Western Animation: The Flight Before Christmas

The Flight Before Christmas is a Finnish-Danish-Irish-German computer animated feature film first released in 2008. It is different from most computer animated films that mostly rely on pop culture references and silly characters (Pixar films are the exception) by focusing on the story that is filled with exciting adventure and heart-warming scenes. It's more in the tradition of The Land Before Time than Shrek. The film was written by Finnish screenwriter Hannu Tuomainen and directed by Kari Juusonen from Finland and Michael Hegner from Denmark.

The film is a holiday movie about a young boy reindeer named Niko, who believes his father (whom he doesn't know) is one of Santa Claus's flying reindeer. Niko lives in the wilderness of Northern Finland with his single mother Oona and his adult friend/surrogate father Julius the flying squirrel. Niko wants to become just likes his father and tries to learn how to fly, much to the scorn of other reindeer in his herd. One day, returning from his flying practice, Niko unknowingly leads a pack of wolves to the herd, forcing them to flee from their safe Home Valley to the snowy tundra, where the food is scarce. Niko is blamed for what has happened and he runs away from home to find his real father from Santa's headquarters in the North Pole. He is accompanied by Julius, who wants to protect Niko as he is the only person he cares about, and Wilma, a musical weasel the two meet on their journey. After an eventful journey, the three of them arrive at the North Pole, where Niko will finally find out if his dreams of his father come true or not. Meanwhile, the wolf pack (unwillingly aided by Essie, a naive, pampered poodle who got separated from her vacationing owners) are also looking for Santa's workshop, for their own sinister reasons...

The film was released theatrically in several European countries, but in the US it was released Direct-to-Video and broadcast on TV by CBS around the holiday season. It was marketed as a Christmas Special (and with misleading cover art, shown above), which was just wrong. Firstly it was an understatement of the film, and secondly the film featured some scary parts and adultish subject matter, that many American viewers couldn't take in a Christmas Special (Resulting in a tsunami of negative reviews because of that). In subsequent rebroadcasts, the 46 minute CBS edit tends to be shown after prime time, perhaps to avoid this confusion (although it was shown during prime time in 2013 and 2014).

A sequel, entitled Little Brother, Big Trouble: A Christmas Adventure, was released in 2012. The plot involves Niko's mother finding a new mate, and Niko getting a new step-brother, to his dismay.

This animated Christmas special provides examples of:

  • Big "NO!": Julius after he thinks that Niko has fallen down a waterfall.
  • Black Eyes of Crazy: The villain of the film, Black Wolf, has black sclerae and an insatiable appetite for flying reindeer.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Regarding the previous one, Black Wolf and the rest of his pack have an evil plan of eating Santa's flying reindeer to gain their magical power of flight, then to eat Santa, and then to wreak havoc across the world!
  • Covers Always Lie: According to the cover of the American DVD (shown above) the film is about "Santa's little helpers", which is hardly the case.
  • Disappeared Dad
  • Expy: Quite a few from The Lion King:
    • Niko - Simba
    • Saga - Nala
    • Julius - Zazu
    • Wilma - Timon/Pumbaa
    • The Black Wolf - Scar
    • The wolves - The hyenas
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Flying Forces' "Santa Speed."
  • Genki Girl: Wilma is very upbeat and cheerful.
  • Glorified Sperm Donor: Niko idolizes his father, despite not even knowing his name.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Smiley the wolf has some nasty-looking ones.
  • I Can't Feel My Legs: Played for Laughs. After an avalanche, Specks tugs at what he thinks is his own, now dead, legs, but they're actually Smiley's.
  • Interspecies Romance: Between Specks the moss-eating wolf and Essie the poodle.
    • Implied at times with Julius and Wilma.
  • Lineage Comes from the Father: The Flying Forces say that flight can only be passed from father to son; taken literally this seems to indicate that only males can fly at all.
  • Lovable Jock: The Flying Forces come off as this.
  • Market-Based Title: The film was released as The Flight Before Christmas in the US, but as Niko & The Way to the Stars elsewhere in the English speaking world. Further confusing the people, the film was called just The Way to the Stars before it was released.
  • Meaningful Name: The name "Black Wolf" really doesn't make you want to try to make friends.
  • Parental Substitute: Julius to Niko, as becomes increasingly apparent as the movie goes on.
  • Redubbing/Same Language Dub: The voices for Julius (Norm MacDonald) and Wilma (Emma Thompson) were redubbed in the American version of the of the film. In the original English dub, released in the UK and Ireland, Julius was played by Morgan Jones and Wilma was played by Aileen Mythen.
  • Psychoactive Powers: The Flying Forces (and Niko) can only fly if they truly believe they can. When the wolves attack, the Forces are too scared to fly.
  • Really Gets Around: When Niko asks the Flying Forces if any of them ever took a young lady for a Christmas flight, Dasher tells him that he'll have to provide more details then just that.
  • Tell Me About My Father: This film is all about this trope.
  • Token Good Teammate: Specks is this to the rest of the wolf pack.
  • Weasel Mascot: Wilma.

The sequel provides examples of: