Disney+ launches with the premiere of Noelle, a syrupy sweet Christmas story with a girl power theme. Santa's cheerful daughter steps in when her hapless brother decides to pursue a yoga career instead of the family business. Yup, you just read that sentence correctly. A bursting with charm Anna Kendrick is delightful, but not enough to make Noelle anything more than a silly Hallmark-esque movie. Noelle's message of equality and kindness during the holidays is commendable. But a plodding script, boring supporting characters, and lack of creativity take the spice out of the eggnog.
At the bustling North Pole, the Kringle family has overseen Christmas for twenty-three generations. After the tragic passing of his beloved father, Nick Kringle (Bill Hader) must assume the mantle of the new Santa Claus. His sister, Noelle (Anna Kendrick), and mother (Julie Hagerty) try everything possible to get him prepared. It's obvious to the elves and reindeer that Nick isn't remotely up to the challenge. When Noelle recommends her brother take a weekend off to clear his head, Nick runs away with Christmas looming.
Noelle decides to take the sleigh and find her absconded brother. She's joined by her grouchy elf nanny, Polly (Shirley MacLaine). Noelle deduces that Nick is hiding in the sweltering heat of Phoenix, Arizona. Clad in her mittens, stockings, and sans sunscreen, Noelle convinces a private detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and his son (Maceo Smedley) to help her. If she doesn't bring back Nick in time, her nerdy cousin Gabe (Billy Eichner), who runs the IT department, becomes Santa Claus and ruins Christmas for everyone.
Noelle's been taught since childhood to support her brother's preparation for becoming Santa. The marshmallow at the center of the Christmas cocoa is that Santa Claus doesn't have to be a man. Noelle is the most capable Kringle for the job. It doesn't matter that she's not a fat guy with rosy cheeks, white hair, and a beard. The female empowerment message is great for children, but unfortunately laid down like molasses here. Director Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics) needed more subtlety in his delivery.
Christmas movies need to be enchanting. Noelle makes the North Pole and Santa's helpers look like employees at Starbucks.The elves are just humans with pointy ears. There's nothing magical or interesting about them. I don't understand why Shirley MacLaine is in this film. Her character does nothing to contribute to the story. She comes off like a piece of plywood next to the bubbly Anna Kendrick. Bill Hader and Billy Eichner, two hilarious comedians, are also woefully dry in their performances. They seem restrained throughout. I'm guessing that Marc Lawrence discouraged improvisation. That's a waste of talent. Hader and Eichner could have really added to Noelle's humor.
Anna Kendrick is an endearing lady Santa in a ho hum flick. Noelle never lives up to the potential of its premise or star. At best, kids will learn gender equality and compassion. That's if they don't get bored watching. Noelle is produced by Walt Disney Pictures and streaming now on Disney+.