When new Santa Nick (Bill Hader) goes missing, little sister Noelle (Anna Kendrick) sets out in pursuit, finding herself a fish out of water in the real world
Starring Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Billy Eichner, Julie Hagerty, and Shirley MacLaine
Released in 2019 for US subscribers of Disney+ but held over closer to December for UK viewers, “Noelle” is a family-friendly, frightfully funny festive film about the true meaning of Christmas. As well as how much patriarchy sucks. That certainly features too.
”Noelle” presents us with a society at the North Pole in which the title of Santa is passed down from father to son. Noelle, being both the second-born and also a girl, is not in line, even though she is remarkably more suited to the task than her older brother Nick (Bill Hader), who shows that he is incredibly inept in all areas that Santa Claus should excel in. He cannot ride his sleigh, he struggles to go down people’s chimneys, and he also doesn’t demonstrate at all any of the innate abilities that other Santas have possessed, such as being able to communicate in any language, or correctly deducing which children have been naughty and which have been nice.
Crumbling under the pressure, as all of Christmas rests upon his shoulders, Noelle suggests that he go away for the weekend to de-stress. Unfortunately, Nick does not return and Noelle, shunned by the rest of the North Pole, follows him along with nanny Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) so that they can save Christmas, while cousin Gabriel Kringle (Billy Eichner), threatens to remove the heart from Christmas and make it none other than a glorified online delivery company.
Anna Kendrick, who has yet to put a step wrong career-wise, is on fine comedic form. She manages to portray naive, out of touch Noelle in a way that makes her endearing but never irritating. Her delivery of lines are absolutely spot on and she imbues Noelle with such a sense of heart that it’s practically impossible not to root for her character.
Alighting in Phoenix, Arizona, Noelle further secures her place in the audience’s hearts by doing what Kendrick excels at: smoothing over the cracks in other’s lives with her boundless optimism and sunshine smiles. From disillusioned private detective Jake (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who is struggling on his first Christmas as a divorced dad, to lovelorn Helen (Diana-Maria Riva), several subplots are thrown in to sell the legitimacy of Kendrick as a new, reimagined Santa Claus.
Another subplot involving a homeless centre, and a child with hearing disabilities, further serves to pack an emotional punch during the storyline and push home the non-consumerist spirit of Christmas, a concept which is in stark contrast to Gabriel’s reforms at the North Pole. It also really helps Noelle to demonstrate her growth throughout the film, as she fills the shoes of a role she never expected or imagined she would be capable of.
“Noelle” isn’t about to destroy the Christmas movie rule book, nor is its plot especially original or tricky to predict. Lots of the humour from the film derives from the out of touch, fish out of water nature of our main character. Noelle, having lived her entire life at the North Pole, reacts to her surroundings in a similar way to the titular character in Elf. Moreover, it’s palpably obvious from the opening sequence of the film that Noelle is the next rightful Santa, even if Nick is the next in line. However, this doesn’t prevent the journey from being any less charming.
Where “Noelle” really comes into its own are its messages about the true nature of Christmas, along with its damning criticism of consumerism. The closest that “Noelle” actually comes to a villain is the society at the North Pole, and Gabe Kringle himself, neither of which are especially sinister, but are fairly thought-provoking nonetheless.
Firstly, Nick is considered to be the next in line as Santa and, even though they have a highly more viable option in Noelle who is both more talented and also more passionate about the job, they stick with tradition. In fact, it never even occurs to them that Noelle is an option. Even when Nick goes missing, Noelle isn’t even viewed as in contention, and it passes to cousin Gabe. Society’s reaction towards Noelle when Nick disappears is also interesting. Instead of condemning Nick for his own actions, instead Noelle takes the blame. She isn’t granted enough credit for the work that she does do, but the public are more than comfortable in passing the blame over to her when something goes wrong. Ultimately, this problem is remedied, and any sane viewer can see that Noelle was the rightful Santa all along.
As for Gabe’s makeover of the North Pole, it’s difficult not to see the similarities between his soulless Christmas operation and large corporations like Amazon. It really sucks the giving spirit out of the festive season, and the love and the care, to merely be fixated upon numbers and statistics, and it’s no surprise when Noelle points out that people can be summarised as more than just numbers and instead by the true colour of their soul.
In addition to these messages, “Noelle” also manages to deliver in the humour department. Not only are Bill Hader and Anna Kendrick fiendishly funny performers, but Shirley MacLaine as Elf Polly is also a great watch. Though she is given little to do herself, her background reactions are a masterpiece. An elf choir are also a highlight, throwing out wonderful new lyrics to traditional song, such as “Joy to the world, except for you! Cause you forgot to floss!”. Noelle finding herself in mischief in the real world, through mishearing yoga pants as “yoghurt pants”, and trying to eat sunblock, is also a joy to behold, as well as the amusing way that she, and brother Nick, throw Christmas-isms into the middle of a conversation, such as “You’d better not pout; you’d better not cry”.
Accompanied with typically magical moments, such as Noelle discovering that she is fluent in sign language and that she can detect exactly the perfect gift for those around her, “Noelle” is quite affecting. As we see her rise up to become the latest Santa Claus, a position which is apparent as her true calling, not that she knew it, it’s practically impossible not to be a little emotional. As Noelle points out, “Traditions change”, and it’s not a moment too soon.
Ultimately, “Noelle” has a lot to say about Christmas. Its anti-consumerist message about how the true joy of Christmas is in the gifting and not receiving, as well as the portrayal of feminism throughout makes it a brilliant film for the next generation.
Noelle is available to watch now on Disney+