A Boy Called Christmas review: A cynical Santa origin story delivered with surprising heart

Dir: Gil Kenan. Starring: Henry Lawfull, Toby Jones, Sally Hawkins, Kristen Wiig, Michiel Huisman, Zoe Colletti. PG, 106 minutes.

Hollywood’s fixation on origin stories has robbed it of its wonder. There is no room for the unknown, now that the unknown is merely a bleak opportunity for a three-picture deal and accompanying merchandise line. How odd is a film like A Boy Called Christmas, then, which attempts to do for Santa Claus what Solo: A Star Wars Story did for the franchise’s favourite intergalactic rogue – all while trying to preach the message that simply believing in something is all you need for it to become real? Shouldn’t that extend to the notion that Santa probably didn’t magically spring out of the Earth one day?

Granted, director Gil Kenan didn’t come up with the idea himself. He’s working, alongside co-writer Ol Parker, from the pages of Matt Haig’s popular 2015 children’s novel. And Haig, in his work both catered to adults and kids, has always demonstrated a keen eye for the inescapable cycles of loss and grief. Even when his worlds might be bursting at the seams with magic, there are some things his characters can never escape or simply wish away. A Boy Called Christmas, as trite as its concept may sound on paper, shares those same concerns. And it’s surprising how much the film can flit between clangingly obvious bits of exposition – aha! The source of the floppy red hat! A reindeer that happens to be named Blitzen! – and more mature perspectives on the holidays.

You can easily picture a group of over-caffeinated writers pitching this plot to each other in a sterile, LA conference room: Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) is a sad little boy living in the woods with his very sad father (Michiel Huisman, carrying over his best forlorn expression from Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House). The family matriarch was killed by a bear – apparently the norm in Finland – and now their only hope of a better life is to bring the king proof of the existence of elves. Nikolas is left under the care of his wicked aunt Carlotta (Kristen Wiig, whose bedraggled performance goes full “Master of the House”) while his father ventures out. His only companions are a turnip doll and a field mouse called Miika that he’s convinced he can train to speak. It’s a rather pathetic existence – until a sudden discovery puts the boy on a path to reunite with his father and discover the elf kingdom himself.

A Boy Called Christmas is framed as a bedtime story, relayed by Maggie Smith’s reliably crabby Aunt Ruth to three wide-eyed children on Christmas Eve. Their mother has also passed and their father (an amiable Joel Fry) is struggling to keep the holiday spirit alive. Occasionally, the children will interrupt the narrative, largely so that Ruth can sass them with that razor-sharp tongue Smith has become so famous for.

The cast features a handful of national treasures hamming it up as they should, including Toby Jones in pointy ears

Kenan has done a better job here of mining the comforts of childhood nostalgia than he did on the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which he co-wrote. Despite the shallow, superficial nods to the iconography of Christmas (even crackers get their own, pointless backstory), the overall look of the film feels rigorously traditional. Dario Marianelli’s soundtrack is rich and elegant in tone. The costume designs are partly inspired by the traditions of the indigenous Sámi people of northern Scandinavia And the cast features a handful of national treasures hamming it up as they should: Jim Broadbent with a powdered wig balanced precariously on his head; Toby Jones in pointy ears; and Sally Hawkins giving her best Wicked Witch of the East as a dictatorial elf named Mother Vodal. You do spend a good chunk of the running time in abject horror that, when the mouse finally opens its mouth to talk, out will pop the voice of James Corden. But, instead, it’s Stephen Merchant, who lends a nice bit of edge to Miika’s steady stream of quips. That does appear to be the lesson A Boy Called Christmas wants to teach us, at the end of the day – be thankful for small miracles.


Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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