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Northpole DVD Review

Northpole (2014) DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com Northpole Est. 1820

Original Air Date: November 15, 2014 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Douglas Barr / Writers: Gregg Rossen, Brian Sawyer

Cast: Tiffani Thiessen (Chelsea Hastings), Josh Hopkins (Mr. Ryan Wilson), Bailee Madison (Clementine), Max Charles (Kevin Hastings), Candice Glover (Josephine), Jonathan Potts (Mr. Jenkins), Richard Fitzpatrick (Ernie Pendleton), Stefanie Buxton (Clementine's Mom), Frank Schorpion (Mayor Harold Spencer), Jill St. John (Mrs. Claus), Robert Wagner (Santa Claus), Warona Setshewaelo (Jasmine)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
DVD Release Date: November 18, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $20.99

Buy Northpole Est. 1820 on DVD from Amazon.com

There is no question that the holiday season brings an increase in television movies. Between ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas and It's a Wonderful Lifetime (formerly Fa La La La Lifetime),
there is always a need for seasonal programming. While basic cable channels could easily fill their November and December schedules with old favorites (and predominantly do), holiday lineups always look better with some new original movies in the mix.

Understandably, Hallmark Channel is very much committed to attracting some viewers during the season of heartwarming sentiment. This year, their Countdown to Christmas slate promises premieres of twelve all-new original movies on weekend nights. The fun began on Halloween night, which means you might very well have missed the following night's debut of One Starry Christmas. But it's already reaired multiple times and surely will be shown plenty in the years to come, along with such other 2014 debuts as The Nine Lives of Christmas, A Cookie Cutter Christmas, and Angels and Ornaments.

One of Hallmark's bigger offerings this year is Northpole Est. 1820, a movie expanding a product brand line that Hallmark Licensing registered last year and is promoting this year. Why "Est. 1820"? I don't know and the movie does nothing to illuminate what appears to be an open and shut case of false advertising.

"Northpole Est. 1820" stars Tiffani Thiessen as Chelsea Hastings, a new in town reporter assigned to cover the cancellation of a town's 100-year-old Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Friendless Kevin (Max Charles) gets to visit the Northpole in a one-reindeer sled driven by the elf Clementine (Bailee Madison).

Northpole opens at the Northpole, which for some reason is one word (in contrast to Hallmark's trademark application, which used the standard two words "North Pole"). Apparently, Christmas is endangered because people aren't as happy as they used to be and happiness fuels the Northern Lights or something. The issue is of some concern to Santa and Mrs. Claus (who cameo in the untraditional forms of Robert Wagner and Jill St. John), but is a more pressing matter to Clementine (Bailee Madison), a 13-decade-old elf who uses Christmassy/wintry variations on expressions, such as "SnowMG" (short for the later uttered "Snow My Gosh") and "You are the deer's ears."

Despite the title, we actually don't spend too much time at Santa's home, a bright, colorful, bustling wonderland created with clearly low-budgeted CGI. More time is spent with the Hastingses, a family from Wisconsin that has recently moved to a generic small town where snow is plentiful. Divorced mom Chelsea ("Saved by the Bell"'s Tiffani Thiessen, dropping her middle name hyphenate) is a journalist for local newspaper The Examiner. We're repeatedly told she's a cynic and pessimist, jaded by her line of work, but this being a Hallmark holiday TV movie, she still seems pretty darn chipper for 2014. Her son Kevin (Max Charles) isn't fitting in at his new school. He has no friends and is the only one to join the Christmas Committee.

Fortunately, Clementine delivers an early Christmas gift to the house and rather than reporting it as a suspicious package, Kevin opens it and finds a Northpole Communicator inside. Soon, he's befriending Clementine as if by ham radio.

In "Northpole", Mr. Wilson (Josh Hopkins), Clementine (Bailee Madison), Kevin (Max Charles), and Chelsea (Tiffani Thiessen) band together to try to save a town's old Christmas tree lighting tradition.

Chelsea doesn't know how to react to the news that Kevin has befriended an elf and visited the Northpole (Clementine has borrowed Randy the reindeer for a visit, disguising Kevin as an elf). But Mom has bigger fish to fry. She has been assigned to write a story on the cancellation of the town's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony,
a century-old tradition cut to save some money. Her journalistic instincts lead her to investigate the real reason for the ceremony's cancellation and she finds evidence pointing to a shady, secretive forthcoming real estate deal by which a developer may be buying Greenwood Park, formerly Christmas Tree Park, to build condos. Her front page reporting is dead wrong and yet it is she who pens a letter of resignation when her deadline-driven boss Mr. Jenkins (Jonathan Potts) won't print a retraction.

Perhaps that last bit is a spoiler, but this certainly isn't a movie you watch to be surprised. You completely figure out something early on that Chelsea takes over an hour to discover and your every inkling is absolutely right.

One doesn't watch Hallmark holiday movies to be taken by surprise or blown away by narratives. You watch them to feel good and to revel in the joy that the Christmas season is supposed to bring. To that end, Northpole does a decent job. The acting, writing and directing are all pedestrian. You could easily take the final act's logic and redemption to task. Nonetheless, if not particularly good in any way, it is a production that is well served by its good nature. I've definitely seen much worse holiday telemovies than this on Lifetime and ABC Family.

I suppose I should mention that "Cougar Town"'s Josh Hopkins plays Chelsea's love interest without romance featuring heavily. He's her son's teacher, and the cool kind who cuts his necktie to teach fractions. An obvious catch who has no reason to be single, he becomes part of a four-deep central dynamic along with Clementine, who wears Kevin's hat to cover the tips of her pointy elf ears.

Cynical viewers will notice that the movie is extremely calculated and commercial. It is full of pronounced commercial breaks and prominently featured props that are all available to buy from Hallmark. There's also some conspicuous product placement, because devoting nearly one-third of airtime to advertisements apparently was not enough to cover this production's modest costs.

Three days after Hallmark Channel's November 15th premiere, Northpole will hit DVD from ARC Entertainment.

Your options are limited on the Northpole DVD main menu. Oh and spoiler warning: the town Christmas tree gets lit up!

VIDEO and AUDIO

Northpole looks fine on DVD. Its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation certainly won't strike you as unusually "dazzy" (an elf term) and it doesn't boast the detail that HD broadcasts will. But it is without issue and largely satisfactory. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack won't make you add this title to your home theater demo material list, but it also doesn't warrant any disappointment. The DVD opts for closed captioning instead of subtitles,
which might disappoint those with hearing problems. Those without will have no reason to consult them for clarification.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Nary a bonus feature is included on the DVD, which opens with menu-inaccessible trailers for Home Is Where the Heart Is, Pete's Christmas, An Evergreen Christmas, Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas, and Northpole products.

The menu plays clips under a festive title logo and blue border while looping the end credits' score.

The uncut black Eco-Box keepcase is topped by a slipcover. An insert promotes two products seen in the movie and a thus-untitled sequel coming in 2015.

SnowMG! Clementine (Bailee Madison) uses a Northpole Communicator (available now from Northpole1820.com) to communicate with Kevin. Mr. Wilson (Josh Hopkins) cuts his necktie to teach his students fractions. That's cool!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As far as made-for-cable holiday TV movies go, Northpole is rather harmless. Corny and predictable, sure,
but harmless enough with its likable lead actors and reasonably original, not too fanciful story. That's not enough to recommend its barebones DVD or that you set your DVR to record one of Hallmark's many scheduled broadcasts. But there will be much worse holiday movies coming to cable and video this month that will make this seem quite tolerable by comparison.

Buy Northpole Est. 1820 on DVD from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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Bailee Madison: Bridge to Terabithia Just Go With It Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Once Upon a Time: Season 1 Saving Sarah Cain
Josh Hopkins: 12 Men of Christmas Cougar Town: The Complete First Season Brothers & Sisters: The Complete First Season
Max Charles: The Neighbors: The Complete First Season The Amazing Spider-Man The Amazing Spider-Man 2 The Three Stooges
Mrs. Miracle Call Me Mrs. Miracle On the 2nd Day of Christmas Ebbie The House Without a Christmas Tree Coming Home for Christmas
Elf The Santa Clause (3-Movie Collection) Fred Claus Four Christmases Scrooged

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Reviewed November 8, 2014.



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