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Western Animation / The Flight Before Christmas

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The Flight Before Christmas is a Finnish-Danish-Irish-German computer animated feature film first released in 2008. 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, Black Wolf and his 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. 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:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: Literally, in this case. The rest of the herd don't think much of Niko's belief that his dad was on the Flying Forces or his attempts to fly, with two of the young ones mocking him early on in the film. Only Saga, Niko's best friend, believes him, despite her own father's attempts to discourage her.
  • Big Bad: Black Wolf is the leader of the wolves who desires to kill and eat Santa and his reindeer.
  • 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: 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.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Julius met Niko after losing his own family to a pack of wolves.
  • Dark Is Evil: Black Wolf. His fur is solid black, and so is his heart.
  • Disappeared Dad: Prancer
  • Disney Villain Death: Black Wolf's fate.
  • Expy: Quite a few from The Lion King (1994):
    • Niko - Simba
    • Saga - Nala
    • Julius - Zazu
    • Wilma - Timon/Pumbaa
    • Black Wolf - Scar
    • The wolves - The hyenas
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Flying Forces' "Santa Speed."
  • Gasshole: All of The Flying Forces. After guzzling down a mug of an unidentified beverage, they proceed to belch loudly, one after the other, before they turn to look expectantly at Niko, until he burps as well, to which they all laugh.
  • 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, seemingly 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. While loud and obnoxious, they are genuinely nice guys, who take their job very seriously.
  • 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 Roberts) 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, and have confidence in themselves. When the wolves attack, the Forces are too scared to fly. In the sequel, it is said that they can only achieve "Santa Speed" if they possess a "happy heart".
  • 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.
  • Savage Wolves: Most of Black Wolf's pack invoke this, with the exception of Specks.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Niko has the same fur patterns on his face as Prancer does.
  • 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.
  • Vegetarian Carnivore: As noted above, Specks pefers to eat moss. After Black Wolf's Disney Villain Death, the rest of his pack decide to follow Specks' example (mostly out of fear of the Flying Forces' wrath).
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Black Wolf is a vicious beast that wants to eat Santa and his flight force so he can proceed to slaughter all the children of the world for food.
  • Weasel Mascot: Wilma.
  • You're Not My Father: Niko tells this to Julius during an argument, deeply hurting the old squirrel.

The sequel provides examples of:

  • And I Must Scream: White Wolf ends up tied up in wrapping paper, unable to move as the Eagles sing her Christmas carols (to her dismay).
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Niko views his new stepbrother, Jonni, as this. To everyone else, he's an Adorably Precocious Child.
  • Avenging the Villain: The Big Bad is Black Wolf's sister, White Wolf, who wants revenge against Niko for her brother's death.
  • Big Brother Instinct: After realizing the error of his ways, Niko does everything he can to keep Jonni safe and look after him.
  • Big Brother Worship: Jonni is quick to latch on to the idea of he and Niko being brothers, following around and looking up to him.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: White Wolf acts nice around the eagles in order to charm them into doing what she wants, but her facade easily slips due to their stupidity.
  • Blind Mistake: Tobias, an old reindeer Niko meets while chasing after the eagles, suffers many of these, from mistaking a moss-covered rock for Niko to thinking a tree he bumped into is someone in his way.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Specks, Essie, Niko's grandfather and Saga's father are all absent.
  • Cool Old Guy: Tobias, the former leader of the Flying Forces.
  • Foreshadowing: Lenni refrains from telling Oona about the eagles taking Jonni and Niko following them, on the grounds that she "shouldn't be upset right now." At the end of the movie, we learn that Oona was pregnant, and she gives birth to a doe.
  • Gasshole: While the Flying Forces are going through their preflight check, Dasher tells them to check the air presure. Blitzen replies by belching loudly.
  • How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: The Flying Forces can activate "Santa Speed", enabling them to travel great distances in no time at all. It's implied that this is how Santa can deliver toys all across the world in just one night.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Jonni unknowingly annoys Niko by forgetting Prancer's name when listing the Flying Forces.
  • Light Is Not Good: White Wolf. Despite her white coat, she's as vile as her brother was.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: The Eagles. Though their leader, Boss, tries to be scary and frightening, and they hold a grudge against the Flying Forces for forcing them out of the skies, they are all seriously lacking in the bad guy department. They even sing a Christmas carol during the end credits.
  • Missing Mom: Jonni reveals that his mother died not long after he was born.
  • Mistaken Identity: The Eagles mistake Jonni for Niko.
  • My Greatest Failure: Tobias left the Flying Forces after his deteriorating sight caused them to miss two houses on one of their Christmas runs, leaving the children inside without presents.
  • Nice Guy: Lenni.
  • Out of Focus: Saga gets less screentime here.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Oona strikes up a relationship with a reindeer named Lenni, to Niko's dismay.
  • Shipper on Deck: At the beginning of the movie, Niko tries to get Oona and Prancer back together, with little success. His hopes are dashed for good when Oona starts a relationship with Lenni.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Like Niko and Prancer, Jonni and Lenni share facial fur patterns.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: White Wolf with the Eagles. They mistake her order to "capture the little flying reindeer boy" as "capture the little lying reindeer boy", They take Jonni when he tells them he's not Niko, since they assume he's lying (as she supposedly told them he would).
  • Talk About the Weather: Lenni's favorite topic of conversation.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Niko does not take kindly to meeting Lenni, and he's even meaner to Jonni. While playing hide-and-seek (in an attempt to ditch Jonni), Niko lashes out at the poor young buck, refusing to accept him as a brother, and abandons him out in the woods, which leads to Jonni getting abducted by the eagles. Fortunately, after rescuing him and hearing Jonni mention how sad and lonely he and his father were before meeting Oona, Niko gets better and apologizes for his behavior at the end.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Julius does this to Niko after Jonni is snatched by the eagles.
    Julius: Where's Jonni?
    Niko: I don't know! I left him right there by the snow bank!
    Julius: You left Jonni on his own?!
    Niko: Just for a second!