As you can probably tell, when Disney+ debuted yesterday, I ate that shit up. Watched the first episode of The Mandalorian, watched the new live action remake of Lady And The Tramp, tried the first episode of The World According to Jeff Goldblum but couldn’t get through it as it was shockingly had too much Goldblum zaniness (I know, right?), and this other Disney+ original holiday movie available at launch, NOELLE. Or as I really want to call it: Elf 2 – A SJW Santa Story. I’ll get to the reasons for my alternate title a little later, but needless to say, this is the kind of movie you’d find premiering on ABC or the Disney Channel 25-30 years ago, on a weekend night. It works for what it is meant for, a small scale television movie. It isn’t going to be the next holiday classic like Elf was at the time, and there are a lot of problems with the film itself other than the “social justice warrior” angle (which I’ll get to as well) but I am giving it a slight recommendation as I did laugh out loud several times throughout it and also mostly due to the quirkiness and lively performance from Anna Kendrick, who always brings her charming A-game, even if the game of said movie is not up to snuff.
The reason why this movie is so close to Elf is that it is about a fictional holiday character, in this case, Santa’s sister, having a fish out of water journey, as she has lived her entire life at the North Pole. Noelle, always really into Christmas and its spirit, has to leave her home and go to Phoenix, Arizona in search of her brother, who has gone on vacation due to the stress of it being his first Christmas taking over the Santa mantel from the recent passing of their father. The movie largely consists of updated technological fish out of water jokes (a lot of advancements in tech and our way of life with them have been invented since 2003’s Elf) and also jokes consisting of the fact that she has lived in a very cold place on Earth all her life and just quickly transitions to a hot one. With any other actress, I don’t think these jokes would’ve landed as well as they did because of Anna Kendrick going all in with each and every single one. And the holiday spirit messages such as being with family, being a good person, giving not receiving, thinking about others, yada yada yada, are all in there too and they mostly work even though we’ve seen it all before.
There are other famous actors/actresses in this as well, such as the funny Bill Hader, Shirley McClaine, and the mostly annoying and loud Billy Eichtner (here he is fine though), but they don’t have much screen time, and completely take a back seat to Kendrick’s quirkiness, especially Hader. His involvement in this film seemed like a real missed opportunity. There are some glaring problems with the movie, for one, the CGI is shoddy as fuck. The reindeer look remarkably fake and weird, and it seemed like a lot of scenes had a green screen backdrop behind them, even when it is in Phoenix, Arizona, making everything seem like it was filmed inside a cheap studio, with cheap sets, cheap everything. With a heftier budget, this project could’ve looked a lot more livelier than it had. But I realize that this project was probably made for Disney+ from the get-go and not theatrical distribution, so I guess all of that is forgiven. If this had premiered in theaters, all of it would’ve been completely unacceptable.
The movie was written and directed by Marc Lawrence, a name you may have heard as he is responsible for one of the most watched and quoted rom-coms of all time, Miss Congeniality. And his film Music & Lyrics I enjoyed. But the bulk of his work, which includes Two Weeks Notice and Did You Hear About The Morgans?, is mostly unfunny comedy drivel. I have a feeling this script was written awhile ago, and again, whoever is in charge of Disney+ digged this script out of development hell and said, “oh this could be cheap and easy to make to debut on the platform!” Yep, it all shows. (side note: I actually looked at some rumored trivia for this film and found out that filming at supposedly started in 2017 but then was postponed a little to debut on the service, take that rumor for what you will). The biggest thing that had me rolling me eyes during the movie was the social justice warrior angle of the film. If read my description of the plot, you probably can predict how the movie solves all of the conflict. I don’t want to spoil what actually happens in the movie but I want to take a direct quote/thing that happens from the movie to prove my point, so consider this a **spoiler warning**. One male character shouts out during a meeting, “A woman can’t be Santa Claus!” and a woman in the audience scoffs and yells, “Hey!” **end of spoiler**. I don’t mind some of those messages as our way of life has undoubtedly changed over the years, but there is a more subtle approach to be had, and dialogue like this in the film gives off too much of a social justice warrior vibe. There, I said it.
But anyway, I do end up recommending Noelle, as I can see people, families, what have you, queue-ing it up every other holiday or so to enjoy a nice and serviceable Christmas movie together with a fantastic re-watchable performance by Anna Kendrick. I can’t bash shit like this too hard, as I will eventually come out as an Ebenezer Scrooge myself. Know this: I really and truly try to give each and every film the time of day, even if I’m not looking forward to them. I was looking forward to this, mainly for the acting talent involved, and while I wish there was much more from Hader, Anna Kendrick elevated the mediocre material and shoddy production value, and made the film slightly work. As long as those head honchos at Disney+ know that this kind of straight to platform film will only work for so long, as with the streaming battle about to come out to a full on war, they’ll need to elevate their material to ultimately get and keep people’s attention (I have no doubt that the Marvel shows will end up doing this). But I’ll give this one a ho-ho-hopeful review for the time being.