Netflix has been doing a pretty solid job lately with their Christmas material. For my money, at least 'The Christmas Chronicles', and 'Klaus' are well worth it, instant Christmas classics. This one, however, didn't quite land as strongly for yours truly. For starters, it's another Netflix original about how Christmas got started, which they already did with 'Klaus'. For another, maybe it's just me, but I found this movie to be pretty harsh for a Christmas movie.
We open in the style of 'Princess Bride', but instead of kids being sick, kids have recently lost their mother. On that Christmas Eve, young Andrea (Isabella O'Sullivan), Moppet (Ayomide Garrick) and Patrick (Eden Lawrence) are left alone with their Aunt Ruth (Maggie Smith) when their father has to leave for work-related purposes. From here, Ruth tells the children a Christmas story of a boy named Nikolas (Henry Lawfull), who lives in the forest with his father, Joel (Michiel Huisman), and who also lost his mother two years prior to the story.
Nikolas' mother once told him the story of a land called Elfhelm; a land full of magic and elves that one day rescues a lost girl from the harshness of the winter weather. He takes comfort in the memory of this story every night, but soon the probability of Elfhelm being real is increased when Joel sets out to find it. Along with a group of hunters, their hope is to find Elfhelm and prove it exists, which will in turn get them a reward from the King (Jim Broadbent) who is in search of an object that will bring joy to the otherwise bummed-out kingdom.
Upon Joel leaving, Nikolas is put under the care of his Aunt Carlotta (Kristen Wiig), where he manages to find a map that confirms Elfheim's existence. So, life with Carlotta sucks enough for Nik to make a daring escape with his pet mouse, Miika (Stephen Merchant), in an effort to head north to find his father and get the map to him. Little does he know, however, that finding his Dad along with Elfhelm will turn out to be the least of his big adventure, and his life was about to change forever. I mean, c'mon, it's obvious who Nikolas is supposed to grow into.
Along the way, Nikolas gets some help from a few key characters. The coolest is probably Blitzen - the first of his reindeer, according to this movie. There's also a variety of elves who need help with a kidnapping, and of course, the Truth Pixie (Zoe Margaret Colletti). She's a sidekick type character who is just kind of there, and frankly quite irritating - a kid hopped up on way too much sugar who maybe tried weed for the first time ever. No offense to the young actress, of course, but I have to say, this character got under my skin.
I know that I mentioned this film is kind of mean-spirited, but didn't get so far into it because a lot of that takes place on the side. I also think it's sure to give the big-time Christian community a bit of a problem, as "Christmas" is "just a word" here, and Nikolas' nickname from his mother. The concept of Christ (Christmas' real namesake) doesn't enter into it. Personally, I like the idea of avoiding religious connotations. 'Soul', for example, did it extremely well. But in this case, it's more about a specific word that already has a specific meaning ("Christ Mass" or just the celebration of Christ) so some might be bugged by this.
I think it's safe to say that there are better Christmas movies about the same thing that teach the same positive lessons. I think this one just gets a little too dark at times, and the whimsy of Christmas is sort of lost on this one. I might suggest it's a Christmas movie that takes itself too seriously, despite the odd chuckle you might get from Miika. Stick to 'Christmas Chronicles' and/or 'Klaus' as far as Netflix goes. Unlike them, I won't feel a need to come back to this one next year. But who knows? Maybe it's just lost on me because it's honestly kind of depressing.