I like to think that Noelle is the sort of movie that would appreciate me working hard to find the good in it despite my overall opinion. It’s the sort of sickly sweet, annoyingly earnest, G-rated romp that belongs on Disney+ not because it’s premium content, but because it feels made with the 10 years down the line nostalgic watch baked into it. Everything about the movie feels at least five years old, not the least of which being Bill Hader not playing a deeply traumatized character, which has kind of been his thing recently, but that’s not a bad thing here. The bad things are the writing and direction, and we’ll get into that in due time. Noelle feels somewhere between an old-school Disney Channel original movie and a real movie, which might be the best way to describe the concept of Disney+ as a whole.
Noelle stars Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader as Santa’s grown children Noelle and Nick Kringle. Nick is supposed to be Santa after their father’s recent passing (hey look at that kids, Santa can die, and so can you!) but he doesn’t feel up to the task, so he runs away, leaving Noelle to search for him in Arizona. Hijinks ensue, because she’s wearing a funny costume, not understanding cultural norms, and is just Will Ferrell in Elf. It’s not a bad thing to be, Elf is a good movie, and of all the people to be Will Ferrell, you could do a lot worse than Anna Kendrick, but in a movie cobbled together from a sea of other Christmas classics in an attempt to reverse engineer cultural impact, the Elf comparison is the most blatant and the most annoying.
As Noelle prances around Arizona, she encounters her fair share of wacky characters alongside her elf nanny Polly (played by Shirley MacLaine, who I was about to say deserved better, before I noticed all the wild things on her Wikipedia page, and now I’m convinced deserves this movie), and while it’s not as long of a segment as I feared, this is still the bulk of the movie. Bill Hader really isn’t in the film all that much, and despite him or Kendrick squeaking out a laugh here or there, the movie has no sparkle, aimlessly biding time towards an eye-roll inducing “twist” that is so telegraphed and obvious it’s hard to even register the surprise you’re supposed to be feeling. And once that hits and the cards are shuffled, the film takes a step or two towards having a heart before the whole thing is over.
If I wanted to be nice, Noelle is about 30 minutes too long. If I wanted to be mean, it’s about 90 minutes too long. Marc Lawrence’s direction is lifeless and weirdly lingers on the film’s unsettling CGI for a very long time, none of the cast is allowed to run with the material, where even Billy Eichner feels stilted and miscast, and any attempt at a joke falls flat. As mentioned earlier, the only thing that keeps Noelle moving is its leads. Kendrick and Hader, even with the latter’s limited screen time, are fantastic to watch, and the two of them pull off a believable and charming sibling relationship that feels far too authentic for a film this inauthentic. And remember, I liked Let It Snow.
(No, the joke wasn’t intentional)