Directors: Leon Joosen, Aaron Seelman
Cast: Martin Freeman, Tim Curry, Pam Ferris
Watch Saving Santa online in the UK: Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“A great poet once said, Christmas is a day that holds all time together,” says Martin Freeman at the start of Saving Santa. Another great poet also once said: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Leon Joosen and Aaron Seelman’s animated Christmas flick isn’t that bad – but you get the feeling that it could have been.
Martin stars as Bernard D. Elf, a well-meaning but hapless inventor, who spends his days shovelling reindeer poop. Coming up with devices such as a happy memory-displaying machine, he’s shunned by the other elves – but when Saint Nick is kidnapped by Neville Baddington (Curry), head of a rival delivery service, and the task of Saving Santa falls to Bernard, he proves that even the smallest creature can make a difference.
A tiny hero? Elves? Magical objects? Martin Freeman? They might seem similar, but Saving Santa couldn’t be more different from The Hobbit. At 82 minutes, it’s much shorter, for one. The visuals are also less impressive. While the scenery is good and the animation has a consistent, unique style, the movie leaves something to be desired in the facial department; emotions are left to the actors’ voices more than anything.
That’s not always a bad thing. Noel Clarke’s squeaks as an excitable interrogation officer are giggle inducing, while Tim Curry is one of the best villains a movie could ask for. “Merry Christmas to me!” he cackles as he invades The North Pole. You can almost hear him twiddling his moustache.
The show is stolen, meanwhile, by Martin Freeman, whose vocals are far more expressive than his CGI body. His voicebox leaps, crouches and sings with a size more befitting the scale of a Middle-earth blockbuster than this low-key cartoon. And the songs he’s given are surprisingly solid: “Even a flea has prospects…” he jauntily chirps. Grant Olding’s signature tune will be stuck in your head for a few hours after watch.
Other musical numbers, though, fall flat. “If I believe with all my heart, I know it’ll all come true / If it doesn’t happen, I’ll always believe in you,” serenades one young boy. The uneven lyrics hop from Disney to deary me, highlighting the gulf between this and The House of Mouse’s most recent seasonal hit: Frozen.
What Saving Santa does have on its side is ingenuity. The plot revolves around the rather neat idea of time travel: a great decision because it means you see the same events over and over again – complete with interlocking songs – but also a bad decision, because it means you have to see the same events over and over again. Under such close examination, it soon becomes apparent that, despite the seemingly complex structure, the story of Saving Santa is all too simple. From the opening 10 minutes, you can guess what the outcome will be. That may not be a problem for younger viewers, but with a plethora of festive cinema now available on-demand, this doesn’t sit at the top of the wish-list. There are flashes of brilliance, yes, but they are buried under an avalanche of mediocrity. As Martin Freeman recites his plodding poetry quotes, you get the feeling that you are seeing Saving Santa being saved right in front of you. Unfortunately, it stills needs more rescuing.
Saving Santa is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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