12 Days of Netflix: The Magic Snowflake
Benedict Seal | On 17, Dec 2017Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Luc Vinciguerra
Cast: Nathan Simony, Benoît Allemane, Vincent Grass
Watch The Magic Snowflake 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.
2010’s little-seen European animation Santa’s Apprentice (also available on Netflix UK) or the preceding TV series are in no way required viewing for The Magic Snowflake, a charming children’s Christmas film with surprising emotional and thematic heft.
With the current Santa (Allemane) due to retire, the huge red gown is entrusted to young orphan Nicholas (Simony). He’s an imaginative toy inventor, but finds the increased workload a challenge, even with the help of the elves (think a cross between the Toy Story aliens and Spirited Away’s sootballs).
The newfound responsibility is doing nothing to prevent Nicholas’ chronic bout of “grownupitis” (when a child wants to grow up too fast). This is a particularly unfortunate ailment for a prospective Father Christmas to have and it’s causing the titular snowflake at the heart of Santa’s workshop to melt. The old Santa must return to help his protégée recapture the childhood spirit he’s lost. This leads young Nicholas on A Christmas Carol-style journey through his past, present and future.
The wish fulfilment of a child getting to test toys all day is given a surprisingly dark twist, as Nicholas fights against the stern adult he can feel growing inside him (his unknown parentage makes this doubly devastating). In a particularly moving moment, Nicholas is faced with his Scrooge-like 24-year-old self: a vision of what he could become. It’s also telling that it’s another retired Santa who becomes the antagonist, which is symbolic of Nicholas feeling like he (and his past) is his own worst enemy.
Gaumont Animation is primarily known for children’s TV, but the faux hand-drawn, vaguely Song of the Sea-esque 2D style is really quite lovely. They do drift into derivation, on occasion, though. A local Inuit delivery girl looks very Dora the Explorer and Waldorf the reindeer is clearly Bullseye with antlers. More fun is the dog-like polar bear (or possibly polar bear-like dog) sidekick, Rufus, whose yelps and barks are flagrantly voiced by a mildly confused human. Elsewhere, the present-making machine is a fabulous creation that melds modern tech with traditional fairy tale magic far better than something like Aardman’s Arthur Christmas, with its militarised workforce.
One sore spot is the mild, but unchecked, sexism. There are numerous female characters, but male elves and a bunch of beardy Santas swamp them out. Not to mention poor Mrs. Clause, who’s undeservingly dumped by her husband and the film. It may not read that way to a child, but it’s unfortunate that this isn’t a story that all children can share equally.
The 73-minute running time is very child-friendly, as is the attractive visual style, but this is far from a dumbed-down kiddie flick. Director Luc Vinciguerra instead thoughtfully and maturely challenges regressive nostalgia, pursues an existentially troubling nature-nurture debate and celebrates children with genuine sincerity. Should you choose to throw this animation on for the kids over the holidays, make sure you have the time to sit down and share it with them.
The Magic Snowflake is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.