Making its debut in 2018, The Christmas Chronicles was quite the trendsetter when it came out and all that people talked about for a spell at the time. How come, you may ask? Well, that’s the question I asked myself. Curiously, there weren’t too many reviews out on the movie from critics I admire and trust, leading me to finally decide to give this holiday film from Netflix a shot, especially with the release of the sequel earlier this year. So, is The Christmas Chronicles a worthy holiday classic?
The short answer? No, it’s really not and I’m not quite sure of the hype around the movie save for its one saving grace. Produced by Chris Columbus, who directed Home Alone and produced the first two Harry Potter movies, the flick feels like it’s trying way too hard. The plot follows two siblings, Teddy and Kate on Christmas eve and their encounter with St. Nick himself. The pair recently lost their father, who was the glue of the family and the one behind all the Christmas joy by the looks of it. Without him, Teddy turns to robbing cars with “friends” and Kate’s grades have suffered in the past year. When their mom has to work at the hospital on Christmas eve, Kate blackmails her brother into staying up to try and catch Santa in the act, which of course they do. But some mishaps ensure and Santa, played by Kurt Russell, ends up losing his presents and his magic. Despite being on the naughty list for life for their little stunt, the siblings pair up with Santa in order to save Christmas.
The plot kind of reminds me of the final act of Elf in a way, but despite being a Christmas movie, this movie lacks a lot of the magic that movie had. When Santa loses his presents, Christmas cheer begins to fall, something which is tracked via a watch. But all of it somehow feels inconsequential. The movie doesn’t seem to have stakes. Of course, we know Christmas will be saved, but there’s no energy and people constantly belittle Santa, despite mounting evidence that he knows a thing or two about every single individual. Perhaps one of the craziest instances is when St. Nick, as he prefers to be called, gets locked away in a Chicago jail. Despite literally pulling presents out of his jacket specific to the arresting officer after being frisked, the officer still believes this man to have broken into someone’s home and kidnapped a child from Massachusetts. Santa then gets tossed in the can and we get a band number later for some jailhouse rock, with Santa on lead vocals (and Bruce Springsteen’s Steven Van Zandt on guitar) because, why not, this movie is crazy enough as it is.
The kids are kind of the worst as Teddy bullies his sister while his sister has to constantly film everything (which goes against everything we learned in the finale of Elf, I’m just saying). I feel like 25% of this movie is camcorder footage. Despite being a scene-stealer in Big Little Lies, Darby Camp’s Kate comes across as annoying. That’s not her fault though, but the scripts. Upon seeing a reindeer, she acts so surprised when she learns that one of them is Comet. One of them had to be, why not act surprised when you first saw them? The humour is also not very inspired, with Teddy asking if Santa can just use Jedi mind tricks to steer a car they stole (from a car thief no less). Santa, of course, tells him that’s not how it works, much like how Han informs Finn in The Force Awakens. When the reindeers eventually do fly, they do so right over multiple cop cars, who all conveniently (and somehow) miss the reindeer…even though they were charging straight at them and flew over their heads, smashing into their cruisers!
I think that’s the biggest problem with this movie. It’s trying really hard to be “Christmas” but lacks any of the warmth, magic and sincerity found in other Christmas classics. It feels like it’s trying to be cool, such as when Santa reveals that him saying “ho ho ho” is “fake news”. Kurt Russell as Santa is certainly the best part of this movie, who plays against the normal trappings of Santa Clause in films. He’s not fat, he’s not a wise old man, he’s, well, Kurt Russell. It’s fun and refreshing, but unfortunately, he’s sidelined by the misadventures of the siblings, who of course, learn and reconcile on their Christmas eve adventures. Of course, the siblings get split up and Kate ends up in the North Pole with an army of poor CGI elves who are just straight up annoying. Teddy comes across some gangsters whose boss wants to straight-up murder him and wants his body “composted” instead of thrown in the trash. So edgy. Likewise, I don’t buy Teddy, who must be 16 years old or so and a non-believer of Santa Clause (as the movie likes to remind us) sending a letter to St. Nick the same year he’s boosting cars. I get the movie is about the Christmas spirit and all, but the reveal falls flat and isn’t convincing. I think the movie would have been quite a lot more enjoyable if we focused more on the wackiness that is Kurt Russell’s Santa rather than the kids.
In the end, I just did not care about the adventures of the two siblings in this movie. They were annoying characters in the end and took up far more of the runtime, despite Kurt Russell getting top billing and being the obvious scene-stealer. Who knows if the second one is better, but I’m likely going to give that one a pass. There are better classics to watch instead and we’ll be talking about those soon!