A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
The Christmas Chronicles is directed by Clay Kaytis and stars Kurt Russell, Judah Lewis, Darby Camp, and Goldie Hawn.
It seems to me like, for whatever reason, everyone working in the film and television industry is a little more impatient this year about getting to Christmas. Illumination released their animated Christmas-time movie The Grinch early this month, and now Netflix comes along and releases a Christmas movie on Thanksgiving weekend. Gee, is Christmas 2018 supposed to be super special this year or what? Do these movies have to be released in November and not December? Granted, there are a few big hit movies coming out right around Christmas (looking at you Aquaman and Mary Poppins Returns), but last I checked, there's nothing hitting theaters the first and second weekends of December that wouldn't stop The Grinch from getting the numbers Illumination expects it to get. As for The Christmas Chronicles, you can watch it any time you want, so although box office concerns don't apply, I don't see anything preventing this new Netflix Christmas flick from becoming available in December.
But let's not keep nit-picking about release dates. The Christmas Chronicles is a pleasant surprise for a new holiday film, being more irresistibly charming than it has any right to be. I'm not sure if I should have felt happy or embarrassed that I was smiling and laughing as much as I did, because, on first glance, there isn't a whole lot to inspire confidence. If anything, The Christmas Chronicles was going to try and sway Netflix surfers with, "Kurt Russell as Santa Claus" being the chief selling point. Indeed, Kurt Russell as Santa Claus is one of the main reasons to watch The Christmas Chronicles, and for some, it will be the only reason. Luckily though, the charm extends beyond Kurt Russell and his infectious personality, and the result is something that will not make you think that you accidentally stumbled upon an atrocious, unreleased Hallmark film.
The story follows the Pierce family, comprised of father Doug (Oliver Hudson), mother Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), and their two children, teenager Teddy (Judah Lewis), and ten-year Kate (Darby Camp). The family had a tradition of recording their Christmas every year up until 2018, when Doug, a firefighter, dies in the line of duty. On Christmas Eve, Claire is forced to work overnight at her job and makes Teddy stay home to watch over Kate. Kate starts to watch over their family's old Christmas videos and makes a incredible discovery: an arm coming out of the fireplace. Knowing it has to be Santa, Kate convinces Teddy to help her set up an alarm (a Christmas bell attached to a wire) that will go off when Santa comes into their house.
Later that night, the alarm does go off, and Kate wakes up to see Santa in her living room. Kate and Teddy head outside to find Santa's sleigh and reindeer, and Kate, obviously now having the greatest night of her life, sneaks into the sleigh, with Teddy reluctantly following behind her. Santa returns and rides off with the kids in tow, but Kate decides to go and say hi to Santa, surprising him and messing up everything: the sleigh crashes, the bag of presents flies off somewhere far away, and the reindeer run away. Santa tells the kids that unless he can get back to delivering presents, all of the Christmas Spirit will disappear, and though we are never told exactly what that means, Santa assures us if it does happen, "bad things will start happening."
High Points: '
- Kurt Russell makes for an almost perfect Santa, even one that is not the "fat slob" that is shown on billboards and beer cans throughout the movie (Russell's Santa says it himself). In The Christmas Chronicles, Santa is made out to be more of a grizzled, cheery grandpa who knows how to be the life of the party, no matter the age demographic around him. This is a Santa that is okay with stealing a car and driving away from the police, as well as having no issues with telling someone that a lump of coal will be in their stocking this year. This kind of material is right up Kurt Russell's alley, who expertly maintains a sassy attitude while ensuring that everything is still kid-friendly. In addition, Russell just looks so damn good in that Santa suit, as if he knew he was always ripe for playing Santa Claus, but wanted to wait until he was old enough to ensure that he truly looked the part. He has the charm to keep the film's Christmas spirit bright and shiny, while sporting the thorny, sarcastic attitude of a Santa Claus that seems like he's totally caught up with all the things that kids are saying and doing nowadays in 2018.
- The Christmas Chronicles also turns out to be quite successful in the humor department, bringing on a series of jokes and quips that are well-timed and usually have at least an ounce of cleverness. There are no lame puns nor any eye-rolling remarks that make you feel like the movie is underestimating your intelligence. The Christmas Chronicles also doesn't settle for purely Christmas-themed humor, because it knows there is no law stating that all comedy in a Christmas comedy has to be related to Christmas trees, Santa, elves, snow, etc.
- If only The Christmas Chronicles wasn't so textbook with its story-telling, because I wholeheartedly believe there is potential here to be something more than a story with a message that boils down to, "Love your family and your neighbors", or, "Everyone has Christmas spirit. They just need to know how to find it." The opening montage of the Pierce family Christmas videos suggests that the movie is proceeding with a story that will give us a message about Christmas-time memories, and, if that was the case, I would be fully on board with it. But everything with the Christmas video recording loses traction as the plot rolls along, with the ending only serving as a reminder that Kate was trying to record everything, as opposed to the payoff of what the meaning behind all the Pierce video recording tradition is. Clay Kurtis leaves this potential message dangling in the air, which, if fully worked into the story and executed right, it might have me looking at this movie and walk away thinking it was, dare I say it...great?
If Clay Kurtis and co. just wanted to be lazy and rely solely on the charm of Kurt Russell, they would have had simply a run-of-the-mill Christmas film on their hands. But there is an effort here to make The Christmas Chronicles a little bit more than just Kurt Russell acting as a slightly eccentric Santa Claus. There are clever attempts at humor, and the movie completely avoids any sort of Christmas holiday schmaltz, which makes me happy to declare The Christmas Chronicles a perfectly enjoyable family Christmas movie that people of all ages can watch and be charmed by. The story telling might fall a bit short, but at least the movie knows how to get the Christmas holiday season off on the right foot.
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