Disney+'s Christmas Movie 'Noelle' Is a Big Lump of Coal

Anna Kendrick | Disney+
Anna Kendrick | Disney+

To discuss Noelle, the Christmas comedy that dropped on Disney+'s launch day, I must first address the reindeer. These obviously fake beasts seem truly cursed, what with their dead-eyes and janky, abnormal movements. Even Snowcone, the ostensibly cute baby one, flies around like a demon possessed. (Black Phillip, is that you?) It speaks to the bizarre quality-level of Noelle, a movie that was initially supposed to debut in theaters, but instead landed on the streaming service.

On one hand, it boasts a buzzy cast -- Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Billy Eichner, Shirley MacLaine, etc.-- worthy of a major theatrical release, but it looks and plays like utter schlock, packed with cringeworthy jokes and unsubtle product placement. If you were hoping that Disney+'s original holiday fare would aspire to the same level of corniness as Netflix's, then you are in luck. If you were not -- well, sorry, Snowcone.

bill hader
"I'm an Emmy winner." | Disney+

Written and directed by Marc Lawrence -- once one of Hollywood's go-to guys for studio comedies like Miss Congeniality and Two Weeks Notice -- Noelle is an all-too familiar tale of "what if Santa was indisposed?" In this universe, Christmas is essentially a monarchy, where the honorific of Santa is passed down to the male members of the Kringle family. When the current Santa dies, his son Nick (Hader) must take reluctantly take over. But Santa has a daughter too: Noelle, played by Anna Kendrick. 

Apparently, the North Pole is a patriarchal society, where everyone seems to have a vital role except for Noelle, whose only responsibility is to cheer her brother up with sparkly cards and hot chocolate. Turns out that's more necessary than ever considering Nick is a terrible Santa, who eventually takes his sister's advice about rest and relaxation a little too literally and decamps for Phoenix, Arizona.

That reindeer is haunted, sorry. | Disney+

So Noelle, accompanied by her nanny Elf Polly (the great Shirley MacLaine, here for some reason), takes the reindeer and flies to the sunny southwest. Shamelessly stealing from the likes of Elf, Noelle becomes a fish-out-of-water comedy. Though the initial scenes had established the elves and Kringles as being fairly in touch with the world at-large -- they get magazines delivered! -- Noelle is baffled when she touches down in Arizona and concepts like "sunscreen" and "money" are foreign to her. She eventually enlists a handsome single dad P.I. (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to help find Nick, bringing a little holiday spirit into this world as well.  

You won't be surprised to learn that Noelle goes exactly where you'd expect it to. In the end, a woman can embody the spirit of Santa Claus. But predictability isn't really the issue here. (When has a Christmas movie ever been truly unpredictable?) It's that Marc Lawrence can't seem to wrestle a single good performance out of his very talented cast. Kendrick fares the best given that her excessive good cheer cuts through the utter lameness of her dialogue. But Hader, one of the best comedic actors working today, does half-hearted, dull work as Nick. Even Billy Eichner seems muted as Gabriel Kringle, a tech nerd cousin who wants to digitize the naughty or nice list.

It's the cynicism of the whole enterprise that really is its downfall, however. Noelle gets to all the traditional Christmas hokum about loving your neighbor and whatnot, but along the way it also cracks jokes about how every kid just wants an iPad and stages a scene with a large Taco Bell logo in the background. It doesn't even match the charming insanity of the budding Vanessa Hudgens cinematic universe. No one's shocked that Disney has made something that tries to meld genuine wonder with good old fashioned capitalism -- it's basically the company's mission statement -- but it curdles here to something decidedly unpleasant, like eggnog left out too long. Even the messed-up reindeer seem over it. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.