Netflix film “A Boy Called Christmas”, which was released on this Thursday, is something I cannot possibly be cranky about. Yes, this is another wholesome seasonal product for the upcoming Christmas season, but its engaging fairy tale is equipped with enough heart, humor, and mood to draw its target audiences, and you will probably find yourself smile a bit at least even if you prefer darker and naughtier Christmas tales like me.
The story is another your typical Christmas origin tale, which is incidentally told to three young kids living in a cozy house in London. As their recently widowed father, played by Joel Fry, happens to be absent on Christmas Eve for a while, the kids is going to be babysat by an old lady played by Maggie Smith, and they are not so pleased about this at all, but, what do you know, they soon find themselves gradually absorbed into a little Christmas bedtime story from this old lady.
The hero of the story is a young Finnish boy named Nikolas (Henry Lawfull, who is solid in his first movie acting), who has lived alone with his father Joel (Michiel Huisman, who did as much as he can with his thankless part) in the middle of a forest since his mother passed away several years ago. While Nikolas and his father still miss his mother a lot, things have been quite difficult for not only them but also many other people in the country as winter mercilessly continues, and everyone is losing hope as trying to survive day by day.
When the King, played by Jim Broadbent with his usual eccentricity, announces that he will reward anyone who can bring hope back to the country, Joel and several other men decide to look for a magical town of elves hidden somewhere outside the country. Although nobody exactly knows where that town is located, Nikolas’ mother used to tell him about that town and its residents because, according to her, she went there once when she was very young, and Nikolas certainly wants to join his father when his father prepares to leave along with guys.
However, that is the last thing Joel wants, and he already brings someone who is supposed to take care of Nikolas during his absence. That person in question is his sister Carlotta (Kristen Wiig, who is rather unrecognizable at first), and it is apparent to us from her very first scene that she is not a very nice person at all. Once Joel is gone, Carlotta mistreats Nikolas a lot as frequently complaining about many things including the shabby aspects of Joel and Nikolas’ cabin, and then we get a little naughty moment when she shows her nephew a bit of twisted generosity at one point.
Getting sick of mistreated by his aunt, Nikolas eventually comes to decide to search for not only his father but also that magical town of elves for himself. After finding a secret map from what his mother gave him before her death, he simply embarks on his journey alone, but he soon finds a company from his little pet mouse who can finally talk as he has hoped (Stephen Merchant is excellent in his scene-stealing voice performance, by the way), and then he also comes to befriend a big reindeer whom he helps a bit during their first encounter.
In the end, Nikolas and his two companies finally arrive at the spot where that magical town of elves is located (Is this a spoiler?), but he is surprised by how cheerless the town is in contrast to what his mother told him. Although there are still many friendly elves in the town, they and other elves in the town have been strictly ruled by their bitter leader played by Sally Hawkins, and Nikolas’ appearance in the town is the last thing wanted by her.
Once he comes to learn of the origin of the unhappiness in the town, Nikolas tries to solve the problem as getting some help from not only his animal friends but also several figures in the town including Father Topo (Toby Jones, who looks shorter than Lawfull on the screen as demanded by his role) and the Truth Pixie (Zoe Colletti, who brings considerable pluck and spirit to her character), and the movie accordingly serves us some action as expected without losing any of its charm and good will. While it has several obligatory dark moments just like any good fairy tales, the screenplay by director Gil Kenan and his co-writer Ol Parker, which is based on the novel of the same name by Matt Haig, keeps the story and characters floated with enough cheer and energy as before, and the occasional brief interlude scenes between Smith’s babysitter character and the kids in her charge bring some extra humor to the overall result.
We all know how the story will eventually end due to the very title of the movie, but the movie constantly amuses and charms us via a number of nice visual moments in the film, and Kenan and his crew members did a competent job on the whole. I was particularly delighted by those bright and colorful moments from Father Topo and other cheerful elves, and the resulting jolly mood makes a nice contrast with the gloomy aura exuded by Hawkins, who has a little dark fun with her character while somehow making us have some understanding on her character’s neurotic bitterness.
Although I feel like recommending Finnish horror comedy film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010) instead, “A Boy Called Christmas” is fairly entertaining to watch for the upcoming season, and it will surely remind you again of that timeless meaning of Christmas. Yes, we are all bound to misery and disappointment as inexorably heading to the end of our life right from the very start, but that is also why we should be nicer to each other as much as we can, and Christmas always gives us a precious chance for that every year, after all.