With the launch of Disney+, not only are we receiving a plethora of Disney classics, nostalgic television shows and eight (as of right now) films from the MCU, but we’ve also been gifted a handful of Disney Originals, including the holiday family film, Noelle.
Its premise is incredibly simple. Santa Claus passes away, leaving his son Nick Kringle (Bill Hader) to finally take the reins. Unfortunately, Nick is a nervous wreck. He can’t fly the sleigh, let alone land it safely on a rooftop. He hates the cold of the North Pole, and he can’t seem to look into the eyes of a child and see their heart, which is needed in order to determine whether that child is naughty or nice. Basically? He lacks the Kringle twinkle needed to be Santa Claus. Given he’s been supposedly training for this since he was young, it’s kind of mind-blowing that he’s a fully-fledged adult now and still has no clue what to do.
His sister Noelle (Anna Kendrick) is determined to help Nick find the inner cheer that he needs to successfully complete his first Christmas as Santa. When Nick continues to have trouble, plagued by doubt and insecurity, Noelle suggests that Nick take the sleigh and reindeer and go away for the weekend. Somewhere warm, where he can stretch and find balance again. Nick takes Noelle’s advice… but then the sleigh and reindeer return without him, and the North Pole is thrown into upheaval. It’s six days before Christmas and their Santa has gone missing! So it’s up to Noelle to find her brother and bring him home.
Noelle felt very reminiscent of Elf, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it also doesn’t help that I felt a distinct lack of originality watching it as well. Raised at the North Pole, where there is cheer, peppermint hot cocoa year-round and adorable baby reindeer, Noelle has to quickly adjust to life among the non-elves. Her childlike naivety sticks out like a sore thumb, but her love for Christmas will, of course, bring joy to even the most cynical… like the newly divorced private detective she hires to help her find Nick.
Kendrick was the perfect choice to play Noelle. Her bubbly personality and comedic timing help land some of the humor that would have otherwise fallen flat. She’s a likable lead, balancing Noelle’s sugary sweetness with some more tender moments on her own journey of self-discovery. I understand that the movie revolves around Noelle, but Hader was still sorely underused. The movie’s charm and humor were lifted significantly every time he was on screen.
Billy Eichner was another bright spot as the Kringles’ cousin Gabe, the next in line for Santa should Nick not return. His determination to modernize Christmas by determining a child’s naughty or niceness with a FALALA algorithm was humorous, though I was disappointed that he didn’t raise his voice even once. I kept waiting for that Eichner trademark, and it just never happened. Shirley MacClaine is a legend, but here she phones it in as Elf Polly, Noelle’s nanny and traveling companion when Noelle sets off to find Nick. I suppose she was meant to be the wise old elf that helps Noelle find her true path, but it fell short, and Noelle seemed capable of discovering the true meaning of Christmas on her own.
Noelle has its moments, but it’s also a very formulaic “let’s save Christmas” movie, overrun with the typical Christmas-themed puns and predictable humor. I don’t think it’s a classic in the making, but it does have a sweet message about what Christmas should be and why so many people find joy in the holiday. I just wish the journey to this inevitable revelation had been a bit more entertaining. If you’re looking for a holiday-themed “fish out of water” comedy about the true meaning of Christmas, I would just recommend watching Elf.