So the Northern Lights? Turns out they’re stoked by the happiness of children, creating magic snow that powers Santa and his elves’ toy-making efforts, which of course makes kids happy, creating a giant circle of retail. That, at least, is the reasonably clever but thinly developed conceit behind “Northpole,” a family movie making a pit-stop to kick off Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” before alighting on shelves at Walmart. Sweet and inoffensive, one needn’t be a complete Grinch to wish the festive doings contained a little more spice and less saccharine.
Actually, the best thing about the movie, strictly from an amusement factor, might be cameos by Robert Wagner and Jill St. John as Santa and Mrs. Claus, the former immersed in a flowing white mane and beard that more than anything resembles Charlton Heston’s Moses at the end of “The Ten Commandments.” Only here, it’s, “Thou shalt not squander any opportunity to begin cashing in on Christmas.”
At the center of it all is Kevin (Max Charles), a young boy having trouble adjusting to a new town, living with his single mom, Chelsea (Tiffani Thiessen), a reporter at the local newspaper. Kevin’s Christmas spirit, meanwhile, catches the far-away eye of Clementine (“The Fosters’” Bailee Madison), an elf who is very concerned about a diminishing of the Northern Lights that could reduce the output of magic snow, thus endangering the holidays.
“Where is it written a small elf can’t make a big difference?” she asks pluckily.
Certainly not in the script by Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer, which has Clementine whisking Kevin up to the Northpole (the aerial view looks more magical than what’s on the ground), trying to help her save the holiday. Kevin’s explanations about his absences concern his understandably skeptical mom, who is prickly with her kid’s warm and caring teacher (Josh Hopkins), even if the two exchange the kind of glances that suggest there’s going to be another stocking over the fireplace sometime soon.
OK, so there’s a formula here, and “Northpole” dutifully fills the pre-measured vials. Yet the warmth one feels at the end of such an exercise is generally equal to the impediments along the way, and as constructed, these are inordinately mild, down to Chelsea’s investigation of a businessman who appears to be putting the “Bah, humbug” into Christmas, perhaps with help from city officials.
Hallmark obviously knows its audience, and much like the radio stations that play nothing but holiday music starting before Thanksgiving, the fact the network is beginning its yuletide push two weeks prior to Turkey Day says something about the perceived appetite for Christmas cheer.
Yet those in search of that holiday glow might want to rummage through Santa’s existing bag of perennials first. “Northpole” may be harmless, yes, but it hardly sprinkles enough magic snow to supplant an umpteenth viewing of “A Christmas Carol” or “The Bishop’s Wife.”