Author: Matthew Wilder, Antti J., Eric Rochford
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:Teen thief Nicholas North, the future Santa Claus, travels to strange lands to save a village from an evil witch.
Synopsis:In an orphanage surrounded by magical fairies, a woman known as MOTHER FAIR gathers the children around to tell them a Christmas Eve story. In the distant past, a rough-looking, tattooed SHAMAN rides a sled speedily away from an unknown pursuer. In a hurry, the Shaman reveals an eight-year-old boy (NICHOLAS), casts a quick spell, and sends Nicholas away on a block of floating ice, leaving him with nothing but a small iron dagger. The Shaman leaps back on his sled, running from a huge, flying creature made of iron, the SCREAGER. It soars after the Shaman, ignoring Nicholas. The ice cracks, plunging Nicholas into the cold depths of the Arctic. Meanwhile, a sinister shadow woman — later revealed as HELLION, an evil witch — ties up a woman named ANNUKKA, saying Annukka has something she needs. Annukka tells Hellion that “he” is gone now, so he’s safe from her. Hellion says nothing is safe from her.
A frozen Nicholas is lifted onto the deck of a pirate vessel by a sinister leader of thieves, CALIFAX. Once they thaw and he realizes it’s just a boy, Califax wants to throw him back, declaring him useless. However, HESHY, a perpetually fearful talking hedgehog, knows Nicholas can be useful. With his golden hair and sparkling blue eyes, he’d serve as a wonderful distraction for their thieving. Heshy asks Nicholas’s name. Nicholas has no last name, so Heshy gives him one — North, to indicate where he came from. A montage follows, showing Nicholas initially distracting people while Califax and his men robbed them. Eventually, he becomes quite adept at stealing himself. When Nicholas reaches 17, he and Heshy are forced to hide as Califax and his men are shackled together and led away by angry soldiers. Left with nothing but cunning, Nicholas leads Heshy to a Viking village.
They enter a tavern, where Nicholas challenges a huge, surly man to a wrestling match. The prize? Two bowls of soup. Nicholas defeats the man handily, despite the size. The Viking tavern owner — even bigger than the man Nicholas defeated — bets him 10 gold pieces that he’ll win. To make the fight fair, they must strip down to their underwear. Upon stripping down, the other Vikings discover Nicholas has engineered a metal exoskeleton to give him superior strength. Stripped of that, the tavern owner crushes Nicholas and throws him and Heshy out of the tavern, instructing them not to leave town until they pay him 10 gold pieces apiece. Outside, an old thief, COLONEL SIBELIUS, takes pity on Nicholas and Heshy. He gives them a tip about a nearby home that’s empty for the night. They can rob it and get the gold they need. Nicholas and Heshy investigate the house. Inside, they find a bunch of poor, orphaned “Anagoarbada” people, described as smaller, furrier versions of humans. Nicholas takes pity on them, so he and Heshy prepare to leave — when they’re attacked by SARAH, a beautiful teenage Anagoarbada girl, who waves a butcher knife and shouts nonsense at them. Nicholas and Heshy try to talk sense into her, but she won’t listen. They run — right into Colonel Sibelius, who waits with the constable.
A judge sentences Nicholas and Heshy to a punishment for their crimes: they’re to be hung by one leg from hot hair balloons, which will lose their air somewhere over the neighboring mountain range, most likely killing the two of them. They’re about to be released into the air — when Sarah, wielding a sword, cuts them down. They’re baffled by the sudden change of heart, but Sarah leads them back to her house, now empty. She tells them Hellion has stolen every person living in the village and has taken them to her mines in the North Pole, forcing them into slavery. She enlists Nicholas and Heshy to help her save the village, but they think she’s out of her mind — until Sarah mentions they’re mining for diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and gold. He has a sudden change of heart, so he and Heshy accompany her on the journey.
On the road, Sarah says they need to find the Shaman (Nicholas doesn’t remember the Shaman who raised him as a child, so he makes no connection), but in order to do that, they must first find the elf village. Nicholas and Heshy laugh at her, saying that in all their years adventuring, they’ve never seen elves. While mocking her, Nicholas falls into a tunnel, which turns out to be a chimney, right into the elves’ blazing fire. Nicholas is shocked by this underground world where the elves live in peace, working at their factories, making toys. Nicholas doesn’t know exactly what a toy is or why it’s useful. Later, Nicholas and Heshy wait while Sarah talks to the ELF ADMINISTRATOR in an elven language. They don’t understand anything but the words “Shaman” and “Hellion.” Mentioning Hellion causes the Elf Administrator to freak out. Sarah tells Nicholas he must use one of the elves’ portals to see the Shaman — alone.
Nicholas is transported to a dark forest, where a seemingly disembodied head taunts him as Nicholas approaches the Shaman’s house. The Shaman looks awful, in comparison to when we saw him earlier. He’s really hit the skids, and he can’t even impress Nicholas with his paltry attempts at magic. The Shaman notices Nicholas’s iron dagger, and he realizes this is the boy he was once forced to abandon. He now knows he must help, because destiny foretold that Nicholas would one day save their people. In his ravings, the Shaman tells Nicholas he was born of the merging of the Northern Lights and the Arctic wind. Nicholas is dubious until the Shaman forces Nicholas to have a vision. In it, he sees Hellion taunting the kidnapped villagers. She blames “the boy” for their kidnapping — she wants him, because he holds the key to eternal life, the one thing she wants more than anything. She sends her Screager after him.
Nicholas jerks awake to find the Shaman laughing with Sarah. Nicholas is introduced to KRIIL, a tiny gremlin with self-esteem issues. He’s designed their transportation, which looks eerily like Santa’s famous sleigh. The group piles in, and Kriil pilots it over the Arctic, toward the North Pole. The Shaman warns Nicholas of the dangers that lie ahead. Nicholas gripes that he’s a thief; destiny shouldn’t have dragged him into this. Later, he consoles Sarah, who misses her parents. The next morning, they’ve all fallen asleep — including Kriil, who crashes them into the side of a mountain. The sleigh tumbles to the snowy base of the mountain. It turns out, the mountain isn’t a mountain at all — it’s the backside of BESTLA, a giant the size of a mountain. He’s a friendly giant, however. Through a group of fairies, Bestla orders Nicholas to pick up a broadsword, put on a blindfold, and run into the Vergerus Forest. Nicholas is baffled, but both Bestla and the Shaman insist this is for Nicholas’s own good. First, Nicholas crashes right into a tree. Bestla commands snow, and this time, Nicholas runs at great speed through the forest, somehow avoiding every tree in his path. Sarah and Heshy are suitably impressed, but the Shaman breaks up the lovefest. While Kriil repairs the sleigh, Bestla provides transportation — to Tuonela, the Land of the Dead.
In the scorched Wastelands outside Tuonela, groups of people camp out, desperate to see loved ones one last time before they pass through to the Land of the Dead. After setting up a campsite of their own, the group discovers the Shaman has disappeared. Nicholas searches for him, but he can’t find him anywhere. Nicholas wonders if this is another test. Sarah says she has faith that the Shaman will prevail and that they’re on the right track. That night, a noise wakes Nicholas. He goes to a nearby tent, where he finds the Shaman, who tells Nicholas that he left to gather ingredients for a magic potion that will allow him to travel unharmed into Tuonela. Before leaving, the Shaman tells Nicholas to find Agir, a Viking whose army is nearby. Agir owes the Shaman a favor. The Shaman recites a spell and disappears.
Nicholas, Sarah, and Heshy find a Viking military camp in the Wastelands. AGIR is there, a huge man who’s fond of stories. After Nicholas says who sent him, Agir demands to hear Nicholas’s story. Agir warns Nicholas against entering the Tuonela, but Nicholas insists. They’re attacked by a Screager, which snatches Sarah and Heshy and flies them away. Feeling he’s failed, Agir agrees to accompany Nicholas in order to redeem himself. They go to an old, gnarly, scarred tree, which marks the entrance to Tuonela. The Shaman returns, mourning that his beloved isn’t in there. Nicholas demands to know what’s going on. The Shaman explains the history: his people were guardians of Nicholas, whom prophecy stated would grow up to protect them. One day, Hellion came for him, so the Shaman hid him. While he was gone, Hellion killed everyone in the village. He also thought she killed his wife, Annukka, but he had a vision that she was still alive, trapped by Hellion. In the vision, Hellion offered him a deal: if he gives her Nicholas, she’ll return Annukka. He traveled into Tuonela to confirm that Annukka wasn’t there, and now he finds himself at a crossroads. Nicholas has a better idea: they can fight and defeat Hellion.
Nicholas dives through the ice and drops into Hellion’s ice palace, where he sees Hellion as a beautiful woman. She tries to convince Nicholas that she’s a good person — more than that, that she’s Nicholas’s mother, and that his friends and the villagers are there, having the time of their lives. Nicholas wants to believe it, but when he hugs her, he feels nothing but cold and emptiness. He turns on her, and she sends the Screager to attack. With considerable effort, Nicholas defeats the giant iron bird, but he’s not powerful enough to defeat Hellion. She gets ahold of him and removes his soul, the key to granting her immortality. This weakens him for a moment, long enough for her to stab him in the gut. Nicholas uses his expert pickpocketing skills to retrieve the soul from Hellion, allowing him to regain strength. It occurs to him that the iron dagger he’s had for his entire life is the key to her defeat. He plunges it into her, and the Arctic wind and Northern Lights gather power within it. The energy rapidly ages Hellion, eventually turning her into nothing more than dust. Nicholas and the Shaman release Sarah, Heshy, and the villagers. The Shaman is reunited with Annukka at long last. Nicholas still wants his reward, but Sarah makes him realize some things are more important than money. Nicholas looks around and realizes the people surrounding him have become his family.
Back in the orphanage, one of the little girls listening to the story, CARMELIA, asks Mother Fair if this is the same man who became Santa Claus. Mother Fair is coy about it. She puts the children to bed. Outside the window, Carmelia sees something outside — Heshy, scurrying about as Santa delivers toys. This confirms her believe that Nicholas North is Santa Claus.
Comments:Nicholas North tells a fun adventure story clearly aimed at kids. While it’s impressive that the script tells a decent story without pandering to its youthful audience, the darker elements and intense violence in the third act may frighten younger audience members. As written, it merits a consider.
The first act does a nice job of establishing an unfamiliar mythology and throwing teenage Nicholas into the adventure. The second act is a little shakier. Although the writers flesh out this odd, mythical world by introducing elves, giants, and other assorted creatures, almost none of them have any real significance to the story. For instance, Bestla, the giant, forces a sword-handling test on Nicholas and then carries the group to the Wastelands. However, the Shaman could have just as easily tested Nicholas, and they could have continued on in Kriil’s sleigh. Despite their frequent uselessness, the creatures are cute and fairly unique takes on familiar mythical creatures.
The third act focuses on the traditional final showdown with the villain. The writers do a nice job of keeping the stakes high, and the death of Hellion is satisfactory if a bit predictable. However, the battle with the Screager and the violent fight with Hellion might disturb kids more than it makes them cheer. The story ends on the obligatory positive note, but Nicholas’s realization that he’s finally part of a family is rather poignant.
The framing story in the orphanage is passable, but making Nicholas into Santa Claus adds nothing to the narrative. Aside from containing toy-making elves and a precursor to the traditional reindeer-powered sleigh, this story does nothing to create a new Santa Claus lore. It’s merely a fun adventure set in a winter wonderland. Tying it to Santa Claus actually weakens the story a bit.
As for the characters, Nicholas remains compelling throughout. The writers give him an interesting, somewhat depressing backstory and a preoccupation with thievery that becomes an amusing running gag. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his character is the subtle drive to find his real family. They never overplay this aspect of it, but it seems to motivate him whenever stealing doesn’t. His love story with Sarah is a bit underwritten, but probably intentionally so.
Of the supporting characters, the Shaman is by far the most intriguing, probably because he’s given a similar tragic backstory that drives his actions throughout the story. Heshy is a little irritating as comic relief, and Sarah rarely has anything to do besides look pretty and get kidnapped. As mentioned previously, the various other characters who appear in this story are cute but generally serve no purpose. While mostly effective as the villain, Hellion’s obsession with immortality isn’t explored to its full potential. The script rarely focuses on her, and while it’s easy to jump to conclusions about why a ruthless witch would want to live forever, the writers make no effort to give any explanation, much less one that’s unique or empathetic.
Nicholas North is flawed but fun, and it’s a kids’ movie that has enough entertainment values to keep adults from getting bored. Much of its success will depend on whether or not the dark, violent sequences are appropriate for kids.