AVAHS – Niko and The Way to the Stars/The Flight Before Christmas

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Rating: 7/10

Plot: A young reindeer named Niko has always been told by his mother that he was the son of one of Santa’s flying reindeer in the flying forces. Because of this, Niko has always held the belief that he would fly, but has always been unsuccessful. He’s a bit obsessed with his flight training, and one day ends up accidentally leading a pack of fierce wolves to his herd’s location while practicing in an area he was told to stay out of. In order to finally fly and avoid the rejection of his herd, Niko and his father figure, a flying squirrel named Julius, travel to the mysterious location of the flying forces and Santa, Santa’s Fell, to find his father. However, the wolves are hot on his trail and intend to eat him as well as the flying forces and Santa himself.

Breakdown: This was a pretty nice surprise. I honestly didn’t think much of this movie from face value, but it’s a pretty nice Christmas movie. It’s not hilarious or particularly heart-warming, but it is fun, has a pretty solid story and doesn’t try too hard to be anything more than it is.

Niko is a pretty generic character who reminds me a whole lot of Tarzan. Outcast because he’s trying to be something he’s not, but he’s doing this because of his mysterious past, ends up screwing up everything and putting his family in danger because of it so he tries his hardest to achieve his dreams and find a place to belong.

I find it a little weird that his backstory is actually that his mom, Oona, had a one-night stand with one of Santa’s flying forces and just never saw him again. I mean, they don’t say it, but she met him once, never met him again and had Niko.

Julius actually has the most interesting backstory that I’m surprised they didn’t balk on. See, early in the movie, Julius makes a squirrel out of snow and pretends it’s his Aunt Sally to help Niko lie and get out of trouble. Later in the movie, he makes three snow squirrels and explains to Wilma, a weasel, that these snow squirrels are actually representations of a family he actually had. He had a wife, an aunt and young son. One day, he went off to look for food and when he returned his family was gone. After seeing wolf tracks in the snow he realized that his family had all been eaten by wolves. He took in Niko as a kind of surrogate son since Niko also had no father, which serves as one of the bigger conflicts in the movie.

Wilma was a great character. She was a lot of fun, and I loved her song at Santa’s Fell. That was legitimately funny. I am kinda weirded out that she’s made out to be Julius’ love interest, though. Why don’t animated movies find inter-species mating to be weird?

I also appreciate that they didn’t make out Santa’s flying forces to be a bunch of jerk-offs. While they’re not the smartest nor the humblest reindeer alive, they’re not that bad and they’re perfectly nice to Niko throughout. Would’ve been nice for Niko’s father to have fleshed out a bit more. He really doesn’t stand out anymore than the others.

I found that Niko’s relationship to his mother and love interest, Saga, weren’t fleshed out enough either. Saga’s whole role is, in a Faline fashion, to be the love interest and nothing else. She’s at the beginning and end of the movie to be simply that.

Finally, the antagonists of the wolves, in particular Black Wolf (guess what color he is) are…..fine. They’re really just terribly generic and their plan makes no sense. I mean, finding the herd of reindeer makes sense because they’re their main source of food. However, planning a terribly dangerous mission to Santa’s Fell to eat Santa’s reindeer and Santa as well as every little girl and boy that they will visit on Christmas? Plus, Black Wolf’s eyes, which are yellow, literally glow throughout the entire movie.

The fact is, he’s more focused on killing Niko, also for no real reason. He has no idea who he is or where he’s heading, he just wants to kill him for existing.

Along with the wolves is a pink poodle named Essie, who also really serves no other purpose than to be a love interest for one of the wolves, Specs, who is basically an example to prove that not all of the wolves are all bad….even though the rest of them are shown to be bad. I actually kinda liked their relationship…it’s much more fleshed out and interesting than Niko and Saga or Oona and Prancer…..Uh…err….spoiler alert.

This is actually a Finnish movie with an English dub, and you can tell with the various accents that pop up. It’s like they were trying to hide their accents half the time, but were inconsistent with it. Most of the voice acting is decent enough, but my god the VA for Niko is just awful. He can’t emote worth a crap, nor can he raise his voice. Everytime he yells it’s like there’s someone in the studio reminding him to use his ‘inside voice’.

The animation is….good. It’s kinda like a mix between Dreamworks and Sony. Trying to be realistic with the backgrounds and snow but wanting a more cartoony look for the characters. I think it works well enough, though I still can’t decide if the snow effects were that good.

All in all, a surprisingly good movie. It’s not forcing some ‘true meaning of Christmas’ down our throats nor does it follow too many cliches. While not doing anything grand or fantastic, it’s still a fun ride.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

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