Released just in time for the festive period, Saving Santa (2013) is yet another animation given the cinematic treatment despite being planned as a DTV feature. Directed by Leon Joosen and Aaron Seelman, it’s a fairly watchable jaunt that’s high on Christmas spirit but short on originality. Bernard (Martin Freeman) is a lowly stable elf with aspirations of one day joining the elf elite by becoming one of Santa’s inventors. He hopes his latest gadget, which accesses people’s happiest Christmas memories and replays them, can help fulfil his dream. However, an unexpected malfunction exposes Santa’s secret location to the world.
This prompts evil and bitter Neville Baddington (Tim Curry) to invade and steal Santa’s secrets. To set things right, Bernard must use the TimeGlobe time travel device in Santa’s sleigh to thwart the villain. Saving Santa makes no bones about which market it’s aiming for, with an opening song about belief in Santa bookended by a “sweet, eh?” for good measure. The animation from Prana Studios is colourful and vibrant, whilst the underlying messages about the magic of Christmas prove timeless once more, with the directors smart enough not to overload the film with saccharine. Additionally, the Back to the Future style use of time travel is well-executed and amiable musical numbers keep the narrative ticking along.
Sadly, all of this isn’t enough to keep Saving Santa from feeling generic and the story from relative newcomer Tony Nottage is riddled with clichés. The overused zero-to-hero narrative is very predictable, but the mistake here is that the time isn’t taken to flesh out our lead protagonist. In this regard, Bernard’s reindeer companion Blitzen is a missed opportunity; though a cute character, the dynamic between the two would have benefited greatly by having Blitzen be able to speak English, which could also have led to greater character development. There are films where the journey is so rewarding that the inevitability of the destination is rendered insignificant, but the simplicity of the plotting here means that the opposite is true.
The Hobbit star Freeman gives a perfectly fine as the well-meaning elf, but it’s Curry’s delightfully named villain that’s the most memorable performance (and character) of the film. Joan Collins also manages to make an impression as Neville’s mother Vera, whilst Noel Clarke and Ashley Tisdale are wasted on bland, one-note characters. In the key task of satisfying its target market, Saving Santa may well go on to succeed. But whilst Bernard dreams of becoming something more, the film itself is destined to be another cog in the endless yuletide movie machine. Much like a Christmas present you quickly get bored with, Joosen and Seelman festive folly will quickly fade from memory.