From The Knight Before Christmas and Let It Snow, to Holiday In The Wild and Klaus, there are a handful of new Netflix originals to watch this festive season. But which ones are the best? And which ones… aren’t?
This year’s festive offering is bigger than ever before, a reflection no doubt on how well these movies perform for the streaming platform. Alongside a slew of other silly season films, imported to the platform, Netflix has six original movies for audiences to feast on.
These movies are, in no particular order: The Knight Before Christmas, Holiday In The Wild, Let It Snow, Klaus, Holiday Rush and A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby. (Can you sense a theme, here?)
Christmas movies are a strange and mythical beast. Sometimes, they present as romantic comedies when actually they’re more of a morose, celluloid existential crisis played out against the backdrop of 80s pop songs. (Last Christmas, we’re looking at you.) Sometimes they’re odes to the themes of the holidays and other times they’re gleefully chaotic what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong romps. (Office Christmas Party fans, anyone?)
What unites Christmas movies is a sense of anything goes spirit and a deranged logic entirely untethered from reality. Netflix’s original movies all recognise that. Time-travelling knights that find themselves in present day Ohio? Fine. Plucky young journalist who becomes a princess? Of course. Small town girl who falls in love with a teen heartthrob, stranded on her doorstep because of an unprecedented snowfall? Sure.
Anything is possible at Christmas, these movies seem to say. Quite literally, anything. So how does this year’s Netflix offering rank against each other? Which movie is the best and which is the worst, but still very enjoyable to binge on a Friday night?
An animation? At first glance, I subconsciously moved this film to the lowest ranking. How could I possibly enjoy a cartoon more than I enjoy Vanessa Hudgens’ endless coat wardrobe in A Knight Before Christmas?
How wrong I was. This movie is absolutely lovely, a cosy Christmas film that will tug at even the most profound Scrooge’s heartstrings. Created by the team behind Despicable Me, Klaus tells the story of a postman sent to outer Finland to set up a post office as punishment for his general postman apathy. While there, he discovers a reclusive toymaker dedicated to anonymously leaving presents for the town’s children. At first, our enterprising postman sets about exploiting Klaus’ generosity – and the children’s love of free toys. But as he grows fonder of the townspeople and their idiosyncrasies, and as his friendship with the toymaker blossoms, his cynicism melts away.
This movie is completely charming, with beautiful snow-dusted animation and lots of wink-wink nudge-nudge jokes for the adults. Call it a Christmas miracle, but this cartoon took the number one spot with ease. It decked my halls and jollied my season, five stars from me.
Pudding rating: 5
2. A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby
That Netflix’s most successful original film franchise is this one, about a plucky young blogger who falls in love with the crown prince of Aldovia, is proof that dark, chaotic magic exists in this world. These films defy all logic of cinema, geography, bureaucracy and chemistry – the leads, they have none – and yet I am powerless against them.
The first two, about the meet-cute and marriage of Amber and Prince Richard, were all in service to this, the three-quel about the arrival of the royal couple’s first child. This is the culmination of the trilogy, this is the end of the franchise line. Does the third film live up to its predecessors’ bonkers energy? Does it deliver on the promise of a royal baby?
Oh, that it does. I mean, spoiler alert I guess but Amber is pregnant in this movie and you better believe that her due date is perilously close to Christmas day. It’s not really about that, though: it’s about a treaty between Aldovia and Penglia – a neighbouring country ruled over by a glamorous Asian King and Queen – that must be signed on Christmas Eve in order to maintain the truce between the two countries. When the treaty is stolen at the last minute, Amber must use all of her journalistic skills to uncover the truth. Will she solve the mystery and have a baby all before the bell strikes 12 on Christmas morning? If anyone can do it, this converse-wearing princess can.
Pudding rating: 4 flambéed, over-the-top, super-sweet puddings
3. Holiday In The Wild
Think of this as Out Of Africa meets… no wait, it’s just Out Of Africa. Holiday In The Wild tells the age old story of beautiful, glamorous city dweller falling in love with an enigmatic but emotionally unavailable nomad. So it was with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out Of Africa, and so it is with, um, Rob Lowe and Kristin Davis in Holiday In The Wild.
Just add elephants. The focus of this movie isn’t actually the burgeoning romance between Kate (Davis) and Derek (Lowe), but the one between Kate and the elephant sanctuary that she comes to call home. In real life, Davis is a passionate supporter of animal rights, and you can tell through her onscreen interactions with her very cute co-stars. Sure, Lowe and Davis have great chemistry, and they’re two big movie stars who know exactly what they’re doing. But the real chemistry is between Davis and the adorable baby elephants. I’d watch a whole movie of her learning how to feed them with a giant baby bottle any day.
My only quibble about this movie, which is truly less cheesy and much more enjoyable than it appears in marketing, is that it’s… not really about Christmas? Kate’s family takes one (one!) Christmas card photograph at the start, before her husband brutally dumps her, and there’s one (one) sort of pivotal scene at a Christmas dinner at the elephant sanctuary. Other than that, Christmas is barely mentioned. Strange.
Pudding rating: 3 (points subtracted for not really having that much to do with Christmas)
4. The Knight Before Christmas
Yes, there are issues with this movie. Why is Cole, a 14th century knight, so completely unperturbed by his new surroundings when he time-travels to present day Ohio? Why doesn’t he freak out at the sight of cars – or “steel horses”, as he immediately and calmly dubs them – or electricity or running water or, you know, women wearing jeans?
Why does Brooke own so many coats? Why does she wear a different one every time she leaves the house? Why doesn’t she have any friends and why does she only hang out with her sister and niece? Why does she, a teacher, appear to only have one student who she keeps running into around town? Why does she allow a 14th century knight to move into her guesthouse? Why do the pair of them spend an entire day within this movie’s timeline binge-watching OTHER NETFLIX CHRISTMAS MOVIES? Is there a Netflix Christmas cinematic universe? Has Brooke watched The Princess Switch, the Netflix Christmas movie in which Vanessa Hudgens stars as a baker and duchess who are mysteriously doppelgangers? How does Brooke feel about seeing two women who look exactly like her in a movie? Is she freaked out by that? Why isn’t Cole speaking medieval English? Or even French?
Lots of issues. Lots of thoughts. Still, this movie is so deliciously hammy I want to carve it up and eat it in a sandwich. Christmas movies aren’t supposed to be unimpeachably factual, remember. They’re supposed to be fun. And this most certainly is, especially when watched with a bunch of friends, all yelling at the screen whenever something truly bizarre unfolds. What a great drinking game that would make.
Pudding rating: 3
5. Let It Snow
The kids are not alright, if this movie is anything to go by. Based on the novel by John Green, Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson, this film feels aggressively focus-grouped, like the Netflix algorithm cobbled together a movie based on its most popular teen films. The result is somewhat garbled and a lot less charming than it ought to be.
Basically, there are three storylines that all intersect, Love Actually-style. The first follows Duke (Kiernan Shipka) and Tobin (Mitchell Hope), two best friends who don’t realise that they’re meant to be together… yet. Simultaneously, pals Addie (Odeya Rush) and Dorrie (Liv Hewson) are both fighting their own battles: Addie to realise that she shouldn’t let her terrible boyfriend belittle her, and Dorrie as she tries to tell her crush that she wants to be with her. Finally, there’s Julie (Isabela Merced), who meets teen idol Stuart (Shameik Moore) – I don’t care what you tell me, but no teen idol in the history of teen idols has ever been called Stuart – and spends a day with him, learning what it means to really seize the day. All the while, a snowstorm is raging, and a few other characters are planning a blow-out party at their town’s Waffle House. Everyone is invited!
This movie thinks that it’s Love Actually for teenagers. It is not. All these teenagers, with all their problems, end up grating rather than ingratiating themselves with the audience. The best storyline is the sweet, teenage Notting Hill meets A Star Is Born one – just a girl, standing in front of a very famous boy, asking him to love her. Overall, though, watching this movie made me feel exhausted. And I know I’m old because I just kept wondering where all these teenagers’ parents were, and why they weren’t giving their children adequate supervision.
Pudding rating: 2, and they’re not even that cute
6. Holiday Rush
OK let’s talk about the good. This is a Christmas movie centred on a black family, for a start. And there’s a fantastic soundtrack full of obscure, toe-tapping silly season hits.
Now for the bad. Holiday Rush just doesn’t come together the way that it should. The painfully earnest story, about a wealthy radio DJ and single father to four very spoiled children – the movie opens with his youngest, a pair of twins, asking for a real horse for Christmas, while his eldest daughter wants a Gucci bag – who is forced to return to his childhood home in Queens when he loses his cushy job on the eve of the holidays, has a simple message. Love is all you need, even and especially at Christmas.
That’s a good message, an important one even. But instead of cutting through the sweet with a little something sharp, Holiday Rush just keeps laying on the cranberry sauce thicker and thicker to hide the fact that there’s a big, stuffed turkey underneath. Still fun to watch, but maybe save this one for after you’ve binged on all the other Netflix Christmas movies.
Pudding rating: 2
Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.