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Keeping it Reel: Dissecting Netflix’s holiday-themed films and shows

By Paul Hsiao 9 December 2019

Header image courtesy of Brooke Palmer / Netflix

With Christmas right around the corner, Localiiz has got your back with honest, bite-sized reviews of all of Netflix’s major holiday-themed offerings. Paul Hsiao, chart maker and film enthusiast at Movieconomist, gives us his ratings out of five snowflakes (*****) and non-Netflix Christmas options you should watch instead.

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Klaus

In a beautifully-animated and lighthearted tale, J.K. Simmons (a.k.a. J. Jonah Jameson) brings new life to a Santa origin story. Yes, did you know that Santa was a reclusive carpenter before metamorphosing into his final form that travels international time zones at superspeed one night a year? And that some of the lore we most associate with him—his love for milk and cookies, the ability to fit down chimneys, and the naughty list, for example—was actually dreamt up by a self-serving postman who is trying to reverse his banishment to the far ends of the world?

The plot of Klaus sounds banal at first, but it’s actually a lot better than we expected. Think of the film as a warm cup of hot cocoa on an especially chilly Christmas Eve.

Rating: *****

Watch also: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1991) for a Tim Burton-esque twist on the holiday season.

Let it Snow

Confession: I read one book in 2018 and it was Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before because I saw the Netflix adaptation during the typhoon Mangkhut weekend and was surprised by how good the film was.

The premise is this: a snowstorm hits a small town in the Midwest on Christmas Eve, bringing together a group of high school students who find their friendships and love lives colliding. And while not quite up to the quality of other romantic comedies, Let it Snow hums along as another vehicle for Kiernan Shipka’s dominance of Netflix’s young adult offerings.

Rating: ****

Watch instead: Love, Actually (2001) for the OG version of ensemble Christmas rom-coms.

Holiday Rush

Just like a half-baked apple pie, Holiday Rush is a saccharine Christmas treat that lacks the polish to elevate the film into something above its generic straight-to-stream compatriots. It does, however, feature an earnest performance from Romany Malco as a New York-based DJ who loses his job. With four spoiled children in tow, he moves in with his aunt and is forced to teach his kids the true meaning of Christmas.

Rating: **

Watch instead: Pursuit of Happyness (2006) or Liar Liar (1997), both of which show fathers going the extra step for their children.

Continue your television journey

The Knight Before Christmas

Netflix’s joyless annual gift to Vanessa Hudgens fans everywhere lands with a lacklustre thud. I imagine the pitch meeting for this movie centred around insipid writers wondering, “What if the saying ‘the night before Christmas’ had an extra letter in it?”

The premise is as ridiculous as it sounds. A love-sick teacher—played by Hudgens—who yearns for chivalric men gets her wish when a medieval knight crosses time and space to drop into modern-day suburban America during Christmas time. Yep, right at her feet. Come one, come all for another edition of the extended Hudgens-verse that is as creatively bankrupt as off-brand holiday cards.

Rating: **

Watch instead: Kate & Leopold (2001). Hugh Jackman has more charisma in his elbow than the generic and forgettable actor who plays the eponymous knight.

Holiday in the Wild

The Netflix Christmas film looks like it was made for the very specific demographic of your single aunt who decided to “take some time for herself” this holiday season. Kristin Davis plays a middle-aged woman who takes a trip to Zambia when her son goes to college and finds love through Rob Lowe’s sexy pilot-cum-baby elephant rescuer. Holiday in the Wild isn’t entirely offensive per se, but the best parts of the film featuring adorable elephants can be gleaned from a quick search on YouTube.

Rating: **

Watch instead: A Very Murray Christmas (2015) for a cocktail-filled musical romp geared toward an older audience. Oh, and it’s got Bill Murray in it, too.

A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish

After the likes of The Knight Before Christmas, I thought this Christmas offering on Netflix would be about a medieval Cinderella who finds herself time travelling to the future to take Santa as her prom date. I was wrong. In fact, this film is actually the fifth (!) instalment of the Cinderella franchise that started all the way back in 2004 with Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray (you may or may not remember him from One Tree Hill).

This version of the Cinderella tale focuses in on Kat Decker, a down-on-her-luck songwriter with a stepmother and evil stepsisters. When she starts a new job to help her dreams come true, she starts getting the hots for a theme park Santa. I think a better title for the film should be: A Cinderella Story: Christmas-ish.

Rating: *

Watch instead: Elf (2003) for a film that’s actually funny, also featuring an elf in the form of Will Ferrell, who is joined by another musically-inclined retail elf played by Zooey Deschanel.

Merry Happy Whatever

And we’ve left the worst for last—hooray! Never before have I seen a sitcom that fully epitomised the term ‘basic’. In a family-oriented series likely geared towards viewers in America’s heartland, Merry Happy Whatever is a humourless take on the anxiety that many feel when visiting your future in-laws during a holiday season.

Set during the happy but hectic days before and after Christmas, Merry Happy Whatever follows a strong-willed patriarch who does his best to balance the stress of the holidays with the demands of his close-knit but eclectic family, but struggles to warm up to his youngest daughter’s partner, whom she brings home for Christmas.

Starring Dennis Quaid, a man who is engaged to someone younger than actress Ashely Tisdale (who plays his daughter in the series), the only notable feature of this Christmas series on Netflix is that the creators managed to extend a Saturday Night Live-skit premise into one season of a sitcom.

Rating: *

Watch instead: Anything. Seriously, anything.

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Paul Hsiao

Movieconomist

Paul, the founder of Movieconomist, likes to watch movies and make graphs. He also writes a monthly column on Localiiz about new Netflix releases and is a Community Leader for Finimize. His writing has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Asia Investor, and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He also spends a great deal of time playing squash.

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