The Christmas Chronicles review: Santa Claus is coming to town via your favourite streaming service as Netflix puts Kurt Russell in the red and white suit for a festive holiday adventure.
With the arrival of The Princess Switch and A Christmas Prince 2 last week, and The Christmas Chronicles this week, it looks as though Netflix is going all out on being the go-to platform for your festive movie watching this year. And if The Christmas Chronicles is anything to go by, their delivery of seasonal cheer is proving to be rather welcome, delivering Christmas charm in conventional wrapping, brought to life by a certain Kurt Russell as jolly old St. Nick.
The film follows two siblings, troubled teen Teddy (Judah Lewis) and enthusiastic 10 year-old Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) who have grown apart since their Dad passed away earlier in the year. When Teddy is forced to babysit his sister on Christmas Eve, the two end up hatching a plan to catch footage of the real Santa Claus delivering presents, much to Teddy’s indifference. All that changes when they actually catch Santa (Kurt Russell) in the act. But when their interference causes Santa to crash and lose both his sack of presents and his reindeer, Teddy and Kate must help Santa finish the night and keep the Christmas spirit alive!
The general set-up of The Christmas Chronicles reeks of your traditional Hallmark channel Christmas movie, complete with dead parent-angst, squabbling siblings, and an overworked mother, setting up a family in desperate need of some magical intervention, checking off all the Holiday movie cliches as it goes . It lays on the sap and is as sweet as a thousand candy canes, almost sickeningly so. Thankfully though, the film has an ace up its sleeve in the form of one Mr. Russell.
As soon as Kurt Russell’s Santa arrives on the scene, the movie is bolstered with a huge amount of energy that propels this pretty throw Holiday-fare into something that has surprising wit and an archaic spirit to match the glint in Kurt’s eye. He is having the time of his life playing Claus, be it driving round the streets of Chicago in a Dodge Challenger or busting out a jailhouse rock musical sequence with a group of inmates. Russell gives this film its spirit, and can quite happily go down as one of cinema’s best Santas. Quite honestly, within the context of the film, it’s one of the most enjoyable performances of the year
The film in general gets a lease of life with the introduction of Russell’s Santa. The performances from the young leads feel much more at ease when they’re sharing the screen with Russell, and the filmmakers themselves clearly have a lot of fun fleshing out the quirks of Santa’s powers than they do expressing the family drama. From the way Santa travels across the globe, to his ability to know everyone and everything they ever wanted for Christmas, to the sack of toys which acts as a portal to the North Pole, the film has more of a sense of invention than it initially seemed to be offering during its by-the-numbers set-up. The only element that does not entirely work are the CGI Elves. The CG is pretty weak, and their characteristics range from cute to crazy, to down right murderous and creepy.
It should come as no surprise that The Christmas Chronicles is produced by Chris Columbus, the man behind the holiday classic that is Home Alone. The Christmas Chronicles shares a madcap spirit with Columbus’s own holiday offering, but is probably closer in spirit to the likewise Columbus-produced Jingle All the Way, in which seasonal messages are delivered in a anarchic package prone to hi-jinks.
It very much ends as it began, piling on the sap, often tipping into cloying sentimentality, but for the most part, this is a surprising festive treat, and I for one would quite happily watch Kurt Russell play Santa in a new movie every Christmas (if you’re reading this, make it happen, Netflix!). An over-sweetened, but surprisingly fun, witty and imaginative Christmas offering with an exuberant performance from Russell.
The Christmas Chronicles review by Andrew Gaudion, November 2018.