It’s that time of year again – cold weather, warm drinks, and watching the same five children’s Christmas movies over and over again. If you’d like to try and expand your family’s holiday repertoire to six movies, then Santa’s Apprentice may be a worthy contender.
This animated film is a French-Australian-Irish collaboration that was released internationally in 2010. In 2015, it was made available in the United States by Netflix for the holiday season. This year, Santa’s Apprentice is again available for streaming through Netflix, and DVDs are available at both the Main Library (Juvenile Holiday – J San) and Ellettsville Branch (Juvenile Audiovisual – J San). Don’t be concerned about the film being “Not rated”. This is very common for international films, and Santa’s Apprentice is definitely intended for families with children.
The movie begins by establishing the premise that after 178 years of service, Santa Claus must choose an apprentice to train so that he can retire. This apprentice must meet three requirements in order to be selected. First, the apprentice must be a boy named ‘Nicholas’. Second, he must be an orphan. Third, and most important, the boy must have a “pure heart”. While the current Santa doesn’t want to retire, the Council of Retired Santas convince him to seek out his apprentice. On Christmas Eve, using a magical globe, the Santas learn that the apprentice is in Sydney, Australia.
The audience is introduced to Nicholas and is shown how kind and giving he is, especially when dealing with the orphanage’s bully, Grincroch. On Christmas Eve, Santa comes to the orphanage to deliver his presents and has his head elf find the apprentice. However, when the elf reaches the room where the boys sleep, he manages to wake up both Nicholas and Grincroch. The audience then finds out that Grincroch’s first name is also ‘Nicholas’, and he pressures the elf and Nicholas so that he can become Santa’s apprentice. Nicholas acquiesces, and his lack of confidence nearly has him overlooked by Santa. Thankfully, Santa realizes the mistake and takes the ‘nice’ Nicholas to the North Pole. Unfortunately, the ‘naughty’ Nicholas swears revenge as they leave.
During the rest of the movie, Nicholas learns how to overcome fears and how to learn from mistakes. Santa himself also learns lessons in patience and being open to change. In the end, the ‘naughty’ Nicholas Grincroch is ‘defeated’ with empathy, and there are happy endings all around.
What I consider to be the best part of the movie is the animation. The imagery is beautiful; the amount of imagination and dedication that has gone into the design is obvious. Santa’s workshop is truly a place of children’s dreams.
On a more somber note, this film tackles the subject of being an orphan head on and frequently addresses how not having parents can affect children, both in sadness and anger. Determining whether this movie is appropriate for a particular child would largely depend on how that child may react to the sad reality of some children not having parents. Other items of possible concern are the actions of the orphanage’s bully. He talks of not believing in Santa Claus (which may raise questions a few years earlier than planned) and steals toys and treats from the other children.He also calls the other children names, like “loser”. Review sources, such as Common Sense Media, suggest a viewing age starting around 6-8 years old.
On the whole, Santa’s Apprentice has been well-reviewed, with an 80% score on Rotten Tomatoes. In summary, from Common Sense Media: “Sometimes the movie seems like it tries to tackle too much with the limited space and time allotted. But on the whole Santa’s Apprentice does have a lot to offer, especially for families looking for new twists on familiar Christmas themes.”