Gravity defying stop-motion festiveness: Alien Xmas (review)

(image courtesy IMDb (c) Netflix)

One of the most comforting parts of Christmas, a season dedicated to making us feel like everything is gloriously and perfectly right with the world, is settling down to watch the slew of new and old Christmas specials, TV shows and movies at our disposal.

Most people will have favourites so firmly entrenched – think A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas – but occasionally a new entrant comes along that is so full of inventive imagination, warmth and with and infused with a sense of that most intangible and yet real of things, Christmasness, that you can’t help but watch it and yes, add it to the list of Sacred Christmas Programs That Must Be Watched.

Such a special is Alien Xmas, from the endlessly creative minds of Jon Favreau and stop-motion masters the Chiodo Brothers, which employs ye olde Rankin-Bass-like animation to tell an enchanting story of an avaricious race of aliens who discover that maybe giving is better than receiving.

If that sounds impossibly twee and soaked in so much cliche you wonder how you’ll ever get the recurrent stain out, fear not, for while Alien Xmas is wonderfully visually nostalgic, each scene bursting with festive colour and vivacity, it is possessed of a wickedly offbeat sensibility that manages to give you a great big hug with an ironic grin.

It’s tricky thing being warmhearted and cheekily subversive all at once but this 42-minute Christmas gem manages it as it tells the story of a race of greedy aliens known as the Klepts who have moved on from pillaging and destroying their planet to the point where they have drained everything, including themselves, of colour, and now roam the galaxy in a Christmas-shaped craft stealing from other planets and races too.

It will not surprise you to learn that in Alien Xmas, based on the 2015 book of the same name by Stephen Chiodo and Jim Strain, has them arriving on Earth right at Christmas time when the abundance of things to steal is at its absolute zenith.

While the special could become some sort of anti-capitalist, return-to-the-roots of Christmas diatribe in technicolour stop-motion lusciousness, it’s far too clever a show to fall for that obvious narrative route.

Instead the special chooses to concentrate on the giving aspect of the season as alien volunteer X (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), who is the shortest and most put-upon of his coldly unemotional race, who are great at the taking but not so much at the giving, goes to elf-filled Christmas Town at the North Pole just as Santa Claus is getting ready to jet around the world in his new light-speed sleigh.

His mission is to build and activate the anti-gravity gyrotron which send all the things on Earth into space where the Klepts can scoop them up at their will.

If that doesn’t sound very Christmassy, it isn’t of course, and when X is mistaken for a doll and given to elf girl Holly (Kaliayh Rhambo) he begins to realise, even as he keeps filling sacks and stockings with stolen wreaths, fruit mince pieces, and star-shaped Christmas tree toppers, that being loved may be a whole lot better than lots of stuff.

It’s a radical idea, and one that the aliens’ leader Z (Barbara Goodson) isn’t entirely enamoured with until she, too, comes into contact with the wonder of a selfless Christmas thanks to a very cute puppy and begins a chain of change for all the Klepts that is as vibrantly colourful as it joyous.

Alien Xmas succeeds so brilliantly because it balances some warm inner glow-inducing observations about the season with a visual style so captivatingly alive and colourful that you want to dive into the North Pole village and go shopping with the sentient snowpeople and walk past houses garlanded with so many lights the power bills don’t even deserve to be thought about.

It is also sweetly funny too with a neat line in visual humour, particularly as X must pretend he is a doll to avoid being discovered to be a klepto alien (Holly wises up pretty quickly and watching her and X save Christmas is both very silly and funny and a totally pleasure to watch).

Alien Xmas is a perfect blend of cheeky and sweet, its visual style evoking the very essence of what a town manifest as Christmas should look like, and its heart worn very much on its red and green and twinkling light sleeve, with everything coming together as an archetypal classic that should be added to your festive must watch list and never removed.

Alien Xmas is currently streaming on Netflix.

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