On one level, I suppose we should all just be thankful (especially during this joyous holiday season) that Disney has graced the world with an actual original movie and not a remake, sequel, reboot, or yet another live-action version of one of their animated classics. And though Noelle—the first film released exclusively on the new Disney+ streaming platform—isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, only a Grinch would dismiss it as anything less than a pleasant Christmas-time flick that will occupy your kids as you bake cookies and wrap presents.

Written and directed by Marc Lawrence (Music and Lyrics), Noelle stars Anna Kendrick as the titular daughter of Santa Claus. After her father’s unfortunate passing (even Santa gets old and dies, kids!), the red suit is passed down—because, patriarchy—to his son Nick (Bill Hader), who doesn’t even want the job. In an effort to save Christmas, Noelle tells Nick to take the weekend off for a little R&R, but when Monday comes and he still hasn’t returned, the North Pole goes into a tailspin, and Noelle is blamed for it.

Fortunately, she eventually discovers Nick has fled to Phoenix, prompting her to set off with Santa’s sleigh and eight shiny reindeer to retrieve him, so he can finish his training and get ready for the big day. With the help of a private investigator named Jake (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who naturally thinks a woman who claims to be Santa’s brother is nutballs, Noelle finally tracks Nick down at a local yoga studio.

From there, everything goes pretty much exactly as you imagine it will, and despite its “enlightened” conclusion, Noelle ends up feeling like something aimed squarely at the milk-and-cookies crowd, with precious little in it for the adults who ponied up for Disney+ in the first place. Sure, there’s a decent amount of stuff that will elicit the occasional chuckle and “aww”, but the majority of the film is chock-full of pre-tween comedy (“Oh my garland!” and “I’m all earmuffs!” are uttered), and even the fish-out-of-water storyline offers little. (When Noelle is offered sunscreen, she eats it. Ha.)

Adding to the malaise is the fact that Disney apparently financed the film entirely through product placement. (Of course Noelle would land the sleigh at the local mall—how else would we be able to get bombarded by logos for everything from Sunglass Hut to Petco?) And Apple clearly dropped a ton of coin, too, prompting the studio to actually make “and an iPad!” a running joke.

The one saving grace (and it’s a big one) is Kendrick herself, who jumps in with both feet, infusing the film with her trademark manic-pixie personality and making it at least marginally entertaining; it’s shudder-inducing to think what a disaster this may have been with anyone else starring.

Given the number of holiday movies we’ll all see between now and the end of December, Noelle certainly isn’t worthy of criminal prosecution. At the very least, it’s a harmless diversion that will simply get lost in the shuffle somewhere between the latest blasé Hallmark movie and your umpteenth re-watch of Elf.


2/5 stars