A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS made for a neat 2021 addition to the holiday genre, this time out not a dysfunctional family hashing multiple issues over dinner, but a Santa origin fantasy, complete with a 13-year-old, pre-saint Nick, craft-carving elves and the introduction of Blitzen, herein taking movie lore honor as the first tamed member of the traveling toy team. Since it’s a fantasy tale, set in Old Northern Europe, most of the actors are British and all the kids have English accents. Because that’s, like, a Rule.
‘Aunt Ruth’ (Maggie Smith, 86 and right at it) tells a story to three kids on Christmas Eve. It seems that “there once was” a king whose subjects needed hope, in the manner of an object that a group of hunters set out to find in far-off ‘Elfhelm’. Left behind with a hag of an aunt, young ‘Nikolas’ (Henry Lawfull) takes off, pet mouse in tow, to follow his father, one of the group who left on the quest. Nikolas finds more than he sought, encountering a hardy reindeer, helpful elves, an angry lady elf who runs things, a lunch-ready troll, and a destructively helpful pixie.
Swell cast, an imaginative look (kudos to Production Designer Gary Williamson), and Gil Kenan directed with flair, delivering a fun family picture with zippy action (mercifully not overdone), sentiment (just enough) and mirth (mostly in the form of asides that are clever instead of screenplay-school obvious). The script from Ol Parker and director Kenan was off a book of the same name by Matt Haig. Dropped in among the fun stuff is the universal and telling observation “Grief is the price we pay for love, and worth it a million times over.”
Young Master Lawfull, 15, has the requisite innocent look and precise diction demanded by such dreamscape fabric (did he borrow his eyes from Emma Stone?) and his feature debut (he had a small part three years earlier in the BBC TV mini-series of Les Misérables) indicates promise. Besides Dame Smith, able hands include Toby Jones, Jim Broadbent and Kristen Wiig (playing mean as ‘Aunt Carlotta’). The two performances that really stand out and give the movie extra perk come from the great Sally Hawkins, burning with zeal and brimming with hurt as ‘Mother Vodor’, and Zoe Colleti, as the manically mischievous ‘Truth Pixie’. Both actresses are garbed and made up accordingly, but Miss Colleti has only her face and talent on view, the rest of her pixonage rendered in CGI. *
Filming was accomplished in England, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Finland (in Lapland). 106 minutes, which of course includes the credit crawl listing half the people between Prague and Helsinki. With Rune Temte, Joel Fry and Indica Watson. Stephen Merchant voiced ‘Miika the Mouse’.
* You’d never know from the makeup, the CGI and her performance, but Zoe Colleti was 20 here. So how old are pixies, anyway? This brings back the old Crush on Tinkerbelle dilemma. Yes, Judgmena, that’s a feeble joke, but what’s really hilarious are all the dead-serious online discussions and diatribes about the sexualizing of cartoon and fantasy characters, mainly but not exclusively women, and often including non-human creatures. Given that the people-parboiled planet is about to sweep us all into the cosmic dustbin, this battle over proper princess cleavage is certainly the paramount peril to tackle. Too many p’s? Darn pixies…