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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Takeaways for school-age kids will revolve around positive lessons of believing in yourself, not judging a book by its cover, treating others kindly, valuing human connections over material possessions.
Christmas is about giving rather than getting, and we can extend the Christmas spirit throughout the year by being kind and thoughtful with loved ones and strangers alike. Traditions, even Santa's gender, can change. Family is a priority. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone, especially kids, should be forgiven for those mistakes. Believe in yourself and follow your own destiny.
Positive Role Models
Despite regularly sarcastic tones and mostly innocent errors, Santa's grown children, loyal elves, and assistants ultimately just want to bring joy to the world. Noelle is kindness embodied. Humans that Noelle and Nick encounter in Phoenix are mostly good people trying to get by in a sometimes cruel and lonely world.
Violence & Scariness
Some out-of-control sleigh rides and falling down chimneys take place as Noelle and Nick learn their craft. Noelle's pet reindeer baby has some harmless accidents.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
The mall manager has a crush on a Petco employee and extends an innocent hug with him.
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Characters insert holiday-themed words into exclamations and arguments, like "Oh my garland," "Thank garland," "Stocking half empty," and "You better not pout, you better not cry."
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Products & Purchases
Characters, including Santa's daughter early on, are confused about the true meaning of Christmas revolving around receiving the perfect gift. Stores at a mall include Cole Haan, Tommy Hilfiger, Petco, Saks Fifth Avenue, Taco Bell, Sunglass Hut, Old Navy, Supercuts, Michael Kors. A running joke involves every kid wanting an iPad for Christmas. Other brands seen or mentioned: Cheerios, Ford, Volvo, George Foreman Grill, My Little Pony, Phoenix Suns, Arizona State, Travel & Leisure magazine, Men's Health magazine, Amazon Prime.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Noelle is appropriate for the whole family but will likely appeal most to grade-schoolers, who are likely to feel the most connection with its holiday-spirit messages, storylines, and humor, as well as with star Anna Kendrick. Younger viewers might be less interested in the central storyline of Noelle's brother, a young man who runs away because he feels trapped by an inherited profession. His newfound yoga vocation could also stretch past their interest zone. But tween audiences will enjoy the empowering tale of a daughter perennially overlooked for a position she turns out to be the most qualified for. The subplots of kids being deemed naughty or nice and families seeking togetherness and well-being over material possessions offer positive messages for all ages. The main characters encounter some complexities of American life like homelessness, divorce, and loneliness. Language, sexual content, and violence are essentially absent, but brand names are rampant (this is a Christmas movie, after all). Note: There are references to Santa potentially not being real and a kid who doesn't believe in Santa. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This takes the formula for a feel-good holiday movie and throws in a few twists, including a gender role reversal, some modern humor, foot-tapping tunes, and updated versions of the North Pole. Older audiences may get a chuckle from jokes about delivering presents by drone and Amazon Prime, adjusting algorithms to track kids' online habits to determine their naughtiness, and the appearance of a typically droll Shirley MacLaine. There are also a couple of nods to non-Christians, potentially as outreach to wider audiences, including a line Noelle delivers that "Christmas is like sushi: The Japanese invented it but now everybody loves it."
That may be true, but as with sushi lovers, film fans notice the imperfections, and Noelle stumbles in a few places. An intro of the Kringle family when the siblings were kids feels unnecessary and contributes to a slightly long runtime. CGI creatures -- reindeer and puffins -- are somewhat out of place in this ultimately human tale. A running reference to Noelle as a "princess" threatens to subvert the feminist storyline. Comparisons to Elf (another North Pole creature-meets-world tale) will be inevitable, and while Kendrick's Noelle is sweeter, she's not quite as funny. Still, Christmas is about setting aside petty complaints and -- as Noelle and Polly remind us in final scenes -- finding hope, inspiration, and joy in the holiday spirit.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.