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Heads up!: I obtained this film through a screener given to me by Tricoast Entertainment for review purposes. I did not get any other kind of compensation other than this screener. Thank you, Tricoast Entertainment for reaching out to me to review this film!
So, for the first time in my writing career as an animation critic, I got a screener! For those that are not familiar with screeners, they are essentially ways for critics to watch upcoming releases of new films either physically or digitally. I was originally going to review something else, but when I received an email offering to tackle an animated film, I had to put Batman vs. TMNT and I Lost My Body on hold, and now, I’m tackling another Christmas film called Finding Santa.
Directed by Jacob Ley, this is a Swedish animated film that was released back in 2016 and was brought over to the states by Tricoast Entertainment. Did this Christmas feature deserve the cold shoulder? Or did it deserve a little love during this festive time of year?
The story revolves around an orphan boy named Julius. Like I just said, he lives at an orphanage with other kids, and loves Christmas and especially Santa Claus. Sadly, some of the other orphans despise Julius, and decide to reveal that Santa isn’t real. It breaks his heart once he finds out that their caretaker pretended to be Santa, and he runs to a shed out in the woods where he keeps a small box of trinkets. As he arrives and opens the box, a blue light shines, and Julius is sucked into a magical realm where Santa is missing, and the evil Krampus has taken over his duties and wants to deliver coal to the children around the world. It is up to Julius, and his new friends to save Santa and Christmas.
So, what is good about this Christmas film? While not my favorite visual look, I do admire the direction the animation took. The way the characters move, look, and are painted, the entire film looks like a children’s book. It matches that visual tone easily, and I can tell they had a certain look they wanted to go with. It reminds me of Broken Age with that same children’s book look. I know some might scoff at the paper puppet human designs, but unlike some films that use Flash and motion-tween to make the characters move, they have a bit more animation to them, so they aren’t lifeless like those 2D wood or paper puppets. However, I will also admit that sometimes the designs do become unintentionally creepy. To me, it’s the teeth that make the characters look unnatural.
In terms of what I liked about the story, while I have my issues with it due to the dialogue, I can tell they tried to do something different here. I see a team trying to make a more whimsical and fantastical fairytale-like Christmas story. There is also a bit more at stake with Julius who wants to find out where he is from. As an orphan, I bet there is a lot of that kind of wondering due to the situation they are put in by being at an orphanage. It might not fully work out, but I get the sense there was more depth to the story than you would think.
Sadly, even for 80 minutes, I found Finding Santa to be a slog to get through, and I can name the main reason why, with the two villain children. There is a difference between making children mean for the sake of the story, and then there is making them so mean, that even if there is development and they take a chill pill, they are too mean for their own good. I know it can be a joke that children can be unintentionally or intentionally monsters, but the two antagonists push it too far, and the film grinds to a halt each time they show up. The film has a mean streak at a lot of points, and they don’t feel naturally planted within the story. Also, I feel this film is at different sides of the tone it wants to reach. Finding Santa was obviously made for younger audience members, but it also has some slightly darker and more mature moments that don’t gel well. It doesn’t earn the darker moments, and the dialogue and characters don’t mix well. The English dub is not the greatest. I found the English dub to be grating, and that doesn’t help things when Krampus is so high-pitched and whiny sounding.
As a whole, I admire the ambition and effort put into Finding Santa, because unlike a lot of foreign made-quick animated fare that gets quietly brought over to the states, you can tell the director and his team had an idea in mind. Unfortunately, I found elements of the film to clash with other elements, and the overall experience to be lacking. Still, at least I found stuff to admire and/or enjoy about this than say, Wonder Park or UglyDolls. If you are curious about this film and want to see it for yourself, it is on DVD, and it will be readily available on most digital on-demand platforms like VUDU, Itunes, Google Play, AT&T, DirectTV, Hoopla, Sling/Dish, and Amazon December 3rd. I think I would want to check out Klaus and Arthur Christmas more, but I’m glad I found out about films like Finding Santa. I’m always down for Christmas films for kids and families that put in the elbow grease to do something that isn’t a typical Christmas film. Now then, let’s talk about the newest Netflix animated feature that they purchased, I Lost My Body.
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Rating: Rent it