Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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November 2018

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Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer Is an Entertaining Mess That Successfully Carves Its Own Niche in Holiday Movie Lore

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews

The Christmas movie genre has hundreds of entries that play to similar themes, exploring the “true” meaning of the holiday or presenting new takes on Santa’s seminal sleigh ride. From its opening few minutes on, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer makes clear that it doesn’t want to be governed by typical holiday film rules, casting out a wide net of issues to tackle in a ninety minute run time. Few seasonal movies care to take on broader geopolitical threats such as climate change and automation, but perhaps the North Pole shouldn’t be excluded from the crises that pose an existential threat to humanity.

The plot of Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is best described as a blend between Olive, the Other Reindeer and the Triwizard Tournament section of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with sprinkles of All the President’s Men on top. The main narrative driver appears to be the titular reindeer’s quest to replace the retiring Blitzen on Santa’s team, but the film has several subplots that take up much of the screen time. Samantha Bee steals the show with a performance as Elliot’s sidekick Hazel, a sardonic goat with a petulance for eating garbage who supplies most of the film’s best moments.

Most Christmas movies require a hefty helping of suspension of disbelief in order to digest the neatly tied up resolution at the end. Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer never seems satisfied with this device, instead choosing to explain just about every mystery of the North Pole. We learn how reindeers fly, why reindeers are specifically used to pull the sleigh, as well as the inner workings of human/animal communication. None of the exposition is particularly necessary, but there’s something oddly endearing in the film’s attempt to justify every piece of magic deployed.

The film operates with an acute awareness of the duel demographics of its audience. Films marketed to young children are inevitably also watched by their accompanying parents. From an early parody of Braveheart to a Gwyneth Paltrow divorce reference, the movie consistently offers up material that will sail right over the heads of its target base. Some might knock Elliot for shedding commentary on athletic doping kids won’t understand, but Christmas is a holiday that can’t be neatly packaged to age-specific groups. The genre as a whole is consumed in family settings. There’s something endearing in the lengths to which Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer goes to appease parents who are dragged along for the ride.

The scattershot approach creates an unwieldy narrative that will largely be lost on the young children to whom Elliot and Hazel are marketed toward, but the result is a movie that wins over its audience through its sheer force of will. The narrative parallels Elliot’s own perseverance in its effort to throw everything resembling a plot at the wall, hoping something might stick. The film is often a complete mess, but too few Christmas movies offer more than a few things to talk about after their conclusion. You could spend hours discussing the broad socioeconomic positions the Elliot takes over the course of its runtime, something that can hardly be said for most holiday movies. The film makes a sincere effort to ease the suffering that parents are expected to endure on behalf of their young children’s holiday cheer. If for any other reason, it’s worth a watch this Christmas season.

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