With the holiday season upon us this means our television viewing will most likely consist of some Christmas classics, but between the multiple showings of It’s a Wonderful Life, or the twenty-four-hour marathons of A Christmas Story, we will also be bombarded with a boatload of “fresh” Christmas content, ones that will be vying to become new holiday mainstays. So far this year the most interesting entry in the seasonal assault would be Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles, a movie that stars the roguishly charming Kurt Russell as Santa Claus.
We are first introduced to the Pierce family through a montage of home video clips, where loving mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and dad (Oliver Hudson) chronicle the Christmas holidays each year, but the movie proper starts after the dad has died — standard off-screen death of father figure — with this being the first Christmas without him. The dad’s death has fractured the family as Mom now has to spend more time at work while eldest son Teddy (Judah Lewis) lashes out by becoming a wannabe gangsta who boosts cars with his juvenile delinquent friends. But then there is his younger sister Kate (Darby Camp), a sweet little girl who keeps re-watching those old home movies in an attempt to keep the Christmas spirit alive. It’s while viewing one of these old Christmas videos that Kate catches a glimpse of a red sleeve in one of the shots, which she is sure must be Santa, and this leads to her blackmailing her brother — threatening to show video evidence of his car thievery to their mother — into helping her capture Santa on film.
Teddy comments that this idea is ridiculous, “You don’t think anyone has tried that before, catching Santa in the act?” which is a good argument and the film’s only defense is Kate’s response of “But have you ever heard of anyone pulling it off? No, they probably think it’s impossible.” This is pretty goddamn thin logic, yet she of course turns out to be right, which somehow leads to Kate and Teddy sneaking aboard Santa’s sleigh, where a startled Santa (Kurt Russell) discovers them — almost flying into a 747 — resulting in the reindeer breaking free and the sleigh crashing somewhere in the south side of Chicago. We then learn that if Santa is not able to deliver the toys to all the children of the world by morning, the “Christmas Spirit” could drop to dangerously low levels — he has a watch that measures this kind of thing — and the last time that happened it caused the Dark Ages. So the two kids team up with Santa to track down the reindeer, recover the missing toy sack which fell out during the crash, and fix the sleigh and save Christmas.
The Christmas Chronicles is a fun little holiday movie, with Kurt Russell as Santa being the key selling point here, and he is delightfully wonderful in the part, but we also have to endure the holiday cliché of a character learning “The true meaning of Christmas” — in this case unbeliever Teddy. This brings us to one of the trickier elements in making a Santa movie, and that is laying out the rules and mythos that the filmmakers plan to incorporate into their version of Santa Claus, such as how exactly one man can deliver toys to every child on Earth in one night. In this movie, we see that Santa’s sleigh can travel through some type of wormhole — this gets him from one side of the globe to the other in seconds — and his house-to-house visits are expedited by his magic Santa hat, which turns him into a sparkly streak of light that allows him to zip in and out of homes. But even with all that explained, it’s still clear that a one-night delivery would be impossible.
Next, we have the issue of “If Santa doesn’t exist, where do the parents think those extra presents came from?” In most Christmas films of this type — those dealing with the existence of Santa — a key component is that only children believe in Santa, and any adult claiming to be Kris Kringle is crazy and most likely needs to see a good psychiatrist. This particular trope dates back as far as 1947’s A Miracle on 34th Street — which is still my favourite incarnation of Santa — but in the case of The Christmas Chronicles, it is taken to a whole new level. There are some great scenes in this film of Kurt Russell’s Santa engaging with various people for help — him knowing the name of every single person they meet, as well as every Christmas desire they’ve had, is particularly charming — but at one point, Santa is arrested for car theft, child endangerment and kidnapping, and while in jail he holds an impromptu rock concert that magically appears in his jail cell, which makes one wonder how anyone can disbelieve of his existence after all this. The film ends with Kate discovering that Santa had stolen the video cassette out of her camera — as she’d been chronicling their night’s adventures — but that is far from the only piece of evidence left behind that night.
Sure, we’re not supposed to think about these kind of things when watching a movie about Santa Claus, and this film does its best to race along fast enough in the hope we don’t notice the implausibilities of the situation, but it certainly brings the whole question of the “existence of Santa” to a whole new level, and it’s never properly addressed. Now this doesn’t detract too much from the fun, as there are some great laugh out loud moments in this Christmas movie; we get cool CGI reindeer, a nice tricked-out sleigh, and it even manages to land a few poignant moments as well — which is pretty much required in this type of film — but the fantasy elements could have been dealt with a little better. The most negative thing I can say about The Christmas Chronicles is that this film’s depiction of elves was simply terrifying — think the cute trolls from 2016 animated film but with chainsaws — and any moment of them on screen is a little creepy.
• While zipping from house to house, Santa leaves his sleigh hovering in the middle of the street. It’s not cloaked by any sort of invisibility shield, so how is it not spotted by random drivers?
• If the Christmas Spirit is what keeps the world from plunging into war, was the lack of it what caused the Jewish Holocaust?
• Santa’s sack isn’t just a magical bag of holding, it actually contains a wormhole that leads to the North Pole workshop. That’s pretty neat.
• Teddy is grabbed by a bunch of criminals and taken back to their evil lair because he wouldn’t hand over Santa’s toy sack, but realistically they would have just shot Teddy in the face.
• Mrs. Clause is portrayed by Goldie Hawn in a nice bit of stunt casting.
• The running gag of Santa hating advertisements that depict him as fat could have been trimmed a tad.
• The Santa “Jailhouse Rock” sequence is a nice nod to the fact that Kurt Russell has played both Elvis and an Elvis impersonator in previous films.
• After this musical number, which involved Santa conjuring up musical instruments and costumes, the police all just smile and walk off to go back to their jobs, as if this kind of thing happens all the time.
Overall, The Christmas Chronicles is a light-hearted whimsical Christmas adventure where someone will not only learn to believe in Christmas, but to also believe in himself — we’re looking at you Teddy. Kurt Russell was clearly having fun with this role, and his easy-going charm does a lot to sell this movie. This film may not be the best, nor most original Christmas movie out there, and it won’t be replacing any holiday classics anytime soon, but it’s certainly worth checking out.
The Christmas Chronicles
The script for The Christmas Chronicles may have some bumps and holes along the way, and the elves are fucking just awful, but Kurt Russell as Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas makes this holiday viewing good enough to recommend for the whole family.