Review by Sean Boelman
Noelle, written and directed by Marc Lawrence, is a new family holiday comedy and one of the first two Disney+ original films. Although it is understandable why this didn’t quite make the cut to receive a theatrical release, it is nonetheless infectiously cute and jolly despite the many flaws in its execution.
The movie follows Santa’s daughter as she searches for her brother who goes missing right before he is set to take over the family business. Though there is a lot of potential in this story for an interesting commentary on family and legacy, the film too often falls back on the fish-out-of-water comedy inherent in the situation. Since there is already a (much better) movie about a character from the North Pole finding themselves hopelessly out of their element, one can’t help but feel like the filmmakers put their effort into the wrong areas.
The humor of the film is never hilarious, but it is silly enough to keep a smile on viewers’ faces for the entirety of the runtime. For the most part, the comedy consists of goofy quips and puns on Christmas carols, and many of these will elicit a chuckle from audiences young and old. Some of the more ambitious jokes don’t always land, but a few that are not-so-subtly aimed exclusively at older audiences work extremely well.
As with any children’s movie, there is a very clear message to this story, and it is exactly what one would expect given the premise. However, the film’s feminist themes only become clear in the latter half of the movie, the first hour or so failing to take advantage of the premise’s potential to inspire younger audiences. Ultimately, the film’s message of the need to be oneself is compelling and delivered in an effective way.
The eponymous protagonist is a likeable heroine, but her arc is telegraphed and predictable. If nothing else, she serves as a good role model showing the joyous and giving spirit that defines the holidays. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the movie, though, is that it fails to take advantage of some of the extremely interesting supporting characters that are introduced. Viewers will be left wanting to see more of the other Kringles, or even the human companions that Noelle meets on her journey.
As a starring vehicle for Anna Kendrick, the film works quite well. Kendrick’s charming and ditzy schtick fits the character perfectly to an extent that makes the role seem like it was tailored to her strengths. The supporting cast includes many impressive names, including Bill Hader, Shirley MacLaine, and Billy Eichner, and while each of them has a few moments in which they shine, Kendrick often steals the show from them.
It is on a technical level that the movie struggles the most. The visuals are far below the standard that is typical for Disney, so one has to wonder whether Disney+ will end up being a dumping ground for products that won’t receive as much of an investment because they aren’t as safe of a bet. (With some more polish, this likely could have been a holiday hit.) The main success of the film’s execution is the soundtrack, which is filled with boppy renditions of Christmas classics.
As a family comedy, Noelle offers enough light chuckles and holiday spirit to satisfy families. Though there are better movies with a similar premise, kids who are unfamiliar with those classics will surely be wrapped up in the charm and magic that this film has to offer.
Noelle is now streaming on Disney+.
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