Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer
"Though it goes through the motions of that standard kids' Christmas adventure film, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer lacks the charm necessary to make such endeavours work."

Every Christmas Eve, so the story goes, Santa Claus travels around the world to deliver presents to around a billion children. To do that, he has to do more driving than most of us will do in a lifetime, clamber up and down millions of chimneys, break into all the family homes that don't have them, eat a terrifying quantity of mince pies and avoid any number of ingeniously devised traps. But are we wrong to pity Santa in this situation? Should we not think first of those doing the really hard work - his poor reindeer?

As far as Elliot is concerned, the reindeer are the real stars of the show. He idolises them and has learned to perform almost all of their famous tricks. It's pretty impressive going for a miniature horse. Yes - despite the name of the film, Elliot is not a reindeer himself. He's barely half their height. But when he hears that Blitzen has retired and Santa is holding try-outs to try and find a replacement, he travels all the way from his petting zoo home to the north pole to compete. With a pair of fake antlers and the help of fast-talking goat Hazel, he manages to register successfully - but how will he cope with the tough competition and what will happen when the truth is, inevitably, revealed?

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Our feisty young heroes have a lot more to contend with as it emerges that a sinister scheme may be afoot in the grotto whilst, back home, the petting zoo animals risk being sold off to be turned into glue. But as so often when a plot gets complicated like this, not enough time is spent on developing any one part of it, and this will be particularly problematic for younger viewers, who may struggle to follow what's going on. There's also a cultural translation issue with it crossing the pond. UK viewers, not inculcated into spectator sport like their North American counterparts, are liable to become restless watching cartoon animals run, slide and jump through hoops, waiting for the story to move on.

Thankfully the sporting section of the film isn't as long as it threatens to be, and it's balanced by scenes in which Hazel gets up to mischief and discovers suspicious goings-on. There are too many secondary characters, however, and we don't ultimately find out what happens to all of them. John Cleese provides some nice work as an older reindeer whose son is desperate to equal his accomplishments. Morena Baccarin is wasted as the love interest for Eliot's human owner - as if any child cares what happens to the humans (or the adults) in such tales. Perhaps most disappointingly, Santa is only present in a brief cameo, and although he ends up supporting our hero (as all adult viewers know he will), he's not much fun. Perhaps he's suffering from being overworked.

Though it goes through the motions of that standard kids' Christmas adventure film, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer lacks the charm necessary to make such endeavours work. The goats, in particular, are wasted - a cursory glance at goat videos on YouTube will reveal real ones being much more entertaining. Whilst Hazel excels as the annoying character who will make adults one to cry, the real problem is that Elliot himself just isn't very interesting as a hero. Sure, he's plucky and loyal (when he remembers to be) and generally pleasant, but not charismatic enough to hold the attention when there's so much else going on.

There are many worse festive films out there than this on, but it's still not likely to satisfy young audiences eager for seasonal fun. Its saving grace is that it's out early in the season and one of its primary themes is Elliot's work ethic, so you can tell your kids that they too need to train hard and learn to jump through hoops if they want to impress Santa, and hope it helps to keep them out of your hair until the big day comes.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2018
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Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer packshot
When Blitzen announces his retirement on December 21st, a miniature horse has 3 days to fulfil his lifelong dream of earning a spot on Santa's team at the North Pole try-outs.

Director: Jennifer Westcott

Writer: Jennifer Westcott

Starring: Morena Baccarin, Josh Hutcherson, John Cleese, Martin Short

Year: 2018

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Canada


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