The Flight Before Christmas [Import]
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A reindeer boy named Niko dreams about flying like his father, whom he has never met. Despite suffering from severe vertigo, he sneaks out of his home valley to take flying lessons from Julius, a rare member of a Finnish family of flying squirrels. Stills from The Flight Before Christmas (Click for larger image)
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As a grown-up viewer, I thoroughly enjoyed the story -- a young reindeer searching for his father, whom he believes to be one of Santa's heroic flying squadron. The youngster is helped along his way by a fatherly, protective flying squirrel and a female ermine/weasel (?) who warbles pop tunes like an American Idol contestant. There's also a pink French poodle who appears suddenly and disappears mysteriously once her plotline is over (what becomes of her??). Yes, there are implications of reindeer one-night stands (how very Scandinavian of them!), and Niko's real dad turns out to have, shall we say, commitment issues (many kids will relate, I'm afraid). And there are some scary wolf villains -- but really, no scarier than the hyenas in "The Lion King," which this production seems to channel (one could say "copy" if one were ungenerous) more often than not. The digital character animation looks a bit clunky, with giant grinning amorphous faces that too often really look computerized -- but the backgrounds and landscapes are quite lovely. There are shots of the Scandinavian forest with the aurora borealis overhead that are very memorable. The musical score recalls Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" and almost seems a bit too grand for the room. But this is an hour-long cartoon that is really trying to be quite epic in its story and scope, and I think it's the first Finnish production (that I can recall, anyway) to make it to the U.S. TV market in such a big way (major network broadcast).
As for the scare factor of the big bad wolves -- really, can ANYTHING be scarier than the classic 1939 "Wizard of Oz"?? "Oz" gave me tornado and flying-monkey nightmares for years as a kid, but I loved it and watched it whenever it was on. I think a few good TV scares never hurt any child! Classic Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales are chock-full of scary and often quite violent situations; even the best Disney films (like "Lion King") are full of scares and sadness. I give the Finns points for offering a little darkness and scare factor, and not serving up sugary holiday syrup like "Frosty Returns" (or even the original 1960s "Frosty the Snowman," which also preceded "Flight Before Christmas" the other night -- yup, it may be a beloved classic, but wow, it's so sweet it makes your teeth hurt!).
So, yes, I recommend "The Flight Before Christmas" -- a Finnish production that is a quite worthy and surprisingly intelligent entry into the annual holiday animation derby.
It's entertainment, nicely done and quite unique at that. Kids will watch it as such, and some adults can continue to pull it apart if they want to. But they shouldn't-- just watch and enjoy and don't feel the need to analyze or explain everything.
Thus starts a long trek for Niko to find his father and understand why he has dreams of flying. Along the way, he meets a flirtatious female weasel who just happens to know where Christmastown is located. When Niko finally finds the flying reindeer in a bar, the weasel starts a sultry song-and-dance number about giving the flying team a "big surprise," and at the end of the song literally sings "one of you share the same DNA" and points towards Niko, which of course spooks the flying team. When Niko gives his mother's name and asks if any of the team remembers her, he is basically told that the entire flying reindeer team have "magical times" with the non-flying reindeer very often, and Niko is asked to perform a paternity test of showing he can fly to prove that he is actually one of their sons. Basically, to make a long story short, Niko "saves the day" and one of the reindeer steps forward very grudgingly and tells Niko that he can call him dad. Merry Christmas! Niko tries to get his father to return to the non-flying pack, the father says that he's part of a "flying team" and isn't willing to go back, and Niko tells a flying squirrel who had looked out for him since day one that he is more of a dad to him than his real dad would ever be. Then, the credits roll.
While the forced lessons of "it's ok to have a deadbeat dad" and "step fathers can be real fathers even if they look different" could be pertinent to certain families, it can also send the wrong message to children that it is ok to take advantage of others and leave without taking responsibility for your actions. What's worse is that when you watch the movie the second time knowing which one of Santa's reindeer is the actual father, you see a new perspective from the bar scene forward of the father knowingly trying to deny Niko, even going so far as denying meeting Niko's mother in the bar, letting Niko throw himself into a bottomless cliff during the "can you fly" paternity test, and basically saying "well you can't fly, guess no one here is your father" after Niko fails the test.
In all honesty, not one part of this film gave me a warm holiday spirit, and I seriously would warn parents about the movie's message before letting their children see it. Do not be tricked by the cutesy cover, characters, and descriptions... this children's flick feels like it was written and directed by Maury Povich.
The sequel movie, "Little Brother, Big Trouble" is also available on DVD, but I was only able to find it through Wal*mart. Amazon does have it as a download, though. It's pretty good, but not quite as good as the first movie, and all the voice actors are different.