Once Upon a Christmas
directed by Tibor Takacs
(Ardent, 2000)

Once Upon a Christmas is a Canadian film that combines the war between good and evil with sibling rivalry and springboards into the modern North Pole.

Santa (Douglas Campbell) is frustrated because so many of the names on his list are being marked off as naughty. Encouraged by his eldest daughter, Rudolpha (Mary Donnelly-Haskell) -- who is a little more naughty than nice herself -- he decides it is simply not worth the trouble any more. He is going to take a much-needed and long-overdue vacation. He says that there is no hope that mankind can change.

Younger daughter Kristen (Kathy Ireland) tells him he cannot skip Christmas because it is not fair to the nice ones. She asks for a chance to prove there is hope for mankind to change. Santa picks the name where his list stopped: "Morgan." He gives Kristen until Christmas Eve to get the family back on the list as "nice" or there will be no Christmas.

Kristen arrives to find the latest nanny has quit, Brittany (Jennifer Prout) and Kyle (James Kirk) have been expelled from school, single-father Bill (John Dye) is too busy working on the largest presentation of his life to be a father, and live-in Uncle Johnny (Wayne Thomas Yorke) has no control over the kids. Kristen steps in as nanny and begins a crash course in human dysfunctional psychology, aided by the wizened Tooth Fairy (Liz Torres).

Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, Santa and Mrs. Claus are packing for Hawaii as Rudolpha takes her new jet sleigh on a test flight and prepares to start a new tradition called "Christmas Fool's Day" that combines the two holidays.

Once Upon a Christmas expands the fairytale through the North Pole. The North Pole inhabitants are all immortals and all the fairytale characters are gathered there for the reading of the list, which kicks off the Christmas season. The Claus home, lavishly furnished and decorated primarily in white, is an eye-popping sight to behold.

I especially enjoyed the way filmmakers juxtaposed mortal and immortal worlds, showing how mortals have to work for what they want while everything is so easy for immortals.

The writing combines a nice balance of drama, suspense, action and humor. Characters develop and evolve nicely, giving us insight into their motivations and beliefs. They cause us to care about them and the problems that they have.

Each role was played with sound professionalism. While I do not feel the actors were exceptional, I cannot fault their work. They did their jobs successfully -- just the average performance.

My favorite character was the Tooth Fairy. I got such a kick out of Torres, who went over the top and gave a stellar performance. She makes you immediately trust her in the role of confidante and feel that you, too, could confide in her and trust her guidance. Mary Donnelly-Haskell was evil personified as Rudolpha. I liked the way she played that role.

The writers added a twist that will likely catch you off guard and shock you. This was an astoundingly creative finale.

Once Upon a Christmas is a wonderful family film that is especially appropriate for families that have lost a parent. However, it is solid entertainment for anyone who loves Christmas or has ever believed in Santa Claus. This is one great holiday film that all the younger children will want to see again and again.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

18 July 2009

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