tek's rating: ¾

Northpole, on Hallmark Channel
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Caution: spoilers.

This first aired in 2014. I basically watched it because one of the stars is Bailee Madison, whose work I've enjoyed in various other things. Once I started watching it, I realized another star was Max Charles, whose work I enjoyed on The Neighbors. And there's Tiffani Thiessen, whom I mainly know from Saved by the Bell (a long time ago). And I ended up liking the movie more than I expected to, but... still not as much as some people probably would.

It begins with a young elf named Clementine (Madison) observing the Northern Lights. (She's 13 years old. Or maybe 13 decades.) There's something wrong with the Lights, and it could mean the end of Christmas forever, if she can't figure out some way to fix the problem. Meanwhile, a young boy named Kevin Hastings (Charles) and his divorced mom, Chelsea (Thiessen), have recently moved to a new town, where Chelsea has a job as a newspaper reporter. Kevin is having trouble making friends at school, but at least he likes his new teacher, Ryan... who soon becomes friends with Chelsea. Aside from being an outsider, another problem Kevin has is that he misses all the Christmas celebrations they had where he used to live, especially the tree lighting ceremony. And as it turns out, his new town's mayor has recently cancelled its own annual tree lighting ceremony, since attendance has been dwindling over the years, and various factors would make it too costly. Coincidentally, Chelsea's boss assigns her to investigate the cancellation of the event.

Anyway, Clementine lives in a town called Northpole (which is apparently somewhere near the North Pole). And while wandering through a grove of trees with bulbs that represent all the children of the world, she notices that the only one that isn't dimming due to diminished Christmas spirit is Kevin's bulb, since his enthusiasm for the holiday is as great as Clementine's own. So she sends him a gift, a magical CB radio sort of thing, with which she communicates with him. But it's not long before she "borrows" a flying reindeer named Randy, so she can travel to Kevin's town to meet him in person, and she takes him back to Northpole, where she explains her town's problem. It seems that children's happiness becomes sparks that make up the Northern Lights, and then falls as magical snowflakes, which provides the elves of Northpole with the magic they use to make the gifts that Santa delivers to the world's children, which brings them more happiness, thus perpetuating a cycle. But the cycle is breaking down because of lack of Christmas spirit. Meanwhile, everyone in Kevin's class has to pick a project to work on before Christmas break, though it doesn't seem that there's any particular theme or subject to these projects. Kevin chooses to try to get the town's tree lighting ceremony to happen, and Clementine helps him. Naturally, Chelsea's investigation will also tie into this, and they'll all be assisted by Ryan, as well.

Actually, there are a couple of ways that a coworker of Chelsea's helps out, too. I didn't catch the character's name (not sure it was ever even spoken), but I don't even see her on the cast lists on any websites listed above. Which is weird, because one of the ways she helped was to introduce Chelsea to a gospel singer named Josephine, who is played by Candice Glover. (I had never heard of her, because I don't watch American Idol.) The thing is, Josephine only appeared very briefly. We got to hear a bit of her singing with a choir, and then she had like one line, which was to tell Chelsea something I could have sworn she already knew. So... Chelsea's coworker, whatever her name was, was a much more important character than Josephine. But I guess she wasn't famous enough to bother listing. (I did find something online that called her Jasmine, but I still can't find who played her.)

Um... so anyway... there is apparently some shady deal going on between the mayor and a land developer named Ernie Pendleton, involving the possible sale of the park where there's a pond for ice skating, and the tree that's traditionally been lit there every Christmas Eve for nearly a century. It strikes me as odd that the whole area was supposedly so run down, when as far as I could tell the ceremony was still going on as recently as last year, even if there wasn't a large attendance. I was also surprised when at one point, Chelsea mentioned a plan to construct condos in the park, and I was all "When the heck did you find that out?" Maybe a scene was cut, or something, I dunno. Meanwhile, Kevin and Clementine do some investigating of their own, trying to figure out what could have turned Mr. Pendleton into "such a Scrooge." And they find some information that suggests he's not so bad, after all. But even before that, I had been wondering if it was possible that in spite of the secrecy surrounding the land deal, Pendleton and the mayor might have actually had good plans for the park. But of course, being a cynical reporter, Chelsea automatically suspects the worst. And on top of that, she's concerned that Kevin has become so obsessed with Christmas, that he actually believes in some fantasy about a place called "Northpole" and an elf named Clementine. (Her assumption is just that he's refusing to grow up, but I couldn't help thinking that in real life, considering how passionate and adamant he was about his story, it would make more sense to question his sanity.) Eventually Chelsea and Ryan meet Clementine, so Kevin's mom can stop worrying that Clementine is an imaginary friend, but she still doesn't believe the girl is an elf. Because she's constantly wearing a winter hat that Kevin had given her to hide her pointy ears. And again, I couldn't help wondering why Chelsea never questioned that she never took the hat off, even indoors. And why Clementine didn't just take off the hat, and prove to her that she was an elf. She was pretending not to be, even with Chelsea and Ryan, and I have no idea why.

Anyway... in spite of some setbacks, the foursome continue doing whatever they can to try to get everyone in town interested in attending a tree lighting ceremony that they themselves would set up, without any help from the mayor or any town officials. And I don't want to say too much more about the specifics of how it all turns out, but of course there's a happy ending. And while I spent most of the movie wondering how, even if they were successful in this one small town, that would actually have a significant impact on Northpole itself. Well, the movie actually explains how (and it involved another favor from Chelsea's coworker). It also involved the internet, which I totally should have seen coming. Although I do find it ironic that Chelsea said something in a voiceover that made it sound like the internet is to blame for people's current lack of togetherness... and while that was something she'd written earlier, we actually hear it right after the internet has just basically saved Christmas.

But whatever, I shouldn't quibble. Like I said, the ending was happy. And while it wasn't a great movie, it was reasonably entertaining. And I did like Clementine, because she's such an endearingly corny and cheerful character. Um... and part of her corniness was the Northpole expressions she used. I think the slang term she used most often- though not too often- was "dazzy," which is apparently short for "dazzling," and basically means "cool." I didn't so much care for that one, but my biggest laugh in the movie probably came early on, when she actually said "SnowMG." (I was like, "Did you really just say that?!") And then later in the movie she said "Snow my gosh!" So, you know... part of me cringed whenever she used those or various other goofy, elfish expressions, but part of me liked it. So... I'm kind of happy that it's already been announced that next year there's going to be a sequel, Northpole: Open for Christmas.

Oh, and Hallmark Channel's webpage for the movie includes an animated short film called Polariffic, which isn't related to this movie, but the website calls it "the most popular cartoon in Northpole." Which I can actually believe, because it's pretty dazzy. Or at least cute.

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