It's been a rough year for the Barrows kids, Elliot (Jet Jurgensmeyer) and Phoebe (Meyrick Murphy, The Walking Dead), having lost their mother earlier in the year. With Christmas around the corner, Mom's absense is only more obvious. To make matters worse, dad Glenn (Dean Cain, Lois & Clark) has started dating an abrasive blonde cake baker named Dani Downy (Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and the woman seems to be insinuating herself into the Barrows' holiday festivities. While dad is chatting with Dani, the kids wander over to a pet adoption day being held outside the bakery by the local dog rescue group, headed up by Kate Rivers (Haylie Duff), and the kids immediately fall in love with a fluffy, flop-eared white German Shepherd puppy and want to take her home. Dad says no at first, but the kids find a way to convince him and soon "Belle" becomes a part of the Barrows family. Unfortunately for Dani, who has wrangled a sympathy invite from Glenn to spend the next couple of days at their house for the Christmas holidays, she is highly allergic to cute little Belle. This only thrills the kids that much more, as they sort of enjoy torturing Dani, but she well deserves it.
When the family is out for the day on Christmas Eve and Dani is supposed to be working on her prized red velvet cake for tonite's big contest, she sneaks back to the house and makes it look as if Belle has escaped, taking her to the pound and requesting that she be euthanized because she is a dangerous animal. Yes, Dani is evil. When the family returns home, they are devastated and begin searching, but Dani insists that she and Glenn break away for a bit and go to her bakery contest, leaving the kids with Dani's somewhat evil friend to babysit. As Phoebe, Elliott and their friends, Riley (Avary Anderson) and Malcolm (Connor Berry) begin to realize that perhaps Dani had a hand in Belle's disappearance, they formulate a plan and chaos ensues. What follows is a caper situation that felt a little bit like Home Alone and Adventures in Babysitting, just not as well done.
There are a couple of fairly well known names in this film, specifically Dean Cain, Haylie Duff and Kristy Swanson, and I recognized Meyrick Murphy from her role as the Governor's surrogate daughter in The Walking Dead. From what I've seen of them in the past, they are all competent actors, but Meyrick Murphy and Kristy Swanson completely over-act their roles to the point of being ridiculous. We are talking the Disney Channel School Over-Acting here. I'm not sure what happened, but a lot of times when you see good actors acting poorly, the director could be at fault. I don't know if this happened here, but some parts of the film are painful to watch because they are so ridiculous. That being said, kids probably aren't going to notice this and will just enjoy the silly antics and troubles these kids get into during their adventure to find Belle. Jet Jurgensmeyer is a new face to me and his dad happens to be the Executive Producer, but the kid is actually the best of the bunch in the acting department, definitely among the kids. I have to give credit where credit is due.
While the film centers on Belle and her disappearance, she doesn't have a lot of screen time, but she sure is cute. Their are a few underlying messages conveyed in the film, namely the importance of dog rescue and also doing good for others, even when it isn't required of you. A Belle for Christmas isn't particularly preachy about either message, but it's there, although I will admit there are a few moments that do tug on the heartstrings.
Overall, as an adult, I found the film a bit painful to watch in the beginning, but after a little while, it either grew on me or the actors fell into stride with one another. I have a feeling that despite the harsh topics addressed in the film, kids will enjoy the antics. I'd just caution parents to perhaps watch the film with their young kids to explain that it's not okay to steal cars or go walking outside in the dark by yourself, even if you are looking for a lost pet. There aren't very many "Mayberry, USA" towns anymore and I'd hate to see any kids try some of these activities out, only to end poorly. Overall, A Belle for Christmas is just an okay movie, but I can see kids watching it again and again. I mean, who doesn't love it when a villain gets what's coming to them, especially if involves cake in the face? If you have young kids, they'll probably enjoy this film, but they might want a puppy for Christmas, so be prepared.