Netflix Review: The Christmas Chronicles

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES

Starring: Kurt Russell, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Judah Lewis, Darby Camp, Oliver Hudson, Martin Roach, Lamorne Morris, Oliver Hudson
Director: Clay Kaytis
Writer: David Guggenheim, Matt Lieberman

Reviewed by Sidney Morgan

This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.

With Thanksgiving having come and gone, the Christmas season is now in full swing. There’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas lights and decorations going up, Christmas music playing in every store you go, and falling snow as wintry weather returns. Oh, and let’s not forget all those Christmas movies that will be airing on television. There are the classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and newer ones like any of the dozen Hallmark releases or Netflix’s original The Christmas Chronicles. So, with a glass of eggnog and a couple of biscotti, I sat back and gave it a try.

Doug (Oliver Hudson), Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), Teddy (Judah Lewis) and Kate (Darby Camp) are one happy family. At least at Christmas time. The first ten minutes establish this through handheld video camera recordings made during various Christmases. But tragedy strikes and the happiness leaves. Back in the present, young Kate reminisces about past holidays and watches some of the old recordings. That’s when, in one of them, she’s convinced she sees Santa’s hand placing a gift under the tree. So, with the help of her brother Teddy, she attempts to catch him on camera, to prove he exists. And the rest of the movie is about the ensuing adventure.

Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), Teddy (Judah Lewis), Doug (Oliver Hudson) and Kate (Darby Camp).

As in most, if not all Christmas movies, this one has its share of sentimentality. And I wouldn’t have expected any less. The whole father backstory was meant to tug at our hearts, setting the stage for a potential tear-inducing ending. The sister/brother story arc, how their relationship evolves over the course of the movie, from decent to detached and back to loving, was, well, typical. Of course, Santa is the catalyst for it all, acting as a teacher of life lessons, trying to get the two siblings to realize family and love can help them overcome anything. As it’s a Christmas movie, none of this comes as a surprise, and it was well done. But the movie departs in some ways from the norm, mixing in some new and fun elements.

That Santa’s gift bag was actually a portal to his home and the elves’ workshop was different. It eliminates the need for traveling long distances just to get there. And speaking of distances, there’s a cool sci-fi-like slipstream idea (CGI produced, of course) to explain how Santa is able to travel across the world in one night. And how does he get to all those houses? Unlike The Santa Clause, where it was a slow process, this Santa travels at lightning speeds from chimney to chimney, losing corporeal substance in the process (another great CGI moment). Don’t try to rationalize any of it. There’s no logic here. Christmas is a magical time of the year. Santa is a magical being. And The Christmas Chronicles reminds us of it frequently without being subtle about it.

Santa (Kurt Russell).

Even before I watched the movie, I couldn’t help but think of Kurt Russell’s past roles and how they may influence his performance. So, let’s see… there is Snake Plissken (Escape from New York), Jack Burton (Big Trouble in Little China), MacReady (The Thing), Ego (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) among others. Most of these are in-your-face, don’t-mess-with-me, yet charismatic characters. Would any of these traits show up in his rendition of Santa? And if so, would it work?

Well, yes, some of them do show up, including a bit of Dean Proffitt (Overboard, the 1987 version), and not only does it work, but it’s also surprisingly refreshing! His casual approach contrasts well with those disbelieving adults. His constant frustration with being compared to the Coca-Cola version of Santa Claus is hilarious! And he even performs a musical number, in jail no less. The performance, a rock/blues blend, was well done. And Mrs. Claus, when she makes her appearance at the end, is bound to satisfy and make many of you chuckle. It’s perfect casting. Kurt Russell doesn’t re-invent Santa, but there are enough modifications to make him intriguing and fun.

The rest of the cast performs well. Judah Lewis as the brother and Darby Camp as the sister are natural with one another. The bickering and the subsequent process of reconciliation was well done. Kimberly Williams-Paisley plays the role of the mother well. It’s unfortunate she couldn’t have had a bigger role though. She has a lighthearted attitude about her and diffuses tension with her mere presence, not unlike she used to do in According to Jim. The remainder of the supporting cast were great, especially officers Poveda (Martin Roach) and Jameson (Lamorne Morris) who also provide their share of comic relief. Even the CGI elves (and the reindeer) were well done, enough so that they blended in nicely with the “live” actors.

Kate and Teddy in awe at the Christmas magic.

With all its positives, The Christmas Chronicles isn’t perfect. For starters, there are a few questionable messages, whether deliberate or not. For example, Teddy’s extra-curricular activities are never fully shown as being seriously wrong. Even Santa only makes an off-hand remark about it, as though it wasn’t a big deal.

Then there are some conversations and situations which feel too contrived and artificial, especially when it comes to ones about the father. Kate, who looks to be twelve years old, spews outlines that contain maturity and wisdom normally associated with an adult. A much older adult. Furthermore, would the mother really leave her kids alone on Christmas eve, given what’s happened to the father? And telling Kate that the patients at the hospital are alone and need her makes it even worse. Don’t her children need her as well? The writing could have used a little tightening. And lastly, if I’m going to be nitpicking, the worse mistake is that Santa, after years of doing his thing, after visiting millions of curious children around the world, would be so careless as to leave his sleigh so easily accessible by Kate and Teddy.

Ultimately, all those little mistakes don’t matter. It’s a Christmas movie in which the positives far outweigh the few issues. The magic displayed, the good feelings elicited from watching, the fun, cheeky Kurt Russell Santa, and the good story all make it worthwhile. The end will leave you feeling good and provide you with at least one “awww” moment.

Verdict

If you’re looking for something new, give The Christmas Chronicles a try. It’s a wonderful feel-good entry with a good story, good acting, and a great and funny turn by Kurt Russel as Santa. It’s a perfect family movie that will please kids and adults alike.

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