The Magic Snowflake (L'Apprenti Pere Noel et le flocon magique): Film Review

The Magic Snowflake Still - H 2013

The Magic Snowflake Still - H 2013

A clever and cautionary Christmas tale that's strictly for kids.

The team behind "Santa's Apprentice" is back with another behind-the-scenes Christmas story.

PARIS -- As a rather successful follow-up to 2010's endearing yuletide tale Santa's Apprentice, returning director Luc Vinciguerra offers up a similar mix of playful, pared-down visuals and witty storytelling in the French animation flick The Magic Snowflake (L'Apprenti Pere Noel et le flocon magique). Strictly for the 8-and-under set, the Gaumont-backed toon raked in over 500,000 admissions in Gaul and was picked up by TWC for distribution in the U.K. and U.S., where it could become a VOD stocking stuffer for the next holiday season.

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Based on a cartoon series created by Belgian animator Jan Van Rijsselberge (Robotboy), the film follows the adventures of Australian lad Nicolas (voiced by Nathan Simony), who, in the previous installment, was recruited to replace Santa Claus (Benoit Allemane) as the latter prepares for a peaceful beachside retirement.

But although Nicolas rises everyday at 5:30 a.m. and is clearly committed to the job, he's also forgotten how to be a kid, and his loss of innocence winds up threatening the whole gift-giving enterprise. To save the day, a host of Santa alumni, including an old "Victorian" curmudgeon (Vincent Grass), are called in, while Nicolas journeys across time and back to his own troubled origins so he can uncover the holiday's original essence, which has something to do with the titular Magic Snowflake.

If the story -- co-written by Vinciguerra, Alexandre Reverend (Vic the Viking) and David Freedman (Groove High) -- seems convoluted, there are some clever moments involving the various Santa retirees, who can be as stubborn as their beards are long and have a hard time agreeing upon the best way to run their business. While the plot strains credulity, it clocks in at a tidy 80 minutes and offers up an underlying message that, like the classic Peanuts primetime special, tries to focus on the true meaning of Christmas (though without the "Christ" part).

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Visually, Vinciguerra and art director Regis Despres provide a colorful array of characters and locations, in an unadorned style that recalls the 2D renderings of the original TV series (which aired in Europe in 2006). Music by Robert Marcel Lepage overdoes it on the sleigh bells but otherwise delivers the required dose of cheer.

Opens: Wednesday, Nov. 20 (in France)
Production company: Gaumont Animation
Cast: Nathan Simony, Benoit Allemane, Vincent Grass, Jean-Claude Donda
Director: Luc Vinciguerra
Screenwriters: Alexandre Reverend, Luc Vinciguerra, David Freedman, based on characters created by Jan Van Rijsselberge
Producer: Pierre Belaisch
Executive producer: Heath Kenny, Jean-Pierre Quenet
Production designer: Regis Maillet
Art director: Richard Despres
Music: Robert Marcel Lepage
Editor: Soline Guyonneau
Sales agent: Gaumont
No rating, 81 min.