The following contains spoilers for Disney+’s Noelle.
There’s no explanation of how Santa died, but without the big guy around, his reluctant son, Nick (Bill Hader), must take up the velvet cap and coat to deliver presents on Christmas Eve. It’s a format tackled by countless other movies, but with an added twist here.
What follows is a comedy of errors somewhere between Elf and Enchanted.
At Nick’s side are his sister, Noelle (Anna Kendrick), his mother, Mrs. Claus (Julie Hagerty), and the Claus family’s personal elf, Polly (Shirley MacLaine). There’s also Cousin Gabe (Billy Eichner), who works in the IT department, an adorable reindeer-in-training named Snowcone, and a gaggle of nosey North Polians eager to see replacement Santa pull off the big delivery.
When Nick flees from the mounting pressure, it’s Noelle who must save Christmas. Tasked with finding her brother, the dutiful Kringle battles her way through a Phoenix, Arizona strip mall where, it turns out, Nick is bailing on his family duties to teach yoga classes.
What follows is a comedy of errors somewhere between Elf and Enchanted. Noelle tries out public transportation, hires a private detective, eats a tube of sunscreen, and surprises strangers with her liberal use of words like “jolly” and “naughty,” while persuading her brother to come home.
She also visits a homeless shelter, explores the emotional turmoil of divorce, and assists in what was probably some very expensive brand representation for Petco along the way. (Think the hot UPS guy from Legally Blonde, but y’know, for Petco.)
It is complete and utter chaos.
In the background of that mess, all hell is breaking loose at Santa’s workshop.
Cousin Gabe is attempting to optimize holiday magic with a naughty-or-nice algorithm that has determined all but a few thousand of the world’s children deserve coal. He is letting the world know about the results via a mass “We regret to inform you” e-mail, and plans to deliver what few presents there are via drone and Amazon Prime.
It is — and I mean this most sincerely — complete and utter chaos.
Like a kid struggling to fit their Christmas wish list into a 30-second spiel, Noelle can’t seem to take a breath for even one moment of its runtime. When we’re not enduring yet another joke about iPads, Noelle is spouting off one more holiday lesson as the plot barrels towards one more topical theme. (Gender roles, capitalism, Big Tech, you name it: if a 2019 movie could try it, Noelle probably does.)
That’s not to say this Christmas romp is all bad. Kendrick is committed to her cheery role, delivering its saccharine and slapstick elements with equal enthusiasm, and pretty much everyone else in the cast is good enough. It’s all just a lot.
From A Charlie Brown Christmas to Home Alone, many seasonal classics are charming because they’re so simple. In Noelle‘s many efforts to strike a chord, the genuine joy of the holidays gets lost. Despite a passionate fifth act monologue from Kendrick, the overarching message of the movie isn’t clear and its most notable elements fall short of being memorable.
If you’re looking to placate some rowdy children or cranky grandparents this holiday season, then Noelle will hit the spot. But if you’re looking for a new Christmas tradition, Santa’s sister can’t deliver — at least, not in the ways we’d wished for.
Noelle is now streaming on Disney+.