Disney+'s Noelle, starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader, is one of the streaming service's first original movies, but reviews have been decidedly mixed. After a couple of bumps, Disney finally launched its streaming service in North America. Disney+ comes with a hefty set of expectations on its shoulder, with many predicting that it could provide Netflix, the undisputed king of streaming, with its first true market threat.
Of course, in addition to containing a vast library of movies and TV shows, much of Disney+'s allure comes from its slate of new properties. Launching with The Mandalorian nabbed in plenty of Star Wars fans, and Lady and the Tramp did the same for animated viewers who wanted to see what the live-action adaptation would be like. On top those, there's Noelle, which is unfortunately a title that's slipping with its reviews. Written and directed by Mark Lawrence, Noelle stars Anna Kendrick as the eponymous heroine, the daughter of Santa Claus and sister of Nick (played by Bill Hader). After Santa passes on and Nick is tasked with taking over the family business, he freaks out over the pressure of his new role and abandons the job, which leaves Noelle to deal with his mess and their inept cousin Gabriel (Billy Eichner) to keep the North Pole together in the meantime.
Given how heavily reliant Disney has become on pre-existing intellectual properties and the nostalgia of their own back-catalog, Noelle offers a refreshing and original addition to the slate of the company's output and its streaming service. However, Noelle reviews haven't been especially enthusiastic. Noelle currently has a rating of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on an admittedly small pool of 15 reviews. It's not necessarily hated but the general consensus has been one of vague apathy more than anything else, with Noelle being described as not charming enough to pull off its central concept. While Kendrick and Hader, two very charismatic on-screen presences, are praised for doing what they can with the material, Noelle has mostly been seen as a disposable viewing experience. Here's what the mixed reviews have to say.
Emily VanDerWerff - Vox
"This movie is kind of the height of Disney’s “girls can be anything, just so long as it’s capitalist!” approach to storytelling in the 2010s. But Kendrick and some cute visuals go further to convey this idea sans any sort of self-criticism than it probably deserves. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for Anna Kendrick’s enormous “grin and bear it” energy. Who can say?"
Kate Erbland - IndieWire
"Beyond Kendrick, however, all these marquee stars are wasted in a sloppy, confusing family comedy that appears ripped right out the third week of the Hallmark Channel’s limp holiday movie lineup. If this is the quality audiences are to expect from this new run of Disney films, the streaming wars are going to be very dark indeed."
Gwen Inhat - AV Club
"But all of this doesn’t add up to the warm alchemy of a Christmas classic, or a holiday movie you’d go out of your way to watch more than once, even if it is streaming. Noelle has a few of those peppermint hot chocolate moments, but thanks to its bizarre warm-weather detour and wasting of a stellar cast, it just barely makes the nice list."
John DeFore - THR
"As he sends his innocent heroine into our fallen world, Lawrence starts swiping shamelessly from Elf: Noelle is deeply offended by fake Santas on the street; tries to warn bystanders away after tasting an alcoholic cocktail that isn't the frothy dessert she expected; and licks sunscreen out of her palm, responding with exaggerated disgust. Kendrick nails the physical-comedy side of these gags, but the film's attempt to replicate Will Ferrell's fish-out-of-water voyage is a flop — as slapdash as its generic vision of North Pole decor and the cheap-looking CGI of its flying reindeer."
Julian Roman - MovieWeb
"A bursting with charm Anna Kendrick is delightful, but not enough to make Noelle anything more than a silly Hallmark-esque movie. Noelle's message of equality and kindness during the holidays is commendable. But a plodding script, boring supporting characters, and lack of creativity take the spice out of the eggnog."
Kirsten Acuna - Insider
"The service's second original movie after "Lady and the Tramp" also plays like a predictable straight-to-video film that simply wasn't good enough for a theatrical release [...] Though "Noelle" sends the message that anyone can be Santa with a sweet Kendrick, it won't be a film you're coming back to over and over again."
For the critics who were warmer on the movie, the thing that elevated Noelle out of the ranks of mediocrity was the glowing and endlessly amiable performance of Anna Kendrick, as well as the film’s attempt at a sweet, if somewhat trite, message of equality. Here’s what those somewhat more positive Noelle reviews had to say.
Matt Fowler - IGN
"The movie's messaging is decent and plain enough. It's a feel-good fable in which not only does Noelle, yes, brighten the lives of the grumpy lost souls she encounters but she also, in turn, realizes that Christmas isn't always a happy time for a lot of people. Not because those folks are inherently Grinch-y, but because the holiday can be a harsh reminder of crucial things that are lacking in a person's life. It's actually not a bad takeaway for a film that doesn't quite measure up as an instant holiday classic."
Nick Allen - RogerEbert.com
""Noelle" is more about the victory lap in the third act, which layers its warm spirit with the touching image of a conservative community embracing that, yes, “traditions change.” It’s the kind of premise that you wish the movie had started from, but as a type of origins tale “Noelle” has plenty of charm—the kind that makes a Christmas story not just simply amiable, but worth a look."
Anna Menta - Decider
"I really do have to shout out Kendrick for her laugh-out-loud performance as Noelle. Only Kendrick’s flawless delivery could surprise a laugh out of me by saying “Ho ho ho” instead of “Ha ha ha”—one of the oldest Christmas movie jokes in the book. Time and time again she elevates the script with her charm, proving that her moment as a star is far from over."
Overall, Disney+'s Noelle seems to be an easy-to-watch movie at home, but perhaps not something that would've been great on the big screen. Still, watching a brand-new holiday film during the holidays isn't necessarily a bad thing.
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