upon time. All the elves in the North Pole turn against her, believing that she has ruined Christmas. They feel they need a Santa Claus, and appoint Noelle’s cousin Gabriel Kringle from North Pole technology support to take on the mantle. Noelle believes she can fix the situation by tracking down her brother. To do so, she takes the family sled, if you catch my meaning, and is joined by the elf that had taken care of their house since she was a child, Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine). They land in Phoenix, Arizona, in a mall where their vehicle and antlers are taken for just another part of the Christmas decorations. Needing to find her brother, she enlists the help of private investigator Jake Hapman (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Despite thinking that Noelle is crazy based on who she says she is and who she is looking for, he agrees to help. After a day of searching together, Jake gets a lead on Nick’s whereabouts. Apparently, he had started a Christmas themed Yoga studio, and this is where Noelle finds him. Nick, on the other hand, is perfectly happy with his new arrangement when Noelle comes to request that he return to the North Pole. His insistence initially gets her off his case. What changes her mind is what Gabriel does in his role as Santa Claus. Having created a computer algorithm he feels will help better determine where every child ends up on the naughty or nice list, his program determines that there are a little less than 3,000 good kids in the entire world. Additionally, the supposedly bad ones are sent emails listing their faults. This creates a great deal of confusion, and Noelle sees Nick as the only solution. In order to work Nick back into shape, Noelle has him work briefly as a mall Santa. This backfires terribly, and Noelle is arrested when she attempts to defend Nick from the angry jeers his attitude elicits from the young ones who have come to give their Christmas wishes. To solve the situation, Polly turns to Jake, who is able to get Noelle out of custody. The previously incredulous Jake is then shown quite spectacularly that her seemingly crazy ramblings about being for the North Pole were true. When she returns to said location with Nick, he nominates her to take her place as the jolly deliverer of gifts around the world, a role for which she had been preparing for her entire life. She takes on the job with gusto, and makes for a successful Christmas.
When our title character in Noelle is making her rounds, she comes to a homeless refuge we see her visit earlier in the movie. The point of the previous scene is to set up Noelle’s eventual transformation into Santa Claus. Specifically, she visits with a deaf girl and her mother, and Noelle is able to converse with the child because one of the marks of the true Santa is an innate ability to communicate in any language. It also fits with the original role given her by her father as being the person responsible for the Christmas spirit. It is the deaf girl that shows that spirit the most, and why Noelle is drawn to her. When Noelle asks what she wants, the little girl says she desires for her mom to find a job, though the Christmas spirit also tells Noelle that she wants an iPad. So, there is a little bit of materialism here, but that is to be expected from an adolescent. What Noelle sees in the little girl is the magic of Christmas, particularly when she outwardly indicates such a selfless desire. Selflessness is at the heart of the movie, and the season in which this holiday is celebrated. Mary did not ask to be the Mother of God. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to her, told her she had been chosen because of her own good spirit, and she said yes. Her acceptance was critical. The material things that we get from people during these days are nice, but they are not important. What is more crucial is accepting others into our hearts, and showing them our love for them. Family and friends gathering are an outward display of this principle. It is a simple thing, like a little girl requesting that her mom get the help she needs, but it means so much, like a Savior being born unto us.
Noelle continues the tradition of Christmas movies that pay no attention to that Savior being born unto us, and that is part of the reason I assumed it would be a load of crap. Instead, I got something that was surprisingly good. I am not one of those Catholics stuck so firmly in tradition that I cannot countenance a female Santa Claus. It is a made-up tradition anyway that has nothing to do with Faith, so who cares if Jolly Old St. Nick is a woman? If you pay attention to such things, you might notice that the Church, at least in English, has never made a gender designation when it comes to the term “saint.” Holiness is universal, as is the spirit of the season. Yes, it is not the best way of linking the two, but it is something. At any rate, Anna Kendrick is always worth the price of admission, or at least the Disney + subscription.