Christmas is coming to cinemas. The film adaptation of the Matt Haig novel marks the beginning of a whole series of holiday feature films A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS and brings a feeling of adventure to the contemplative time of the year. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: A Boy Called Christmas (UK/FR 2021)
The plot summary
Hard to believe, but true: Santa Claus wasn’t always a pot-bellied, gray-bearded man! He was once a little boy too – with big dreams! Eleven-year-old Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) grows up in humble circumstances in a small wooden hut in the middle of Finland. When his father Joel (Michiel Huisman) sets off to find the legendary village “Wichtelgrund”, the grumpy Aunt Carlotta (Kristen Wiig) takes over the care of the boy. But the longing for his father is so great that Nikolas sets off to the far north to look for him. An adventurous journey, surrounded by lots of snow, begins: Accompanied by his best friend, the mouse Miika, Nikolas not only meets a mysterious elf, an angry troll and real elves, but also a flying reindeer! His fantastic experiences give rise to a thought – what if he made the world a better place?
It’s a little surprising that it took until 2021 for someone to come up with the idea of adapting Matt Haig’s bestselling young adult book “A Boy Called Christmas.” Admittedly, the novel dates from 2016 – so only six years passed between the publication of the original and the screen adaptation. Nevertheless, filmmakers should have pounced on the material from the start, because as everyone knows, family-friendly films have a particularly easy time at the box office around the holidays. Especially since with “A Boy Called Christmas” you can be sure that there is a minimum quality; After all, his story was so well received that he wrote two more Christmas adventures in the following years (“The Girl Who Saved Christmas”, 2016 and “Me and Santa Claus”, 2017). The commitment of director Gil Keenan did not seem as obvious as the fact that the film adaptation of “A Boy Called Christmas” would be at least average given the original. The only contact with child-friendly entertainment was the 2006 animated film “Monster House”, where one can certainly question the extent to which the scary fairy tale is really suitable for giving young adolescents a relaxed evening at the cinema. This was followed by the fantasy adventure “City of Ember,” the underrated “Poltergeist” remake and an episode for the horror series “Scream.” This origin of the genre can also be noted in “A Boy Called Christmas”. But Keenan only uses it for a few exciting impulses to advance and spice up his otherwise family-friendly film.
Mouse Miika (USA voice: Sascha Grammel) in gingerbread happiness!
The trailer for “A Boy Called Christmas” advertises that the Christmas fairy tale is “from the makers of ‘Paddington’.” In fact, there are only a few familiar faces from the loving bear films in front of the camera – and the production studio is the same. So one could once again speak of PR-effective misleading. Nevertheless, one cannot really blame the end result for such a parallel being drawn here. The tone and staging are actually reminiscent of “Paddington” in their aim for an all-encompassing and yet only slightly constructed happy ending, although the adventure part in “A Boy Called Christmas” is much bigger and more exciting. However, that is also due to the story. Although the “Paddington” films are set in a very small, familial cosmos, the geographical dimensions of Gil Keenan’s adventure are larger. After all, “A Boy Called Christmas” is about a boy and his talking mouse who set out on an arduous journey that ends with the discovery of Christmas. The path through the snow-covered landscape, including some exciting encounters, but also a particularly emotional station, is almost like a shortened variation of a road movie. The pace is fast and something relevant to the plot happens on the screen in almost every scene. Da Keenan, who works with Ol Parker (“Mamma Mia 2: Here we go again”) Since he also wrote the script himself and speaks between events in the present and descriptions of past events, very young viewers might find it a little difficult to follow the story in detail.
“Because director Gil Keenan speaks between events in the present and descriptions of past events, very young viewers may find it a little difficult to follow the story in detail.”
However, this circumstance is not too dramatic. In addition to the main character’s motivation being easy to follow (a boy from a poor background wants to bring happiness and warm-heartedness back to his village and, ideally, also bag the reward offered by the king), “A Boy Named Christmas” also has enough surface stimuli, to ensure that children and families will be amazed. The endless expanses of the snow-covered landscapes (cameraman: Zac Nicholson, “David Copperfield – Once Rich and Back”) are likely to enchant especially adult film gourmets; for the little ones, “A Boy Called Christmas” has various fast-paced action scenes and four-legged sidekicks to offer. While the creatives actually managed to animate a reindeer that moves believably in the live-action film scenery (we remember, for example, “Ring 2” or “A Cure for Wellness” which showed: CGI animators still seem to have a lot of trouble with deer-like animals ), especially the talking mouse Miika, attracts everyone’s sympathy – and ensures that scenes that are too exciting quickly cool down again; for example through a cheeky saying from the cute four-legged friend, which is spoken in the original by Stephen Merchant and in USA by comedian Sascha Grammel.
Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) is amazed at the magical place Wichtelgrund that Father Topo (Toby Jones) and Little Nusch (Indica Watson) show him.
There are no major weaknesses in “A Boy Named Christmas”. However, the choice of focal points, which have a significant influence on the tonality of the film, is a little irritating. While the adventure part takes the longest time, the feeling of warmth typical of Christmas films only emerges when you arrive in the village of Wichtelgrund. And even here, it takes quite a while for Gil Keenan to switch from adventure mode to “we’re getting glowing in the face of magic” mode. “A Boy Called Christmas” also has a jolt because of a villain character, played by “Paddington” and “Shape of Water” face Sally Hawkins, who actually wasn’t needed for the story and the film, which is otherwise rather of exaggeration and quite comic-like secondary characters, takes a surprisingly dark direction. Gil Keenan just can’t completely shed his origins. Sally Hawkins is just as convincing in her role as all the other actors. Led by confident newcomer Henry Lawfull (“A Boy Called Christmas” is his first feature film) and completed by Kristen Wiig (“Ghostbusters – Answer the Call”)who gets to really turn it up as Nikolas’ cartoonish evil aunt – and keeps the good core of her character hidden for a long, long time until she reveals it in the finale with a tiny facial expression.
“While the adventure part takes the longest time, the feeling of warmth typical of Christmas films only emerges when you arrive in the village of Wichtelgrund. And even here, it takes a while for Gil Keenan to switch from adventure mode to ‘we’re getting glowing in the face of magic’ mode.”
The exact budget of “A Boy Called Christmas” is not (yet) known at this point. Nevertheless – also due to the cooperation with the streaming service Netflix – it can be assumed that the production will have cost a lot of money. Above all, the impeccable set design by Wichtelgrund and the at times extremely opulent imagery reveal the film to be truly grand cinema that even the much-quoted “Paddington” films cannot keep up with. But no matter how many millions the studio actually spent, the bottom line is that you can’t buy Christmas spirit. The film ultimately takes care of that all by itself.
Conclusion: Overall, “A Boy Called Christmas” is more of a wintry adventure than a classic Christmas film. In addition to its very high-quality production and well-known actors, it impresses above all with the fact that it ultimately creates the same cozy feeling that you would hope for from a Christmas fairy tale. Even if director Gil Keenan can never completely shed his genre roots.
“A Boy Called Christmas” can be seen in USA cinemas from November 18, 2021.