Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let's Review a Movie: Noel (1992)



A television Christmas special released in early 90’s, and narrated by Charlton Heston of all people.


This made for television movie tells the story of Noel, a Christmas ornament that has a happiness.  It opens as Herman the glass blower receives news that he has become a grandfather, he cries at the news and his happiness becomes part of Noel, the glass ornament he is making.  I have to say that I like that this special opened with the music of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', because the Christ story will be one of the themes of the movie.  This is shown in how Herman’s happiness becomes part of Noel, in essence giving him a soul. 

Then Noel meets Ms. Freezenda, who will be the literal ice queen of the story, though not a villain this story doesn’t have one, and becomes part of a dozen that are put up for sale at the Five and Ten cent store.  And considering the dozen ornaments are being sold for a dollar, thus more than the advertised price given the name of the store, it’s just like being in a modern day dollar store. 

Now having Christmas be seen through the point of view of an ornament is interesting, but I don’t get why Noel is the only one who doesn’t know anything about the world and all the other ornaments, which were made at the same time, do.  A reference to childhood innocence at Christmas perhaps?  If it is then they did a good job of capturing both Noel’s childlike excitement and the minor annoyance of having to answer a hundred and one questions about everything.      

Another interesting thing I spotted in my latest viewing is something that makes this Christmas special unique among those that I’ve watched in my life.  This is the only one I’ve ever seen that dispels the Santa Claus myth.  They don’t come right out and say he doesn’t exist, but the children, voiced by bad actors, do talk about him.  After he is mentioned though the audience is shown that the parents are the ones who decorate the tree, and put out the presents, the train, and the toy stable; making it clear that they play the role of Santa to the children, just as their parents did before them.

Actually considering this is a story about a Christmas ornament there’s actually a lot of dark undertones in here, like the fact that children grow up and live lives of their own, that people grow old and die, and that life changes as a result of all that.  Then as I mentioned there is the whole birth of Jesus theme.  After the one family grows up and the parents die a new family moves into the house and puts Noel on their tree.  Because he is now a decades old ornament he falls off the tree and breaks, but when he does he is able to see inside the toy stable that was under the tree, and that he was told was the meaning of Christmas.  When he does he sees the figurines in the stable and that happiness that he had in him is what he becomes.  It’s a metaphor for the rebirth of the spirit from the death of the body.  That through Jesus we are granted eternal life.  Deep for a children’s movie isn’t it?

But then comes the ending.

Oh, we were doing so well up to that point and then I think it completely goes to crap.  The animation for the film while it was not perfect it was at least consistent and the transitions, where the images looked like pictures from a story book, were very nice looking.  With the ending the animation switches over abruptly to show over-sized children, in stereotypical outfits, standing on the world, and Noel looking like a deformed sun as he rises up behind him.  We get told that Noel becomes the pure joy of Christmas, living on in the hearts of all mankind, even though we were also told two seconds before that there are those in the world who don’t celebrate Christmas.  Showing how Noel is now an expy for Jesus and honestly I think it’s anvilicious and mildly creepy.  For the whole rest of movie it was nice and subtle.  The audience is told that the stable with people in it, a reference to Jesus’ birth, is what Christmas is all about, whether we agree with that or not.  That the warmth and happiness of the season always goes on, and then the audience gets dumped all that in weird rhyming dialogue at the end and it jolts me right out of the movie.  Really it’s like getting a burnt piece of chocolate for dessert after a perfectly cooked dinner.

To sum it all up the film is still quite good over all.  The animation is okay by television standards.  While character designs were clearly reused and some of the mouth movements don’t match the dialogue, the colours have a nice Christmas feel and the movements are pretty realistic.  Heston is a surprisingly good narrator, the actor playing Noel is very good, and the rest of the voice acting is a mixed bag.  The child actors I’m sorry to say are all grating, but the adult voices are far more bearable and distinct.  The story was creative, the music was well placed, and there were some interesting themes and ideas explored in something that’s not even half an hour long.  The ending is really the only part where I feel the film really falls flat and so I recommend watching until the point where Noel is put on the tree by the new family and calling that the ending.  I personally enjoy the message of enjoying Christmas with friends and family, and remembering that the joy of the season lives on as the take away thought for the Christmas season, rather than Noel as the giant spirit of Christmas looking like a big red bubble over the world. 

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