“A Boy Called Christmas” Director Gil Kenan on Netflix’s Magical Holiday (Exclusive)
Netflix’s Christmas release list is filled with romantic comedies and family favorite movies, but one movie stands out from the rest. A boy called Christmas, now streaming on the platform, is a big-budget vacation fantasy that is sure to get a lot of airing in homes this season. Director / co-writer Gil Kenan, who directed the years 2006 Monster house and co-wrote Ghostbusters: the afterlife, takes viewers into a mystical world of elves, magic, and talking animals in what is clearly the 2021 holiday movie with the utmost care of all its peers. (There’s a star cast as well, with Kristen Wiig, Sally Hawkins, Michiel Huisman, Maggie Smith, Stephen Merchant, and young frontman Henry Lawfull.)
Ahead of the film’s release, we spoke with Kenan about the inspirations behind the film, what it was like to work with Lawful as his lead role and the cast of Saturday Night Live great Wiig. He also took a second to think about the wild coincidence that A boy called Christmas and Ghostbusters: the afterlife both break free nearby. Scroll down to read our full questions and answers with Kenan. (You can also watch it as a video above.)
PC: I wanted to start with the beginning of the film. There’s a storytelling sequence towards the start of the movie, and it’s all done in silhouette and shadows. What inspired you to take this approach to this scene?
GK: I was really inspired to try and figure out how to tell Lumi’s story and land it in Nikolas’ imagination. As you know, after seeing the movie, Nikolas grew up in a world without much outside influence. It’s just him and his dad and some trees and maybe a stream in the woods. And so part of that was to think of how a fantasy story would play out in the imagination of a child that doesn’t have much outside influence, and to think of that simplest magical moment where you see a a flickering shadow cast by a little light, be it a candle or a fire. It’s a prime human instinct to imagine a story and a character when you see something that hints at magic like that. So it seemed like a natural opportunity for Nikolas to dream big and let the audience enjoy this moment.
And part of the inspiration for me was, as an animation lover and as an animator myself earlier in my life, but let’s be honest, throughout my life this is my kind of favorite storytelling medium when doing things on my own. I was truly inspired by the groundbreaking silhouette animation work of Lotte Reiniger, who was a pioneering animation director who worked exclusively in paper cut silhouette animation and told amazing and fantastic stories using this medium. . So that’s part of what went into that sequence.
As far as influences go, when I was watching this, I just had major “Harry Potter” vibes. I was wondering if these films had any influence on your process of editing this film?
The Harry potter The movie universe was like the gold standard for telling a fantastic story using the best actors you can fit into a movie. And so I look forward to the comparison. Obviously, I think the world of portraying magic and wonder on film is bigger than just one universe of storytelling. I think what I hope to do with A boy called Christmas is to show an audience that we can still tell pure fairy tales in our modern cinematic world, that there is a way to use all the great tools of cinema to tell something simple, beautiful, human and emotional. And it turns out that it’s a Christmas story that allows us to pull all of these elements together.
Movies like this, they can kind of depend on a young performer and that’s scary for a lot of directors to deal with. What was it like working with Henry and seeing him see this magical world through his eyes?
It’s funny. I was just looking at a few photos earlier today of my filmmaking experience. And I found pictures the first day I met Henry, and I just photographed him against a white wall. And I was struck by the moments that I captured there on film because they reminded me of the elements of Henry that made me so excited to tell the story through his eyes. There is openness, reality, and an ability to imagine something amazing that you can play on her face, even when you’re just looking at those photos. But what really makes him work is that it all happens while keeping him a real kid. None of this makes it seem like it’s somehow forced, wide, or contrived. The thing with Henry is what you get is him. You get a real kid from 2021 who is able to take you on an amazing adventure, but doesn’t feel like times are forced or contrived. And I was so excited to be able to tell a great adventure on the shoulders of a young person who felt as grounded and accessible as Henry.
Another cast that I really found super inspired was Kristen Wiig, who played the Wicked Aunt. What was it like working with her? Because that’s quite the performance, and I think it really stands out.
I am a huge fan of Kristen Wiig. i’m a huge SNL fan. SNL is basically how I learned comedy growing up. And I was so committed to making Kristen do that because I was watching her week after week on SNL conjuring up seamless complete characters, characters who felt totally immersive, where they had stories that stretched for miles beyond the sketch they were in. And so when it came time to bring Aunt Carlotta to life, I reached out to Kristen, sent her this script, and I was lucky enough to realize, after telling her that she’s a huge fan. fairy tale stories and movies and that she was really looking to play a British character in a movie that could evoke that kind of fantasy world. So it was a really great time and good luck for me, that she was ready to make the jump to Aunt Carlotta, who is a character unlike anything she has ever played before.
These last few weeks have been so important to you. You had a big “Monster House” anniversary, you co-wrote the new movie “Ghostbusters” and you have this movie coming out on Netflix that’s going to be available to a lot of people right away.
I’m freaking out. I mean, honestly, it’s not normal. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years and working really hard to get a movie off the ground. And so have both Ghostbusters: the afterlife and A boy called Christmas basically opening five days apart, most of the world, is fluke of the universe, really fluke of the pandemic. And it’s an amazing feeling because I really care about both films. I have so much love for them and I am so proud of the stories they tell. I can’t wait for the public to see them. And maybe one day they’ll make a double feature film. I mean, there’s just a weird synchronicity going on right now, and I’m not taking it for granted. I’m very grateful.
A boy called Christmas is now streaming on Netflix, as is Monster house. Ghostbusters: the afterlife is in theaters everywhere.