At this point it feels like we’ve seen every family Christmas movie ever. It’s not that we don’t still love classics like Elf, but it would be nice to add something new to the rotation. Well, it looks like our wish has come true — Noelle, the newest holiday offering from Disney+.
Starring Anna Kendrick as the daughter/sister of Santa, it’s a modern classic that you absolutely must add to your holiday movie queue.
Noelle feels very relatable, even though it’s a sugary, feel-good holiday movie. There is something about the way Noelle is ever the dutiful daughter and sister, who is in charge of all that holiday magic (like every mother we know). Early in the movie, young Noelle asks her dad (Santa) what role she plays in the family. If he’s Santa, her mother Mrs. Claus, and her older brother in training to be the next Santa, where does she fit in?
Santa, true to form, brushes off her concerns as ridiculous. Her job is to continue to spread cheer and do what’s expected of her. “You know your brother’s counting on you,” Santa says seriously. And that’s that: Noelle will continue to exist in the background, making everyone happy, but having no real direction for her future.
But being born into the Kringle family is a lot of pressure, and Nick isn’t sure he wants to take on the responsibility. Bill Hader plays the role of Nick, and I honestly can’t imagine anyone but him playing his role.
He’s the world’s most reluctant Santa Claus. When he admits he’s not ready to be Santa, you’ve seen it coming from the beginning. Again, being the ever dutiful sister, Noelle suggests he takes a few days to gather himself and re-focus. Remember, her brother is counting on her.
When Nick leaves to “find himself,” the action of the movie is set in motion. Noelle is finally getting her chance to come out from behind the shadows. Not only does she have to save Christmas, but she has a lot of growing up to do. Teaming up with her wisecracking former nanny elf, Polly (played by legend Shirley MacLaine), she sets out to to find her rogue brother.
Along the way, Noelle realizes she has some work to do (in addition to retrieving her brother, of course). Turns out, spreading Christmas cheer is not that easy to do in the “real world.” The fish out of water idea is a little contrived, but it’s so cute.
The little details are what really make the movie too. Apparently, there’s an entire tech support team at the North Pole, but they don’t have swivel chairs, and watching Poppy try guacamole for the first time is absolutely hilarious. It’s a big change from a constant diet of hot chocolate with peppermint.
One of the things Noelle does in a very natural way is mix in modern life with the timelessness of a Christmas movie. Cousin Gabriel Kringle (the hilarious Billy Eichner) is the head of the IT Department at the North Pole. But when Nick goes missing, Gabe is next in line to be Santa. You can guess how well that goes. There is some great commentary on how the digital age is affecting the holiday season. Yes, Gabriel does suggest scrapping Santa and sending kids their gifts via Amazon Prime. We know that Amazon Prime is really Santa, but we do not need the callout, Disney!
True to form, there is no shortage of heartwarming moments. Upon arrival in Phoenix, Noelle teams up with a private investigator — a recently divorced single dad with a young son. There is no romance — this is Disney, not Hallmark — but they do become good friends. And she does teach him the spirit of Christmas, which is more important than kissing, right?
As she adventures through Phoenix, Noelle has some real growth. No longer just the sidekick, she really has the space to come into her own. Anna Kendrick is perfect in those moments, unsurprisingly. It’s the kind of part she’s become known for and does so well. Seeing real people with real problems provides Noelle with the opportunity to understand the true meaning of Christmas herself. Her reflection and growth really sets up the happy ending we’re rooting for.
At its heart, Noelle is a new Christmas classic. It has everything we love about a holiday movie: it’s a little contrived and predictable, but sweet as a candy cane. With characters who are utterly charming, you’re rooting for everyone to get what they want in the end. Plus, it’s for the whole family. If you haven’t already watched it (or even if you have), bake some cookies, get your hot chocolate, and snuggle up for a very enjoyable couple of hours.
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