This charming tale originally made in Finnish is not quite a classic but it delivers a clever, modern and enjoyable take on traditional Christmas themes.
Niko is a young reindeer who believes his father is a member of the ‘Flying Forces’ – Santa’s special flying reindeer. Niko also thinks that he has the power to fly, although the other reindeer in his herd are a little sceptical.
One day, Niko sneaks out of their safe haven with his friend Saga – Home Valley – and his trail is picked up by a pack of wolves. The herd is attacked by the wolves and in the aftermath, Niko decides he is not wanted and sets off for Santa’s Fell to find his father. He isn’t completely alone as his friend and mentor Julius, a flying squirrel, accompanies him and he picks up singing snow stoat Wilma – who does a nice line in cabaret - on the way.
Together, the trio must stay ahead of the wolves, who have picked up Niko’s trail, and face down a host of natural dangers such as avalanches and treacherous rivers.
The wolves, spurred on by menacing leader Black Wolf – voiced with relish by Alan Stanford - develop a sinister plan to take over Santa’s Fell and eat the ‘Flying Forces’.
There are showdowns, comeuppances, revelations and moments of peril aplenty in a tight, simply structured film that treads a well worn path with quirky characters and clever humour spliced into a quest for redemption.
The ‘Flying Forces’, for example, turn out to be not quite as heroic as Niko imagined as when not speeding round the sky they seem to spend most of their time swilling beer and singing.
Some of the humour might seem a little adult or knowing for some but in truth, it’s innocuous given the times, and tends to glide over the slightly difficult questions about Niko’s parentage.
Besides Stanford, the other voice actors do their jobs well – if not with quite the same panache - and in general this is a slick production with lively and occasionally beautiful animation.
It perhaps lacks the entrancing depth and force of truly great children’s movies – ‘The Lion King’ comes to mind – but it’s charming and strikes me as a film that, at 75 minutes long, would be perfect diversion during a Christmassy family afternoon out.