There are rare and wonderful pieces of children’s media that honor the intelligence of their young audience and can be appreciated by viewers of all ages as timeless intergenerational classics. On the other hand, there just as many that serve little purpose other than to keep kids entertained for a moment with mindless spectacle. Netflix’s “Alien Xmas,” released Nov. 20, belongs, unfortunately, to the latter category.
For a movie that brings outer space to the North Pole, it’s disappointing that “Alien Xmas” relies so heavily on overdone, saccharine Christmas tropes with little personality of its own. Rife with holiday spirit truisms, the film will make audiences wonder why the writers brought aliens into the mix in the first place.
The titular aliens are the Klepts, whose innate greed causes them to deplete their home planet of its resources and leaves them to travel across the galaxy in search of planets with new stuff to pillage. One might think this is a perfect setup for a climate change allegory, but that thread is quickly abandoned. The plot follows X, the littlest Klept, who is sent on a mission to steal Earth’s gravity and ends up landing on the North Pole just two days before Christmas. Enter a wholesome, Christmas-loving elf girl, and heartfelt shenanigans ensue.
Much of the movie’s premise relies heavily on the aesthetic of other Christmas classics and their built-in nostalgia. Its stop-motion animation style is a throwback to “Animagic” Christmas movies. And when a failing inventor elf gives X as a gift to his daughter, thinking the alien is a doll, the plot seems to turn into a tame “Gremlins” without the violence, which is to say, a boring version. There’s also a moment when X dons a Santa suit after stealing from his elf family, pretty clearly evoking the Grinch. X even undergoes his own Grinchlike transformation, wherein he becomes a reformed, selfless hero upon being given a gift for the first time, but unlike the Grinch, his change of heart happens a little too early and feels unearned.
These nods to the past are abundant, but they are ultimately unsuccessful because “Alien Xmas” doesn’t offer anything new to enrich them. If all this homage was supposed to be a treat intended for older audiences to fondly remember the Christmas films of their childhoods, it instead serves as a reminder that there are better movies to watch in place of this one.
The main problem with “Alien Xmas” is that everything, including its message about consumerism, is too simple. The Klepts steal because it is simply in their nature to steal. The elves are good and kind because the elves are good and kind. And after the Klepts have begun their Earth invasion, they soon change their minds and save Christmas after discovering just how nice it is to receive a gift. Conflict is resolved nearly immediately, and the characters act the way they do purely for plot purposes, not based on actual reasoning. And as for the voice actors, none of the performances are particularly memorable.
Its short runtime of just 42 minutes makes it a low-commitment viewing, but it’s also a disadvantage. The rushed storytelling makes the movie lack depth and leads to unnatural pacing. But for all its faults, the animation from the Chiodo Brothers is delightful, and there are some genuinely funny details sprinkled throughout the film.
Some may think that movies made for children cannot be held to a high standard by nature of who the content is intended for. But that reasoning doesn’t give enough credit to children’s intelligence and the complexity of stories they are capable of connecting with. Classic Christmas movies are known for having moralistic, wholesome lessons, but they only work if the storytelling justifies them. The morals of “Alien Xmas” are half-baked at best. While the wonderful animation of “Alien Xmas” can provide some fun for under an hour, it probably won’t be remembered for long after.