Genius Products // 2008 // 81 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // November 5th, 2008
The Only Thing He Wants For Christmas Is To Fly!
Billed as "An All-New Holiday Movie About Santa And His Little Helpers!," The Flight Before Christmas isn't quite the movie it would have you believe. But that's not necessarily such a bad thing...
Regaled by stories of his father's exploits in Santa's Flying Forces, Niko is a young reindeer aching to prove himself to the dad he has never met. Aided by Julius, a flying squirrel who acts as a father figure to the youngster, Niko spends his days trying desperately to fly. One day, against Julius's wishes, Niko leaves the safety of Home Valley and heads out to Antlers Hill to learn how to fly. While outside the safety of his home, Niko attracts the attention of a wolf who follows the young reindeer home and attacks the herd.
With their home no longer safe and having suffered casualties, Niko and his herd head out in search of sanctuary. Having been the cause of the attack, a guilt-ridden Niko (followed by Julius) leaves the herd in search of his father and his dream to be a member of Santa's Flying Forces. But it's not long before the wolves, lead by the sinister black wolf, are once again on the trail of Niko and, upon learning of his plan to find Santa's fell, hatch a plan to kill both Santa and his flying reindeer.
Niko, Julius, and their new friend Wilma, a singing weasel, soon find themselves on an adventure to save Christmas and learn the importance of self-belief.
While I'm certainly no Grinch, I definitely approach most Christmas movies with an air of caution. Every year without fail, multiplexes and DVD stores are overrun with new releases that, with little exception, fail miserably to capture the spirit of the season. Who can forget such duds as Jingle all the Way or The Santa Clause 3? However, the reward for those films that do get it right is nothing short of immortality, destined to be watched year after year, either on DVD or reruns on TV.
Throwing its hat into the ring this year is The Flight Before Christmas. If I were a betting man, I'd have put money on it being a total misfire. Just a scan of the synopsis was enough for me to write it off as sappy garbage. So, with low expectations, I sat down for what I assumed would be 80 minutes of hell. Initially the film played out pretty much as I expected, with Niko quickly going from hero to zero, before setting out on the path of redemption. The story was so obvious I could have turned it off after 10 minutes and still have written an accurate account of what transpires.
Apart from being totally unprofessional, turning off The Flight Before Christmas at that point would have meant missing out on a surprisingly entertaining movie, one blessed with a lot of heart. There's barely an ounce of originality to be found here; the plot is derivative of so many Disney/Pixar movies that pretty much anyone can guess how things will end up, and yet only the most cynical could fail to fall for its charms.
Niko, the inquisitive young reindeer, is a totally agreeable character. Though perhaps the naïve star of the movie would have started to grate a little, had it not been for the film's venture into darker territory. That's right. As with all great children's stories, The Flight Before Christmas isn't afraid to throw some genuine peril at its heroes. Although the outcome is never beyond doubt, at least to adults, the story about a pack of wolves planning on eating Santa and his flying reindeer provides the film with a dark edge, while simultaneously lending the film a villain the whole family can root against in the dastardly black wolf. Though it never gets too dark and is unlikely to distress all but the most sensitive children, the film's G rating belies the darker content somewhat.
The voice cast is excellent, with the villainous black wolf being suitably menacing. It's nice to note that none of the characters, including the comedy sidekicks, get goofy voices, the film's comedy coming from the writing rather than cheap gimmicks.
Visually the film is a joy. The CGI, while not being up to the standards of Pixar, is really quite impressive with some excellent character design. These same visuals are well-represented by a widescreen transfer that is blessed with suitably lush colors. Staying sharp throughout, the image portrays a nice sense of depth and is lacking in any noticeable flaws. The 5.1 soundtrack is also of a high quality. Scenes set during a snowstorm make good use of the rear speakers, while the dialogue is crisp and clean.
It's sad to have to report on the total lack of extras on this release. I understand children are perhaps less likely to sit through making-of documentaries, but as similar releases have shown, it is possible to produce extras, such as simple games or animated shorts, that can appeal to the film's target audience.
Though this is more a word of caution than a criticism, the films dark tone isn't to be ignored. I know how sensitive some young children can be and, despite being marketed as a cheery Christmas movie, The Flight Before Christmas may not be suitable viewing for some.
I don't know that The Flight Before Christmas will end up a future Christmas classic, but it certainly makes for a great night in with the family. The story is simple enough that the youngsters can easily follow it, while managing to stay interesting enough so that the grownups are sure to have fun too.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated G