Noelle is a whimsical holiday movie that follows the story of Noelle and her brother Nick Kringle, who are Santa’s children. The movie opens with Nick preparing to take over the role of Santa. The siblings end up embarking on a journey of figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world, and discover the true meaning of Christmas along the way. On the surface, it’s a ‘feel-good’ holiday movie that strikes the balance between serious and humorous moments well, as Disney movies tend to. And with it’s G rating, the movie is extremely tame in matters of violence, language, etc. making it appropriate for all ages. However, for foster and adoptive families, there are definitely some potentially problematic themes, so caregivers may want to use caution or watch the film first before allowing children to view.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
The Kringle family is dealing with the loss of a parent who was also the head of the family in many ways. Because of this, everyone else is struggling to figure out how they fit in. While not exactly the same, this journey of self-discovery and figuring out a role within a family is a struggle most children in foster or adoptive families can relate to. They may feel like they don’t fit in or aren’t a ‘real’ family member and struggle with figuring out what role they play in their new family, just as Noelle must discover who she is and ultimately embrace her role as the new Santa.
While taking this inner journey of discovering herself, Noelle also takes a physical journey in looking for her brother which takes her to a world that is vastly different from The North Pole, where she has spent her entire life. She feels like a fish out of water and struggles to understand the customs and way of life here, and to fit in. This, again, is something that many children in foster and adoptive families will relate to. The foster or adoptive family they are in now may have vastly different cultural or socioeconomic norms than they are used to. There are new rules and routines of daily life to get used to and it can make them feel a bit lost and different, the way Noelle does when she first arrives in Phoenix.
- Individuality Vs. Fitting In
Figuring out who we are in the world is one of the biggest challenges of growing up, and for children with a background of foster care and adoption this is even more complicated. When Noelle first arrives in Phoenix and is heading off on her own, her nanny gives her the advice, “don’t tell anyone who you are or where you came from and always be ready to run away.” This is a warning for Noelle to try and blend in and not draw attention to the fact that she’d different, and may resonate with children from traumatic backgrounds who want nothing more than to be ‘normal’ and not let on where they come from. Ultimately, Noelle doesn’t follow the advice and instead continues to be the somewhat quirky person that she is and people accept her for this. This can be a good opportunity to discuss what makes your children unique or different and why these are things that should be celebrated.
- Adjusting to New/Different Living Situations
When Noelle sets off to look for her brother, she ends up leaving the North Pole for the first time and going to Arizona. Here, she is forced to adjust to a very different world and has to figure out how to fit in with their cultural norms and behavior. Everything from the way she dresses to some of the words she uses get her funny looks. This can mirror how children feel when they come into a new foster or adoptive home. They have to learn a new set of behaviors and norms as they adapt to the environment and new living situation they find themselves in.This may be an especially relevant point of discussion if children are in a new placement.
Because of her innate ‘Santa powers’ Noelle is able to tell easily who is a nice person. In one scene her friend Jake needs to borrow a phone and Noelle picks out a stranger to ask for help saying, “He’s nice, ask him”. And when Jake questions this, she states that she ‘just knows’. Children who have experienced abuse and trauma may have difficulty in determining who they should trust in different situations and may be so guarded that they don’t trust anyone, even you as their caregiver. Or they could be so desperate for affection that they trust anyone who offers it. This could be a good opportunity to talk about trust, boundaries and ‘stranger danger’ in knowing who is safe and when to trust ‘strangers’ (a word which often applies to every person in a foster child’s life).
- Sibling Separation
For a portion of the movie, Noelle’s brother Nick is missing. He leaves the North Pole for a weekend trip and never comes back, so Noelle goes off in search of him, even hiring a private investigator to assist at one point. For siblings who are separated, this may be upsetting to them, especially if they don’t know what happened to their sibling. Noelle makes several statements about being scared that something bad happened to him and how much she needs to find him. She does eventually find him, but he tells her to go away and that he doesn’t want to come home with her. Both the turmoil of not knowing where her brother is and then the later rejection may be difficult for children who have experience similar issues, or worry how biological family members will react to them should they ever be reunited.
- Death of a Parent
Very early on in the movie it is brought to our attention that Noelle’s father (who is also Santa) has died recently and they are getting ready to celebrate Christmas for the first time without him. The movie doesn’t show this event, or even dwell on this fact other than to mention in the context of Nick taking over as the ‘new Santa’. However, for children who have experienced the death of a parent this may be difficult for them. Even if they haven’t lost a parent, if this is their first holiday in foster care or their adoptive home, they likely have feelings about celebrating a holiday for the first time without their biological families.
- Labeling Children as Naughty or Nice
A major plot point, especially in the latter half of the movie, revolves around Santa’s ‘Naughty or Nice’ list and how kids end up on it. While Nick and Noelle are missing, their cousin Gabe takes over as Santa and decides that most children don’t deserve to be on the nice list. He then uses an algorithm to send e-mails to all of them explaining why they are on the naughty list and what they need to do better to be considered ‘nice’ next year. This character isn’t seeing the true child, and is instead seeing only a list of their behavior and judging them based on that. Children from traumatic backgrounds often feel this way- that they are only a file full of diagnoses and lists of problem behaviors, when that isn’t a true representation of who they are. Children who aren’t with their birth families might feel that this is due to their behavior. During the holidays younger children especially may have anxiety surrounding which ‘list’ they are on and if Santa is going to bring them anything because of it.
- Depictions of Poverty/Homelessness/Broken Families
While Noelle is in Arizona, she comes across children with various difficult home situations such as homelessness and newly divorced parents and has a hard time processing that things aren’t all ‘sunshine and daisies’ in the world. She asks her friend, “what kind of world is this? People without homes and food…” because she’s never known that was something that existed. For children who have experienced these things seeing them on screen may be triggering or uncomfortable to them, especially scenes of families spending Christmas in a homeless shelter and sleeping on the floor.
- Unrealistic Wish Fulfillment
When Noelle takes over as ‘Santa’ she grants wishes to some of the children we saw earlier in the movie in difficult situations. Her friend’s son, Alex, wanted his family to spend Christmas morning together, even though his parents had gotten divorced and his mom was married to someone new. Noelle tells him, ‘You’re gonna get your wish to spend Christmas with your whole family. Because you’re NICE.” And on Christmas morning, she helps make this happen. Later, she meets little girl who is deaf and living in a homeless shelter with her mother. She tells Noelle that she wants a job for her mom for Christmas. So, Santa finds her mom a job working at a school for deaf children. While on the surface this is a nice idea of ‘the magic of Christmas’ solving all problems, for children who are experiencing situations like this it could lead to them thinking that maybe ‘Santa’ is able to give them an intangible gift, such as being back with their birth family. They may also feel like if they don’t get those ‘wishes’ granted it’s due to their not being good enough or nice enough to make it happen.
About the Author: Jenn Ehlers
Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.**