13 December 2018 | vchimpanzee
Enjoyable family fantasy, maybe a little scary
Lord Rogers introduces this animated film by explaining the customs of his kingdom, and by telling us he has invented the light bulb. Curiously, if this is how behind the times they are, how can expressions like "got your back" be explained? Or light sabers from "Star Wars"?
Princess Odette just lost her father and she is spending Christmas in a different kingdom with Prince Derek. They travel with a puffin named Puffin, a turtle named Speed who has Eeyore's personality, and a frog with a German accent named Jean-Bob who wants to be kissed by a princess and turn into a prince. He also hates Christmas.
And he's not the only one. The ghost of Rothbart, who we can hear but not see, wants Number 9, a tuxedo cat who has lived 8 or his 9 lives. to do what is necessary to bring him back. Since Derek killed Rothbart, he must be the one to open a trunk that will restore certain abilities to Rothbart and allow him to eventually come back to life. Number 9 experiences a number of comic misadventures in the process of getting this done, and gives us a lot of attitude and sarcasm. Rothbart goes back on his word several times but eventually has to give in when Number 9 has the advantage.
Meanwhile, Chamberlain blows his bugle to announce the arrival of the young couple. He and Bridget like each other. Bridget's command of the English language is a combination of Cookie Monster and the stereotypical immigrant servants so often seen on TV and in the movies when such a thing was acceptable. She is simply adorable.
Queen Uberta welcomes Odette and immediately becomes very demanding, apologizing quickly each time she does. It is Ornament Day, when the official Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments made to represent good deeds, depicted as in a painting or photograph.
Derek goes out in the woods with Bromley and encounters danger from snow leopards and Number 9 (who isn't dangerous at all).
Uberta, Lord Rogers and Odette make preparations for Christmas. When Rothbart gets his powers, his true intention is revealed. He wants to destroy Christmas! The first step: change people's behavior.
So will Rothbart succeed? What will bring back the magic of Christmas if he does?
The name of this movie suggests an overly sweet holiday story. In fact, this is quite complicated with the constant threat of danger, when it isn't sweet. There is a Swan Princess but I can't explain that without spoilers. Mostly it is the theme for the celebration desired by Queen Uberta.
The animation is most quite good, and sometimes backgrounds are very realistic. Characters' personalities are captured very effectively. This is especially true of the beautiful and kind Odette. I did notice one problem. It was very obvious to me that the leopards were added to the background art later.
As with most holiday movies of this type, there is lots of comedy and silliness. But most of the characters are very well acted. Lord Rogers has a sophisticated British accent and an almost Shakespearean delivery right from the opening scenes. Some characters sound American. Rothbart's early scenes are on the chilling side. The animals would be the most appealing to the kids.
Is this appropriate for children? Well, how could it not be? But there was a TV-PG rating shown at the beginning (though the official listings said G). Perhaps some of the scenes involving Rothbart are a little scary for the younger ones. And some of his evil deeds are quite upsetting, but you just know things will turn out all right in this type of movie. But I don't see this as anything more than a charming family film.
Odette loves this time of year, and especially the great songs. Yes, it would have been nice to hear some good music. The background instrumentals are pleasant and include some familiar favorites. But when songs have words, even the traditional ones don't sound so traditional. No, I take that back. Those weren't so bad, though one example is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" where one singer accuses another of being flat. How is that possible with auto-tune? Even worse, in a world without electric lights, how does one explain the unspeakable offense to the great hymns? Or even worse, new songs that may have been written for this movie which sound appalling? But just in case I am the only one evaluating the songs, this is what kids these days think music sounds like. I'm sure it's quite good, as is everything else about this movie. The singers are quite talented.
Another positive about this movie: I mentioned the great hymns. There is, in fact, a message of "Jesus is the reason for the season " (the theme of one of those new songs), something many Christmas movies like this don't have.
And Odette does a good deed for one particular family every year. It was one of the things she enjoyed about being with her family, and a tradition she wanted to continue. They don't know who is helping them, and it's really quite touching.
A classic? I'm not sure, but it's worth seeing.