Noelle takes the formula for a feel-good holiday movie and throws in a few twists, including a gender role reversal, some modern humor, foot-tapping tunes, and updated versions of the North Pole.
Older audiences may get a chuckle from jokes about delivering presents by drone and Amazon Prime, adjusting algorithms to track kids' online habits to determine their naughtiness, and the appearance of a typically droll Shirley MacLaine.
There are also a couple of nods to non-Christians, potentially as outreach to wider audiences, including a line Noelle delivers that "Christmas is like sushi: The Japanese invented it but now everybody loves it."
That may be true, but as with sushi lovers, film fans notice the imperfections, and Noelle stumbles in a few places. An intro of the Kringle family when the siblings were kids feels unnecessary and contributes to a slightly long runtime. CGI creatures -- reindeer and puffins -- are somewhat out of place in this ultimately human tale. A running reference to Noelle as a "princess" threatens to subvert the feminist storyline.
Comparisons to Elf (another North Pole creature-meets-world tale) will be inevitable, and while Kendrick's Noelle is sweeter, she's not quite as funny. Still, Christmas is about setting aside petty complaints and -- as Noelle and Polly remind us in final scenes -- finding hope, inspiration, and joy in the holiday spirit.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.