12 Days of Netflix: Santa’s Apprentice
Ivan Radford | On 22, Dec 2017Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Luc Vinciguerra
Cast: Julie Gayet, Jean-Pierre Marielle
Watch Santa’s Apprentice online in the UK: Netflix UK
We unwrap a different Christmas film from Netflix’s dubious seasonal selection every day. For 12 days. It’s the 12 Days of Netflix.
What if Santa Claus wasn’t a person, but an identity, inherited from one person to another, a bit like Doctor Who or, in line with one age-old fan theory, 007? That’s the starting point for Santa’s Apprentice, a charming French-Australian animation from 2010.
From the off, we’re giving a new insight into old Papa Claus, a man who’s under pressure by his wife to retire – partly so he can rest, and partly because if he doesn’t do it in time for Christmas Eve, the magic of the festive holiday will disappear. Forever. But Saint Nick’s not quite ready to hand over the reindeers just yet, suffering anxious dreams of being usurped by a Father Christmas dressed in yellow. It’s a wonderfully unfamiliar take on the jolly fat man in red and white – and, it turns out, just the beginning of a cute tale that feels endearingly sincere.
The criteria for Santa’s Apprentice? For one, he has to be called Nicholas. For another, he has to be an orphan. And, most of all, he has to be pure of heart. Enter Nicholas, an orphan who is pure of heart and scared of heights – and enter another Nicholas, an orphan who decidedly not pure of heart and spends his days bullying our young hero. Needless to say, Nice Nick wins out over Nasty Nick, but not before the cruel one’s tricked his way into Santa’s company, until it becomes obvious who has the kinder soul.
It’s those kind of touches that make Santa’s Apprentice such a surprisingly rewarding watch: we follow the expected journey of Nicholas learning to drive a sleigh and climb chimneys (nothing says Christmas like free child labour), but we also see him overcome a bully, bid farewell to his best friend, and even perform an actual Christmas miracle as a thank you to him. There’s a familiar message of self-belief at its heart, but also a generous approach to the storytelling that wanders into nooks and crannies that could easily be passed over entirely. Throw in some impressive visual effects, particularly when it comes to Santa’s workshop, and you have a colourful, kind wee animation that brings a fresh spark of magic to the season. Best of all, its sequel, The Magic Snowflake, is also on Netflix UK. Read our review of that here.
Santa’s Apprentice is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.