Review by James Lindorf
Santa Claus has many nicknames worldwide, including Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, and Father Christmas. The new Netflix Original movie “A Boy Called Christmas” looks to tell us what Father Christmas was like as a boy. “A Boy Called Christmas” was directed by Gil Kenan based on a screenplay by Ol Parker and Kenan that was adapted from the bestselling book by Matt Haig. The movie will be available on Netflix on November 24th, just in time for the holiday season.
“A Boy Called Christmas” is told in a way that would make Rob Reiner and the rest of the creative team from “The Princess Bride” proud. Instead of a sick Fred Savage and his loving Grandfather, this story is told by Aunt Ruth (Maggie Smith) to her niece and two nephews who have lost the Christmas spirit after the death of their mother. Like the 1987 classic, Kenan cuts back and forth from the “real” world and that of the story. Advances in CGI allow him to make the transition in various interesting and often beautiful ways. Only scenes at the beginning and end add much to the story, but it is nice to see the kids’ engagement even if it does interrupt Aunt Ruth’s story.
Twelve-year-old Nikolas (Henry Lawfull), nicknamed “Christmas” by his mother, has lived a tough life. When he was ten, his mother was attacked and killed by a bear, leaving him alone with his father Joel (Michiel Huisman), an impoverished woodcutter in the woods of northern Finland. The family is so poor that Nikolas has only ever had one toy, a doll his mother carved out of a turnip. As much as he loves the doll, Nikolas’ greatest treasure may be the fairytale about Elfhelm, the happiest place in the world and the home of the elves. When the king (Jim Broadbent) offers a reward to anyone who can bring him something that will give his people hope, Joel, desperate for money, joins a group of men on a quest to prove the existence of elves. Nikolas is initially left with his ill-tempered aunt, Carlotta (Kristen Wiig), but when he discovers his mother’s hidden map to Elfhelm, he sets off on his own quest. He will face a long journey on foot through the snow-covered woods, freezing temperatures, starvation, and hopelessness with just his faith and his loyal mouse Miika. What he will find will change the world, even if just for one day a year.
Lawful was a great casting choice for Nikolas. He can handle the wide-eyed optimism, joy, and sorrow needed for the role. Having sharp kind of elven features must have made him a lock for the part. As written, Nikolas is a bit too naive to be a 12-year-old, but the creators were in a tough spot. Nikolas needs to be old enough to have the know-how to survive the journey, but he has to have the unwavering belief in magic and fairy tales of someone half his age. Luckily the imbalance only lasts until he leaves his home searching for Elfhelm, and he is rewarded for his faith. The first bit of magic he encounters comes from Miika, who learns to speak and is voiced by Stephen Merchant. Not long after that, he meets the first of his eight reindeer, Blitzen. His animal friends aid him in his trip to Elfhelm and beyond. Blitzen provides transportation and Miika comedic relief.
Unfortunately, once the trio locates Elfhelm, the elves do not offer them the warm welcome his mother’s story promised. Though he is initially helped by the elderly Father Topo (Toby Jones), Nikolas learns the city is under the control of the iron-fisted Mother Vodol (Sally Hawkins). Vodol has sworn there will be no peace between elves and humans, not after a group of men were welcomed and repaid the kindness by kidnapping a young elf. With Christmas spirit and goodwill at an all-time low, and Nikolas may be the only person who can fix things if only he can reach his father before it’s too late.
“A Boy Called Christmas” will likely delight fans this holiday season. Still, it lacks the magic that will make it an annual tradition like “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “The Santa Clause.” Even with a 1-hour and 46-minute runtime, the movie feels rushed. The journey seems to happen in no time, and no explanation is provided as to why some characters have multiple names, and some have none at all. They are known by a description of what they are, like Truth Pixie, a pixie that can only tell the truth. Sally Hawkins gives another stellar performance, but her character makes little sense. One human transgression, and she goes full alt-right nationalist dictator on the rest of the elves. If she were the mother of the missing child, that might make sense, but with no personal motivation, we have to believe her fear has turned her evil. “A Boy Called Christmas” has charm in the simplicity of its story and its decidedly anti-capitalistic message and is a 3.5 out of 5.
Netflix Release Date: Wednesday, November 24
Director: Gil Kenan
Writer: Ol Parker, Gil Kenan, based on A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
Producers: Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin
Cast: Henry Lawfull, Toby Jones, Sally Hawkins, Kristen Wiig, Michiel Huisman, Zoe Colletti, Stephen Merchant, Joel Fry, Rune Temte, with Jim Broadbent, and Maggie Smith
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