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Disney's 'The Naughty Nine': A Mischievous Holiday Adventure That Falls Short of Christmas Magic

Image courtesy of Disney

By Shannon McGrew

It’s that time of year again - the most magical season: Christmas. As people gear up to decorate their homes with twinkling lights and the perfect Christmas tree while classic carols fill the air, it’s the perfect time to sift through the latest holiday releases. Although I might not consider myself a big Christmas person, I can’t help but recognize the captivating charm and nostalgic warmth these films exude. In Disney’s Original film, THE NAUGHTY NINE, a band of kids land themselves on Santa’s naughty list, triggering a series of mischievous escapades. However, this festive adventure fails to deliver on making a memorable holiday film

Official Synopsis: Mischievous fifth grader, Andy finds himself without a present from Santa on Christmas morning. Realizing he must have landed on the “naughty list” and feeling unfairly maligned, Andy pulls together a team of eight other “naughty listers” to help him execute an elaborate heist in Santa’s Village at the North Pole to get the presents they feel they deserve. Along the way, the group comes to realize that the very best way off the naughty list is to redirect their unique talents for good - instead of mischief.

Winslow Fegley portrays our lead character, Andy, who finds himself in the hot seat after executing a prank at school. Having been impressed with his previous work in “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” and the horror film, “Come Play,” my confidence in his talent never wavered. However, it does become evident that he’s stretching beyond his age bracket. Granted, he possesses the essential qualities needed for this role and does a fantastic job especially when he delivers some great one-liners but it’s time for him to explore roles beyond those tailored for a younger audience.

Image courtesy of Disney

Rounding out the rest of THE NAUGHTY NINE are Andy’s sister, Laurel (Madilyn Kellam), alongside his classmates Jon Anthony (Deric McCabe), Rose (Clara Stack), Dulce (Camila Rodriguez), Albert (Ayden Elijah), Lewis (Anthony Joo), Ha-Yoon (Imogen Cohen), and the pilot, Bruno (Derek Theler), who takes them on their North Pole adventure. This eclectic mix of characters from diverse backgrounds brings about a well-rounded and inclusive vibe.

Deric McCabe shines as the fabulous Jon Anthony, an unapologetically queer character, delivering a standout performance. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum Derek Theler’s portrayal of Bruno seems to mimic a Chris Pratt vibe to the extent that it felt like Disney aimed for Pratt but landed on the ‘Wish’ store version instead. Theler’s mannerisms and especially his voice mirror that of Chris Pratt so well that one would think they were related (they’re not). This uncanny resemblance hinders Theler from showcasing who he is as an actor.

One of odder aspects of the movie arises when the kids’ ‘naughty’ acts are brought up. For instance, one character’s misdeed involves liberating animals, which seems the opposite of naughty. I won’t dive too deep into the philosophical realm, but it does make one wonder what exactly defines ‘naughty’ in this context. Separately, the film does make an effort to showcase diverse Christmas celebrations worldwide. While the intentions and inclusivity is commendable, the execution falls short in truly highlighting these traditions for the audience to connect with.

The biggest detriment to the film, however, lies in its absence of holiday magic as it fails to ignite that expected spark. Everything within it seems to fall flat, lacking depth in both character development and production design. There’s a distinct absence of a lived-in atmosphere, preventing viewers from establishing a genuine connection with the story. Despite its relatively short runtime of just over 90 minutes, the film feels like a dragging 3-hour saga due to the absence of any compelling elements to invest in.

Image courtesy of Disney

Overall, THE NAUGHTY NINE falls short in capturing the holiday spirit to make this a memorable film. While Winslow and Deric deliver standout performances, sprinkled with a few well-deserved laughs, the film struggles in establishing who we are supposed to be rooting for. Despite a hint of a redemption arc towards the end, it lacks the punch needed to leave a lasting impact. Not even a cameo from Danny Glover as Santa could ‘sleigh’ this film into greatness. However, it might find its place as an entertaining flick for younger audiences.


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