That little dickens Anna Kendrick already did a Christmas movie. But “Happy Christmas” was a bit more naughty than…you know.
So here she is in a genuine Disney Christmas movie for kids, back on Disney+ for the holidays. Did you catch it last year? Do the kids want to see it again?
“Noelle” is sentimental farce that puts Miss “Pitch Perfect” in holiday tights and Christmas sweaters as Santa’s daughter, second banana to older brother Nick (Bill Hader), a woman who has never left the North Pole and who “majored in calligraphy and minored in popcorn stringing.”
But she’s sensitive, always looking out for others. And she “twinkles.” Nick is stressing about taking on the new job, so she suggests he “take a weekend off” have a little get away. Nick doesn’t come back. Even the North Pole puffins are peeved.
Noelle has to “borrow” the sleigh, with trusty nanny elf Polly (Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine) and track Nick down to whatever destination in the travel mag she gave him he might have ventured.
It’s Phoenix, and no, she doesn’t have to circle the globe hunting for him to other cities. That’s the first missed opportunity in a limp comedy that Kendrick has to carry all by herself.
They don’t have her sing, just a little “Tra la la” this and “fa la” that, summoning her animal buddy Snowcone, the (digital) white reindeer calf.
They do let her show off her language skills, which hints at a better comedy that might have been. She’s just as funny in French.
Track down Nick, or tech nerd cousin Gabe (a sadly subdued Billy Eichner) will take over, digitally crack down on the “Naughty or Nice” list and let Amazon Prime replace the sleigh, reindeer, etc.
This childish confection was cooked up by Marc Lawrence, who was once Sandra Bullock’s go-to guy (“Miss Congeniality” scripts, “Two Weeks Notice”), and it’s got a quest and a would-be love interest, the private eye (Kingsley Ben-Adir) Noelle hires to help her locate Nick. Can she afford him? Will he take North Pole gold (covered chocolate) coins?
“Bring non-edible money.”
It has Hader with very little that’s funny to play.
But there’s an elvish quintet who sing little commentaries on the proceedings like a Greek chorus.
“Joy to the world, except for YOU.”
That’s a gimmick worth running with. As with too many other mildly-promising tidbits, Lawrence doesn’t.
But the ladies sell this, with old pros MacLaine and Julie Haggerty (as Mrs. Claus, Noelle’s worrywart Mom) giving it their all.
And Kendrick? After 45 minutes or so of thin entertainment, Anna gets her groove back. Bubbly Noelle has no time for pessimism.
“That’s pretty stocking half-empty.”
She’s got to keep her true identity from the simple happy natives of Phoenix. Where’s she from?
“A little town…up north.”
And arguing with a sibling who’s found “yoga” is apt to bring tears.
“Oh! You! Better not pout, you BETTER not cry!”
In sum, Kendrick’s twinkles. “Noelle” doesn’t. Let her sing and get her a dozen more jokes and this one could have been a holiday keeper.
MPA Rating: G.
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Shirley MacLaine, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Michael Gross.
Credits: Written and directed by Marc Lawrence. A Disney release on Disney+.
Running time: 1:40