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Adaptation is a tricky thing to pull off in filmmaking when you are making something based off a popular product. You want to stay loyal to the source material whether it is a show, book, comic book series, and so on. However, making a film is a lot different than writing a book. You have to make changes, and adapt the license so it can fit into a film format. For example, you shouldn’t shove a full 20-episode season into a film that is 103 minutes. You know, like how The Last Airbender turned out. But, you don’t want to change it up too much and use very little of the original source material, like the recent worst movie of 2015, Jem and the Holograms. There are other bad adaptations of popular franchises, like Galaxy Express 999, but since this is the holidays, I wanted to talk about an animated film based off a TV series called Santa’s Apprentice. This French/Australian/Irish animated film is based off the animated series, SantApprentice. It was originally released in 2010 to a solid reception. So, why did I choose this animated film for Christmas instead of many other animated Christmas films? Well, this film was co-produced by the team at Cartoon Saloon, who made one of my favorite films of 2015, Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. So, without knowing anything about the original source material, I am going to go into this film as if it was its own thing. I feel like that would be the correct thing to do, since an adaptation of something should be enjoyable for all, and not just for the fans, hardcore or not. Now then, let’s begin!
This film is set in a world where Santa exists, and has a very particular rule. After a certain period of time, the current Santa must bring in a new apprentice to become the new Santa Claus. So, where shall we find our new future Santa? Well, why not Sydney, Australia? The individual that was chosen is a young orphan boy named Nicholas. As the movie goes from the beginning to the end, Nicholas encounters a baby polar bear, a female orphan that lives in the same orphanage as him, a really crummy bully, a reindeer with lights on his antlers, and magical Christmas wonder. Can Nicholas become the new Santa Claus? Can this 77-minute film stand on its own, without relying on the original animated series?
Let’s begin with the positive elements of the film. Since this is animated by the same studio that made Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, it is beautifully animated. While it might not be up-to-par with Song of the Sea, it still looks fantastic. Fluid movements, visually impressive locales, and bright colors are all gift-wrapped into a really remarkable-looking film. A lot of the backgrounds and scenery moments look like something out of a children’s storybook. It just screams Christmas. I also like the whole process of training to become Santa. Having to get presents under the tree without being spotted, going down a chimney on a house with no chimney, having to play with toys from the past to get an idea of what to make in the future, learning how to fly in the sleigh, and so on. It’s pretty cool to see the movie break the job of Santa Claus down into individual challenges. I also like the voice work. Most of it can be soup of the day, but I think my favorite actor in the film is the one behind Santa’s voice, Shane Jacobson, who is most famous for his role in the mockumentary, Kenny. Maybe it’s because it the accent, but I really like this version of Santa. He likes jokes, is a hard worker, and is a pretty likable individual. I also liked Santa’s wife/personal assistant, Beatrice Lovejoy, who is voiced by Magda Szubanski. If that name sounds the tiniest bit familiar, she was Esme Hoggett from the Babe films. Anyway, Beatrice is also a hard-working and committed individual making sure Santa is okay.
Sadly, this is yet another one of those animated films that is lovely to look at, but has some lumps of coal under the tree. As much as I love the animation and scenery, the animation itself can get a little choppy at times. Another problem I have with the film is that the characters, besides the current Santa and his assistant, are not that memorable. The kid characters are boiler-plate, and they put in a really tacked-on antagonist, which is another orphan boy. I really don’t like the forced conflict of this villain, since I feel like the stake of the entire film is that Nicholas needs to be the new Santa. This jerk of an orphan is just not needed. Seriously, this kid should be in juvenile detention, not an orphanage. It’s funny how rotten this evil boy acts, since he is upset he wasn’t chosen to be the next Santa Claus. Well, maybe because you are a rude mean-spirited individual is the reason why you can’t be the new Santa. The little girl orphan is also forgettable, since she is just there to be the love interest for the main character. I also think the pacing of the film could have been better. For a film that is 77 minutes long, they really cram in a lot of plot points, with characters who are not interesting, and are there for, well, plot reasons. It feels like to me they took a few story bits from the animated series and threw them in. You don’t even find out the orphan girl’s name until the last five minutes of the movie. It’s tedious to have to watch these forgettable characters, since it makes me focus on the somewhat ignorable art style of the film. The only design that stands out is Santa, and everyone else looks like something from a children-focused magazine. Granted, it looks much better than the animated series, but still, I think this film could have more unique designs in the kids and other characters.
So, that was Santa’s Apprentice. I honestly really wanted to love this movie. It has everything that I want in a good/entertaining Christmas special, but it so clunky in its plot, pacing, and characters, that it just misses that “Check it out!” rating. I think if they streamlined the plot, took their time, had more genuine emotional moments, fleshed out the relationship between Santa, Nicholas, and the young orphan girl, the film would be a true hidden gem. Who knows, maybe I’m being a bit too much like a Scrooge in terms of this movie, since I have seen a lot of positive reviews for the film. I don’t 100% hate this movie, I adore a lot of elements this film brings to the table, but if it’s flawed, then it needs to be talked about. I do know there is a sequel of sorts to this film, but from what I have read, and by read, I mean the 50% internet research and 50% personal guessing from said internet research, Cartoon Saloon didn’t help animate the sequel that is titled, The Magic Snowflake. Maybe if I can find this movie, I will review it for next year’s Christmas special. If you are looking for something a little different from a very talented studio, then maybe you should check out Santa’s Apprentice. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did. Well, that might have been somewhat underwhelming, but let’s end the year on a positive note with Robot Carnival. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!
Rating: Rent it!