Carol of the Bells

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Carol of the Bells Movie Poster Image
Earnest, inclusive, diverse, but flawed holiday tale.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 100 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

You can't change the past; all that matters is what you do now. It's never too late to do what's right. You have to let go of past anger and resentment in order to move forward and enjoy what life has to offer.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The inclusive cast represents a wide range of developmental abilities and diverse ethnicities in a very positive light, which lets a broad range of people see themselves reflected on the screen. Scott's troubled by his past, but he and Karen model a loving, supportive, and cooperative relationship. Five-year-old Jeremy models tremendous understanding and patience and looks on the bright side. Karen's parents are patient, supportive, and help take care of Jeremy. Helen's desire to protect Carol caused her to make harmful decisions in the past, but she learns from it and changes.


A violent car crash is shown with some details from both inside and outside the car as it turns over and over down a hill. No gore, injuries, or aftermath are shown.


A married couple kiss a few times and cuddle in bed wearing pajamas.



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults hold glasses of wine and unspecified iced drinks at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Carol of the Bells is a holiday story with strong themes of parental loss, adoption, and family. A violent car crash is shown with some detail, but no gore, injuries, or aftermath. A married couple kiss and cuddle in bed wearing pajamas. "Damn" is used once. Adults hold alcoholic beverages at a party. Lots of positive role models and representations of a wide range of developmental abilities and diverse ethnicities. Overall messages are very positive about letting go of the past and family unity.

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What's the story?

In CAROL OF THE BELLS, Scott (RJ Mitte) is so deeply troubled by his past that he doesn't want anything to do with celebrating Christmas or birthdays. When he was 5, he was in a terrible car accident on his birthday (which is on Christmas Eve) in which his adoptive parents died. He was never adopted after that and grew up in foster and group homes. Christmas is such a difficult time for him that he cuts himself off from his family every year until it's over. He also has a lot of anger and bitterness toward the birth mother (Andrea F. Friedman) he never knew. When he hires a private investigator to try to locate her, he learns some surprising truths about the circumstances of his placement for adoption. Scott's reluctant to face the truth about his past, but it just may be the only way forward.

Is it any good?

This well-intentioned and heartwarming movie deserves admiration for its inclusive and diverse cast that reflects a variety of people, especially those with developmental differences, onscreen. Unfortunately, Carol of the Bells falls short in too many other areas to be a truly winning drama. A couple of glaring continuity problems confuse the time line. Just when the script seems poised to take on a compelling aspect of some of the issues raised, it's dropped without ceremony and heads off in a less interesting direction. There's no subtlety here, and there's also no room for a multifaceted look at the issues raised.

Its pace is quiet and slow, which isn't bad by itself, but it spends way too much time wallowing in Scott's anger and inability to forgive his birth mother. That being said, the predictable ending still manages to tug at the heartstrings. Physical differences aren't addressed (no one uses any adaptive device or technology), but families looking for inclusive representation of developmental differences won't be disappointed.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about inclusion and diversity in Carol of the Bells. Why is it important to show different types and abilities of people in the media? What can we learn from getting to know lots of different kinds of people and characters?

  • How much did you know about adoption and foster care before you saw this movie? Did you learn anything new?

  • How does this movie show the importance of family for support and understanding through life's difficulties?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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