Netflix’s Bizarre Holiday Cinematic Universe

Charlie Barron, Reporter

Holiday movies have consistently been one of the most defining aspects of popular culture, and with the modern entertainment industry making the great shift to the benefit of companies like Netflix, how does a streaming service capitalize on the holiday film market? If you’re Netflix, you do it in the weirdest way possible. Regarding Netflix’s original catalog (because it’s exclusive lineup of holiday films is just the slightest bit underwhelming), there has not been an original holiday movie that received much critical acclaim or cultural relevance. However, the streaming service’s actual strategy has been to crank out cheaply made family movies in the style of a channel like Hallmark, but is that really all they are? No, of course it can’t be that simple. Instead, Netflix went the bizarre, and some might say creative route, to spin together all of their samey holiday movies into its own collective universe. It goes by many titles, but some call it the Vanessa Hudgens Netflix Holiday Cinematic Universe. 

The Vanessa Hudgens Netflix Holiday Cinematic Universe, or the VHNHCU for short, contains two defining things that separate it from the other standard film universes; Vanessa Hudgens and great ambiguity. The stories in this franchise are all linked in one giant web of content, and while they are webbed together, they have ceased to make any in-universe explanations as to why and/or how they are webbed. But let’s take a step back and first understand what this universe is built on. This wild, snowy world was kicked off in late 2017 when Netflix released A Christmas Prince, a story about an American journalist (played by Rosie McIver). The protagonist visits a fictional European country called Aldovia for her career, where she lies about her identity to get in with royalty, and finally falls in love with the country’s generic prince. The film was released in succession with other Netflix original holiday films, but none broke any cultural mold. Many viewers saw them as just attempts to step into the holiday market. 

Among other holiday films released by the platform, the next picture of notoriety came the following holiday season in 2018, when The Princess Switch was released. The film features its protagonist played by former Disney star, Vanessa Hudgens, as she travels to another fictional European country called Belgravia for her baking career. While there, she lies about her identity to get in with royalty and falls in love with the generic prince. The “princess switch” in question occurs when protagonist Vanessa Hudgens makes a deal with the princess of a third fictional country (also played by Vanessa Hudgens) to switch places so they each can find what they want in life. While the concept of two Vanessa Hudgens conversing and scheming to fool a kingdom sounds like the most interesting thing ever, other notables events do occur in the movie; such as when one Vanessa watches A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance (another Netflix film) on her own Netflix account in the middle of the movie. Most thought this was just a cheeky wink at the viewer, but this little gag would lead to monstrous effects. 

By 2019, five Netflix holiday films had been released, with more than one of them containing fun little nods to each other’s existence. On December 6th, when the service had already released three new movies for the season, Netflix released the fateful tweet. In this tweet, the company claimed that all of Netflix’s holiday films lived in, “an interconnected world of eight films (and counting) where anyone could become a princess and your soulmate may be hiding in plain sight — or the past!” Nothing would be the same after this message. The tweet brought many to fear destruction. A destruction of the possible fabric of reality that held together the holiday universe that intrigued so many. As the fear died down and viewers recollected, they realized that the clues had already been established. A character in 2019’s The Knight Before Christmas claims that their family had traveled to Aldovia, the fictional country from A Christmas Prince. They even provide proof by bringing an acorn ornament home, a prop that was crucial in the story of A Christmas Prince. In the third installment of the A Christmas Prince trilogy, a map shows the fictional lands of Aldovia and Belgravia; the lands from The Princess Switch, are in fact neighboring each other. 

The cracks in the universe became apparent for the viewers that were most invested, and the universe seemed to be crumbling in critical eyes. In The Knight Before Christmas, the protagonist is also played by Vanessa Hudgens, which makes absolutely no sense of how this character can even exist, especially because of her multiple royal doppelgangers who are internationally recognized. How can A Christmas Prince or Christmas Inheritance be watched on Netflix in The Princess Switch, when the countries of the respective movies lie right next to each other? With this logic, if a character from Belgravia were to meet one from Aldovia, one could pull out their phone and show a cheaply produced film of the other’s life back to them. As the existential crisis breaks in, they remember that it’s being streamed on the most popular streaming service in the world. 

But the biggest hole, the one that completely destroys all logic in the universe, came earlier this year in 2020, when Netflix released The Princess Switch: Switched Again. Not only does this film feature an astounding fourth character played by Vanessa Hudgens, but it features a cameo from the main characters of the A Christmas Prince trilogy. The cameo proves both useless and universe-breaking as many were outraged when they witnessed this travesty.

But there lies the priceless beauty that comes with the Vanessa Hudgens Netflix Holiday Cinematic Universe; it does not give a single crap. Other franchises like Marvel or Star Wars thrive off of giving payoffs or making its fans ask questions, to then answer them. The VHNHCU has no such priorities, and it gives the universe an undeniable charm. What other franchise could have Vanessa Hudgens seriously play four different characters, with most likely more on the way? When a classic holiday movie contains an element of the unexplainable, it is easily written off by the viewer as Christmas magic or so. In that aspect, the Vanessa Hudgens Netflix Holiday Cinematic Universe proves itself as the one true holiday movie franchise, as it is so fundamentally broken, that all of its stories have to be completely built on that unexplainable Christmas magic, otherwise the viewer has to accept that there are no laws to the reality of this universe. The Vanessa Hudgens Netflix Holiday Cinematic Universe will stake its claim in novelty history as the weirdest, most broken, and most festive cinematic universe to come out in recent years.