Published on November 29th, 2018 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Christmas Chronicles
Netflix pulled a new Christmas movie from under the tree, starring Kurt Russell as Santa. Is it a new classic or a lump of coal?
While I have been known to have an allergic reaction to the overuse of cheese, melodrama, and sentimentality in film and television, for some reason my brain suspends this bias when discussing Christmas movies. It’s a Wonderful Life is a great example; it is a shining beacon of heart-on-sleeve sentimentality, the kind that would normally make me break out in hives while gagging uncontrollably, and yet, I love it. There are some powerful and universal themes in the film. I get choked up every damn time. You know, stuff like, every person…who has friends…is…t-t-truly…(sniffle)…r-r-rich…sorry…give me a second.
Okay, deep breath. You’re good. You’re good.
I can’t say that The Christmas Chronicles from Netflix falls anywhere near the experience of It’s a Wonderful Life, but I’ve already come across a lot of people that enjoyed it. It’s the story of Kate and her older brother Teddy — after their father passes away, they live with their always-working mother. Teddy is sliding down the path of teenage delinquency and Kate is lonely, missing the family unit that she grew up with. She ropes Teddy into a plan to catch Santa Claus in the act on Christmas Eve. They end up derailing Christmas, which could not only ruin Christmas, but throw the world into another dark age. Kate, Teddy, and Santa dive, toques first, into an adventure to save Christmas.
Of course, this movie’s claim to fame is that Santa Claus is played by none other than Kurt Russell, in all his amazing charm and glory. And that beard he’s got these days? I just want to run my fingers through it. Russell plays Santa as a nice dude with a little bit of swashbuckler in his heart. One of the running gags is that he doesn’t understand why he’s always depicted as a big fat guy when he’s in such great shape. “Fake news,” he says about some of the untrue parts of the mythology.
The movie starts off well enough. It might bear some of the silly hallmarks of a…well, a Hallmark movie, and some of the jokes could be ripped from a mediocre sitcom, but you don’t watch a movie like this and expect Citizen Kane. Some of the logic of the movie is suspect as well (why is he delivering presents in a world where adults don’t believe in Santa?), but again, you can’t help but feel a bit Grinchy when you focus on these things. A better movie would make more sense, but honestly, you’re watching a movie like this as wallpaper to get you in the Christmas mood. You’ll do best with this one if you don’t overthink it.
Unfortunately, as an overthinker (about movies, if nothing else), the movie veered a bit too far off course for me. For example, the elves come into play eventually, and they look cheap and weird. You can tell they wanted to create a new kind of ‘minion,’ perhaps to sell some plush toys or McDonald’s tie-ins. However, the CGI just doesn’t work and it threatens to smash the Christmas spell.
There’s also a bizarre musical number that is pretty tacked on. While it does feature Little Stevie Van Zandt (The E Street Band, The Sopranos) and his band, The Disciples of Soul, which is fun, it just feels like a nonsense music filler number. I had the Christmas spirit up to about an hour in, and then I kept thinking, what the hell am I watching? And while I’m complaining, why is it called The Christmas Chronicles? It’s just one chronicle.
I do think there are some cool ideas about Santa and his mythology that are worth exploring here. A better movie might have lit up these ideas in the movie the way Rudolph’s nose lights up the night. The Christmas Chronicles was content to be one of the reindeer in the back, pulling the Christmas sleigh, but not doing anything special. Even with my lowered Christmas movie defenses, this one landed closer to being a lump of coal for me.
All that said, I don’t want to be too hard on it. While it’s not destined to be a Christmas classic, I’m willing to bet that a lot of families and those just looking for a merry Christmas injection will enjoy it more than I did. And hey — it may have been worth it just for Kurt Russell’s beard.