The Flight Before Christmas (a.k.a. Niko & The Way to the Stars), 2008.
Directed by Michael Hegner and Kari Juusonen.
Featuring the voice talents of Andrew McMahon, Emma Roberts, Carly Baker, Morgan Jones, Norm Macdonald, Gavin Morgan, Susan Slott, Paul Tylack and Alan Stanford.
After he accidentally leads a pack of hungry wolves to his herd, a young reindeer sets off on adventure to Santa’s fell, hoping to find his father and fulfil his dreams of joining Santa’s ‘Flying Forces’.
It’s surprising how thin on the ground CG-animated Christmas movies are, especially considering the enormous popularity of the medium with both kids and adults alike (go on, you know you want to admit it). In fact, without consulting the encyclopaedia of CG-animation, I’m struggling to think of any computer generated Yuletide offerings, save for Robert Zemeckis’ motion-captured pairing of The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, and the upcoming Arthur Christmas from Aardman Animations. Surely there’s a potentially huge market here, and it’s one that the Danish / Finnish / Irish / German co-production The Flight Before Christmas will be hoping to tap in to with a timely (if belated) DVD release here in the UK.
The Flight Before Christmas centres on a young reindeer named Niko (Andrew McMahon), who dreams of following in the footsteps of his father and becoming a member of Santa Claus’ ‘Flying Forces’ (that’s Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and company to me and you). Naturally Niko’s flying ambitions quickly bring trouble his way when the young buck accidentally leads a pack of hungry wolves to his home. Shunned by the rest of the herd, Niko and his friend – a squirrel called Julius (Norm Macdonald) – set off on an adventure to find Santa’s fell, while the evil wolves concoct a plan to wash down a feast of flying reindeer with a nice dessert of Father Christmas pudding. It’s soon down to Niko to save Christmas and, well – I’m sure you can guess how it all plays out from there.
At first glance, The Flight Before Christmas seems to tick all the right boxes. It’s got a selection of cute and cuddly characters, a suitably menacing antagonist and a few familiar names in its voice cast, including Saturday Night Live alumnus Norm Macdonald (Billy Madison) and “Julia Roberts’ niece” (a.k.a. “Eric Roberts’ daughter”), Emma Roberts (Scream 4). Nevertheless, if you’re expecting Pixar-quality material, then a) you’re an idiot, and b) you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The animation is about ten years behind where it should be (understandable, perhaps, given its €6m budget) and the film is firmly geared towards a young target audience of about seven and under, with little on offer for older viewers save for an overly predictable storyline and the odd couple of chuckles here and there.
Despite its shortcomings, The Flight Before Christmas isn’t a bad film and young children will likely find themselves entertained by Niko’s exploits. A sequel - entitled Niko 2: Family Affairs - is in production for release next year, so it’s obviously done well enough in the European markets to warrant a follow-up. One on hand, it’s the worst CG-animated Christmas movie I’ve ever seen, but on the other hand, it’s also the third best. So, if you’re after a cheap stocking-filler or want to keep the kids entertained for an hour-and-a-half while you wrap the rest of their presents, then you might want to give The Flight Before Christmas a look.