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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Finding Santa is an animated (2016) Christmas movie from Denmark that's being released in the U.S. (in English) in 2019 for the holidays. It's a fairy tale with appealing, old-fashioned animation and with some of the cartoon suspense, scares, and mildly ghoulish violence that has been associated with the fairy tale genre. A little boy is in danger in multiple scenes. He's tormented by bullies; chased by a cackling, grotesque villain; and appears to plummet from a cliff into a dark abyss. Other likable heroes are menaced as well. A diabolical "wrapping machine" is used as a frequent threat because it destroys anything placed in it, including humans. There's also some name-calling. Viewers should be aware that the film addresses the existence of Santa and much of it takes place in an orphanage. It's not for little ones and may be disturbing for any kids not fully comfortable with real versus pretend violence. On the plus side, the movie has positive messages about standing up for yourself, believing in the spirit of Christmas, friendship, and teamwork.
What's the story?
In FINDING SANTA, an infant appeared on the doorstep of Bellhaven Orphan Home on Christmas Eve eight years ago. The baby, Julius, was taken in and nurtured along with other orphans by Alfred, the devoted owner of the home. On this Christmas Eve day, Julius is now a sweet-natured boy who loves the holiday, but two older boys torment him relentlessly. They gleefully inform Julius that Santa doesn't exist, and that Alfred, in costume, has been deceiving them every year. Julius is incredulous; it can't be true. But after he sneaks into Albert's room and finds a Santa suit, the boy is devastated. He finds his only refuge in a small cabin where he keeps his toys. It's there that a magical event occurs. Julius suddenly finds himself descending to a far-off village where Santa and his elves prepare to make their annual journey. But bullies don't just live in Bellhaven Orphan Home. In this place, too, Krampus, one of Santa's former assistants who has become a mean-spirited villain, is set to destroy Christmas for everyone. To Julius's surprise, a fairy and a giant pig made out of candy come to his aid and tell him that they've been waiting for him. Julius is the only one who can save Santa and the holiday itself. What's more, it must be done by the time the sun sets on Christmas Eve. Julius is once again incredulous -- and frightened. He's just a boy! How can he possibly accomplish such a gigantic task?
Is it any good?
The welcome appearance of hand-drawn, artful animation, along with a sweet Christmas score, give way to a story that simply has too much malice to make it a memorable, seasonal family event. The bullies in Finding Santa do learn a lesson, but their turnaround is flimsy. The dangers that Julius and his friends must overcome are powerful and, at their core, a bit gruesome: being chewed up and spit out in pieces, fighting for air in an icy lake, plummeting from a steeper-than-steep cliff. That doesn't take into account the actions of the despicable young villains and Santa's vicious ex-aide. It's iffy territory here for kids looking for a sweet holiday tale.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about cartoon violence versus real violence in movies for kids. Finding Santa has some serious suspense and violence. How much scarier would the "wrapping machine" have been if it was a weapon in a live-action movie? The cracking ice? The character of Krampus? How does your family decide how much violence, cartoon or live-action, is OK for the kids in your house?
In what way(s) was Julius's bullying based on jealousy? Why was Gregory jealous? How do you handle people who bully you or others?
The violence in fairy tales has been revisited in recent years. Think about some of the frightening moments in your favorites (e.g., the wolf in Red Riding Hood, the potential fate of Hansel and Gretel, the poison apple in Snow White, the actions of The Pied Piper). Given what research has told us about the impact of media violence on kids, do you think the stories are OK? Why or why not?
- In theaters: December 11, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 3, 2019
- Cast: Alex Aguirre, Marick Dacanay, Janice Racelis
- Director: Jacob Ley
- Studio: Tricoast Worldwide
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Holidays, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 81 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: December 17, 2019
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