Magic abounds in “A Boy Called Christmas,” Netflix’s first prestige holiday movie of the season, but pulsing through this winning adventure tale is something even stronger: the immersive power of storytelling. The movie, at points, recalls the first few “Harry Potter” films — and not just because Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Toby Jones play charming eccentrics.
Framed by the brusque Aunt Ruth (Smith) telling her grand niece and nephews a story on Christmas Eve, the movie follows Nikolas (Henry Lawfull), a poor but altruistic boy in medieval Finland, who journeys northward to find a mythic city called Elfhelm. Friendly allies accumulate along the way — including the wisecracking mouse Miika (voiced by Stephen Merchant), a chipper pixie (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and an ebullient elf (Jones) — while snide villainesses (Sally Hawkins and Kristen Wiig) test the limits of Nikolas’s giving spirit.
At points, the prodigious cast of characters and their quips feel eye-rollingly familiar. (When a partying elf declares, “this is the resistance,” Miika snorts, “to what, sanity?”) But any weak spots are overshadowed by the movie’s joys — particularly its handsome imagery. As Nikolas’s father describes Elfhelm, his tale comes alive in enchanting shadow silhouettes around their cabin. Similarly, whenever the movie pivots between Nikolas’s snowy terrain and Aunt Ruth’s cozy bedroom setting, the director, Gil Kenan, does not cut; he effects a seamless camera pan.
It’s an elegant visual decision, highlighting how the best stories — for children and adults alike — are experienced as real, tangible. Whether or not you believe in magic, “A Boy Called Christmas” may be the rare Netflix fare that kindles the holiday spirit.
A Boy Called Christmas
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. Watch on Netflix.