5 Wild Ways Netflix’s A Boy Called Christmas’ Reindeer Riding Worked On Set

A Boy Called Christmas brings a fantastical world to this year’s batch of Netflix holiday originals, as it tells the story of Father Christmas before he became a bearded chimney hopper we leave cookies out for every year. A 15-year-old Henry Lawfull plays Nikolas in the film adaptation of the same-named book that imagines a unique origin story Santa Claus and sees his character gracefully riding a reindeer throughout the movie. Which begged our question, how does reindeer riding actually look like on set? 

The simple answer is movie magic, and if you don’t want the illusion spoiled for you, you’ve been officially warned. On behalf of CinemaBlend, I asked the cast and co-writer/director Gil Kenan about how it was achieved behind the scenes, and there were numerous ways that Henry Lawfull had the chance to ride a reindeer. In Lawfull’s words: 

My favorite method was we had Cassandra the horse, and they drew these massive pink spots on her for VFX references, which looked quite funky and I had two lessons on how to ride her. So basically riding a horse, which then stuck some antlers on. And then, we had this massive green screen room and in the middle was basically a bucking bronco, those spinny things, so basically a mechanical plastic horse, which was weird because the first time I met Jim Broadbent, who I grew up watching in films for years, was riding a bucking bronco with him.

You know Jim Broadbent from the Harry Potter films, Game of Thrones series and Paddington films? Imagine meeting him and then riding a bucking bronco with him? It's wild! As Henry Lawfull shared, there were a lot of ways in which the production of A Boy Called Christmas simulated reindeer riding. The first had Lawfull riding an actual horse, with the second being the bucking bronco. As Michiel Huisman, who plays Nikolas’ father, pointed out in our interview: 

There was a third option too, wasn’t there? Where five, six adults would carry [Henry Lawfull].

Now this is getting too funny. Apparently Henry Lawfull was also at one point carried by a bunch of people for another shot and must have had to use his imagination to pretend they were in fact a reindeer and he was feeling the winter wind in his hair. Director Gil Kenan shared even more ways those scenes in the movie were achieved: 

There was actually a fourth one too. There was also the roller coaster version and there was also a really beautiful puppeteered version, like a full-scale live puppeteered version. And I will say, behind all of that, this process began with me camping out for two nights on a reindeer farm in Lapland [Finland] to hang out with real reindeer and get to know them face to face. So I really hope, at the end of all those five methods, we brought some justice to the reindeers on screen.

A Boy Called Christmas’ director really took this whole business of having a reindeer on screen for a holiday Netflix film quite seriously. As Gil Kenan shared, there was also a puppeteered version and “rollercoaster” version. It was all achieved after he went to Finland and spent some time examining real reindeer in their habitat to get a sense of what he needed to do to orchestrate the most realistic rendition of a reindeer he could for the fantasy movie. And bravo to them, I, for one, was completely swept away in the world of A Boy Called Christmas

The movie is now streaming on Netflix, along with a host of other holiday streaming offerings, including A Castle For Christmas starring Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes and the third Princess Switch movie starring three Vanessa Hudgens’ characters

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.