Film Review – A Boy Called Christmas (2021)

In our superhero dominated cinematic world, everybody has an origins story – and that applies just as much to the generous giver of gifts with the flying reindeer and the most distinctive of uniforms as to anybody from the worlds of Marvel or DC. Although, in Gil Kenan’s A Boy Called Christmas, the young Santa (the name comes later) starts out blissfully ignorant of the best day of the year.

It’s Kenan’s second film in a fortnight – he co-wrote Ghostbusters:Afterlife along with Jason Reitman – and, once again, he’s giving us a new spin on a familiar legend. This time, however, his source material is the best seller of the same name by Matt Haig. In a story told to a trio of reluctant children by Aunt Ruth (Maggie Smith), Nikolas (newcomer Henry Lawfull) lives in Finland with his father (Michiel Huisman) who sets off on a quest to the Far North when the King (Jim Broadbent) promises a reward to anybody who can bring hope to his dejected domain. Left alone, Nikolas decides to follow his father and search for the mythical village of Elfhelm, where elves reside. And where Christmas is already a much loved tradition.

Not that we didn’t know it’s the most special day of the year but, if we were in any doubt, the film shamelessly hammers the message home with the subtlety of a festive cracker. It’s not the most original of Christmas movies, nor the most engaging, but as family entertainment for cosy afternoons goes, it happily fits the bill. Its tick-box approach to squeezing in as many Christmas traditions as possible into Nikolas’ adventure – including a floppy red and white hat and a solitary flying reindeer called Blitzen – starts to pall as the story moves along, but some inevitably beautiful snow covered landscapes and a CGI mouse called Miika with a very familiar voice (it belongs to Stephen Merchant) help lessen that feeling of going through the motions.

Aside from Lawfull, who is appealingly wide-eyed in the title role, the cast is packed with familiar faces – national treasures, even. Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Toby Jones and Sally Hawkins, who plays against type, are all there but none of them are especially stretched by their roles. On the plus side, though, the ease with which they play their roles is as comforting as the rest of the film. It’s just a shame that the comic talents of Kristen Wiig are wasted in a small role which has the potential to be something more and better, and Merchant’s distinctive tones aren’t always well served by a script that needs more pithy one liners.

Warm hearted and an easy choice for a chilly afternoon, A Boy Called Christmas plays it so safe that it ends up being pleasant but unremarkable. More importantly, it’s short on the essential magic that goes with both the season and Santa himself.

★★ 1/2

Adventure, Family | Cert: PG | Sky Cinema and cinemas, 26 November 2021 | Dir. Gil Kenan | Henry Lawfull, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, Toby Jones, Sally Hawkins, Michiel Huisman, Kristen Wiig.