The true spirit of Christmas is something that holiday movies have long been fascinated with, and Netflix’s Alien Xmas is no exception. What is exceptional about the special is that it brings extraterrestrial flair to the holiday, courtesy of the Chiodo Brothers, who made 1988 cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
Fear not, parents: unlike those cheeky circus maniacs, and despite a similar alien-invasion-in-a-small-town premise, Alien Xmas is extremely kid-friendly. It runs just under 45 minutes and the animation style will be instantly familiar to fans of another kid-friendly Christmas classic, since the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen, Charles, and Edward) did the adorable stop-motion work in the North Pole scenes for Jon Favreau’s Elf. In fact, some vaguely familiar-looking critters also show up here.
You may also recognize their work from other beloved films—remember the claymation effects that made Large Marge’s face so terrifying in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure? That was them! But there’s nothing so alarming in Alien Xmas, which is actually based on Chiodo Bros.’ Alien Xmas, a children’s book by director Stephen Chiodo. The story unfolds with Santa as the narrator, so even when things get a tiny bit perilous you know everything’s gonna be just fine in the end.
Animation stalwart Dee Bradley Baker voices the main character, an alien named X whose culture revolves around thievery (they’re literally called “Klepts”). Their ruthless leader, Z, has zeroed in on Earth as their next target, so X is sent to the North Pole with a helper robot (the “Semi-Automatic Multi-Tasking Unit,” or SAMTU) and all the parts to assemble an anti-gravity device. The plan is to make all the shiny trinkets and nifty crap on Earth float into space, making for a bountiful Klept harvest.
X, whose small size has made him the most-bullied Klept, hopes this mission will finally earn him some respect. But much like Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, once X gets a dose of Christmas cheer, he realizes the giving of gifts—the warm-fuzzy-bringing act of kindness and love itself—is more rewarding than any pile of stuff could ever be. Helping X along on his journey of self-discovery is Holly (Kaliayh Rhambo), a little elf girl whose father is working on a high-tech new sleigh for Santa, and whose mother is the elf in charge of Christmas puppies. Both the sleigh and the puppies play a big part in X’s journey, too.
Alien Xmas’ message about consumerism may be simple, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. There are clever moments throughout that keep the movie from feeling too saccharine; anyone who’s struggled under pressure to assemble an elaborate toy or IKEA furniture will chuckle when X recoils at the epic list of instructions that accompany the “Gyrotron” (especially the inclusion of one tiny Allen wrench). The animation throughout is colorful and sweet—even the stop-motion food looks legit tasty.
If you want to hammer home the concept that there’s more to holidays than buying stuff and accumulating stuff and showing off all your stuff, consider a double-feature with the 1966 animated Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Of course, 1964's Santa Claus Conquers the Martians would also pair quite nicely...if the kids you’re programming for happen to be budding cult-movie maniacs.
Alien Xmas is now streaming on Netflix.
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