Holiday Watch: Northpole

"Northpole" Hallmark ChannelAt Northpole, elves are worried — everyone from young Clementine to not-currently-as-jolly-as-he-should-be Santa — as the Northern Lights are acting all wonky. In the mundane world, Single mom Chelsea frets as her son Kevin hasn’t yet made friends in his new school, and because her editor has assigned her to write a story about why the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting has been cancelled.

Turns out, Kevin (Max Charles) is about to make a new friend in Clementine (Bailee Madison), who contacts him first via Northpolar two-way microphone, and later in person (after “borrowing” one of Santa’s reindeer). She helps to push him in the direction of bringing Christmas spirit to his new town before it’s too late for Northpole. To show him how dire the situation is, she brings him to Northpole where he gets a crash course in what’s going on and ends up meeting both Mr. and Mrs. Claus (Robert Wagner and Jill St. John).

Chelsea’s (Tiffani Thiessen) fretting has brought her in contact with Kevin’s somewhat eccentric teacher Ryan (Josh Hopkins), as well as the town’s mayor as well as the scoundrel who seems to be planning to plow under the skating rink and Christmas tree area in favor of building some condos. So…she’s battling city hall, a developer, trying to keep Kevin from going on some fantastical crusade, and falling deeply in like with Ryan.

It turns out that the story Chelsea filed was inaccurate — largely due to the lack of forthrightness from the mayor and the developer. Also, it looks like Clementine’s mission has failed and Northpole is doomed. But wait…Chelsea’s hastily filed new story was picked up by the wire services and has gone viral. This leads to renewed Christmas spirit, which saves Northpole just in time for Santa to take to the skies to do his Santa-ing.

I felt that Northpole was desperately trying to be better than it turned out to be. It’s somewhat hampered by well-worn tropes and fairly conservative writing and acting. It wasn’t until about twenty minutes in that we got Clementine’s very necessary exposition to know what exactly was going on and how the plots would fit together. Until then, we just know that something is wrong at Northpole, and that Kevin and his mom are the proverbial new kids in school.

By and large, the movie follows the fairly predictable formula of cajoling people to believe in Christmas in order to save Santa and the elves. But all of the various arcs never quite meshed emotionally through the bulk of the story. Kevin and Clementine were earnest (like Kevin in Home Alone), Chelsea was the non-believing mom (a la Doris in Miracle on 34th Street), and the mayor and developer came off like bah-humbug-y Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful LIfe. Separately, they made sense, but stirred together it felt like more than one movie was going on.

I do want to give praise to Bailee Madison as Clementine. She rose above the material and was the engine who infused the movie with the most life, which isn’t surprising given her resume. Max Charles (Kevin) did well with matching her enthusiasm. They are definitely the bright spots, here.

On the flip side, I was disappointed with Robert Wagner’s Santa. Maybe it was the distinctive voice, but I never got past feeling it was just a guy in a fake beard. Honestly…it felt phoned in. Between Clementine’s arc and Santa’s appearances, we have Chelsea’s stories — which weren’t particularly notable except that they moved Kevin/Clementine’s plot forward.

The reveals and climaxes of the various arcs were fairly satisfying. The town came together, there was a heartfelt revelation, the obligatory kiss, Clementine left happy, Northpole was saved.

Despite the nice SFX, I found Northpole to be underwhelming. In large part, I blame an uninspired script. The actors, especially Ms Madison, did what they could with it (mostly), but to have them make it into something memorable was asking too much. This is one of those bubble films where, frankly, I’m sort of on the fence about it overall. I appreciate the effort, but the execution, I felt, was off. Do the good points outweigh the iffy ones? I’ll have to leave that to the viewer, but for me, they didn’t.

3 of 5 

For more movies, go to the list at: Watching the Holiday Movies

Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Jan Thijs

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