PG because of unnecessary parent death and some random cruelty towards children. There's something about the Christmas movie (outside of the hot misery that are Hallmark Christmas films) that abuses the protagonist because there needs that juxtaposition of misery to Christmas joy. Regardless, this means that the movie can get kind of scary for younger audiences. PG.
DIRECTOR: Gil Kenan
I don't know how much I could possibly write about this movie. I have all of the children to myself. That's the small problem, so there's going to be no sense of momentum to this writing. But even more so...A Boy Called Christmas might be one of the most forgettable movies that I have ever seen. I feel bad saying that. Like, Gil Kenan made a movie. It's got a big budget and decent performances. It's just that we keep seeing movies like this, especially coming from the Netflix camp. There's this almost desperation to make Christmas movies at this point. I don't see the numbers. I don't know how financially solvent these movies are. But since Hallmark started the War for Christmas, there has just been an attempt to make as many Christmas movies as humanly possible. The flippant part of me wants to say that there's been a decrease in quality. But I think something else is kind of happening.
It was either last year or the year before. (Confession: I'm criminally bad about how long ago things happened. Everything either "just happened" or "happened a really long time ago.") I was applauding the animated Netflix film Klaus. Part of me was rallying behind a company making animated features that wasn't Disney. (Again, I will always love Disney, given the fact that I'm about to write about Encanto.) But I thought Klaus was it. It was a fresh perspective on the Santa Claus origin myth that felt fresh and with a lesson behind it. It was oddly bleak for an animated Christmas movie, but that was something that appealed to me. But given some distance from this movie, I now realize that's all we're getting. There's only so many hardcore Christmas movies that we can tell. The more that we keep mining the same well, the less important these stories become.
It's kind of like that wave of found footage movies. The first one, The Blair Witch Project, was haunting despite nothing really happening in the movie. The element of verisimilitude was what made that movie really work. But when found footage decided to become the it thing, well, we all knew it was fake after that. Genres are tried and true, but sub-genres have an element of gimmickry to the whole thing, don't they? It's a bit dismissive and I think that there is room for multiple Santa origins stories. But there should be something important to say. Maybe I'm just way too up my own butt about this, but shouldn't a movie subgenre attempt to reflect the attitudes of a generation? With Klaus and A Boy Called Christmas so close together, the message gets all muddled. Even Netflix films that don't directly address the origins of Santa tend to muddy the waters. You know how every Hallmark rom-com is the same? The same is now happening to anything Christmas related.
Is there a solution to this? I'm thinking of my two favorite Christmas movies: It's a Wonderful Life and Scrooged. I really like Scrooged, but really I just love "A Christmas Carol". While both of these films are Christmas staples, these are stories about the goodness of humanity. They are deeply moral tales about exceptional people (not always in a positive way) and the environment of Christmas is what escalates an already dramatic attitude. With George Bailey, most of the film is actually in no way related to Christmas. It just so happens that he wants to take his life on Christmas, which is really a minority of the film. Frank Cross...I mean, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a man who is awful all year. The Christmas setting simply highlights how far Scrooge has fallen from the rest of humanity. Similarly, using the Christmas framework allows Scrooge's journeys with the ghosts to be watershed moments for the character. But the idea of Christmas is about the best of humanity.
When we focus so much on the various Christmas origins, especially considering that as a Catholic, we have one that is canon, it becomes so old timey. While Nikolas could be considered an avatar for the viewer, he is imbued with magic that makes him not quite a role model. George Bailey is a role model. Ebenezer Scrooge is a cautionary tale. How Nikolas becomes Santa becomes almost a story of "who cares?" because Nikolas is on the journey with us. Very few of the moments are actually the choice of Nikolas. Part of Christmas is that people are meant to be good...for goodness' sake. But Nikolas uses the creation and distribution of toys to solve a problem that he's dealt with in that very moment. It doesn't really make the story universal so much as a fantasy retelling of a universal narrative. That's fine once in a while, but not all the time.
Also --and believe you me, it bugged me --it has a Jonathan Kent problem. With these extraordinary characters, like Santa Claus and Superman, an origin tale is meant to be about the rejection of a call before becoming something larger than life. With the Christopher Reeve Superman, Glenn Ford's Jonathan Kent teaches Clark a really important lesson with his death: some people just die and Superman can't save them. It's perfect. It's absolutely perfect for the character because it is a god trying to wrestle with something that he may never face, his own mortality. But when Jonathan Kent dies in Man of Steel, it's this really ugly message about self-sacrifice that has a lot of weird implications. It's supposed to be about a father sacrificing himself for his son, but it is totally unnecessary. With A Boy Called Christmas, there's this redemption arc for Dad. Dad is a good man at the beginning of the story, but he was corrupted by humanity. It caused him to kidnap an Elven child. But we don't really live with that moment very long because he instantly regrets his decision. When Dad jumps on the sleigh and dies in that moment, there's nothing really being taught to Nikolas. Instead, it's just this tragedy that never really is explored as hard as it should be. He acknowledges that his father's death is the consequence for his mistakes, but then continues to be this otherworldly being delivering toys to children. It ultimately boils down to tragedy for the sake of storytelling.
But the thing that I haven't even addressed is just all of the elements that are in this movie. There's just so many. The movie tried touching on so much stuff and very little of it is vital to the movie. I love Stephen Merchant's mouse throughout the movie, but he doesn't really contribute anything except for a sounding board for Nikolas. I love Maggie Smith's narrator, but we tend to find little connection between the story that she is telling (which includes a parent's death just to find a tangential relationship between the story and the meta-narrative). It's just all jumbled together into a pretty looking, but not great film.
I wanted to like it. But maybe we need to cool with the annual Christmas movies. Slow down. Develop something new. Maybe don't be so literal with Christmas, but just allow for the story to flow out of the goodness of the season. Hallmark wants to do it, but doesn't really have the skill. Netflix has the money and the filmmakers to take it seriously, but is only concerned about the buck.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.