Kate Pierce, now a cynical teen, is unexpectedly reunited with Santa Claus when a mysterious troublemaker threatens to cancel Christmas – forever.
If you want to read the full, spoiler-filled film recap, it’s here. Or see below for my review.
Santa Kurt is BACK and with him Mrs Claus, played with warmth and backbone by Goldie Hawn.
What else is back? Oh yes Santa’s hair, which has more bounce than a 1970s kid on a spacehopper. Combined with his luxurious fur-lined burgundy coat, church-like home at the North Pole and colourful time travel wormholes, Santa Kurt is a cross between Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor and Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen.
He’s also the only old person – by which I mean over 40, which he reached 1660 years ago – who can say “cool!” and it actually sound cool. (Obviously I checked with my 8 year old to confirm this.)
This time around, siblings Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy Pierce (Judah Lewis) are on holiday in Cancun, and despite me finding movie teens irritating I warmed to Kate because she wants to be somewhere cold and snowy where she can bake Christmas cookies: “what kind of person would want to spend the best holiday of the year sitting on a hot beach with fruity umbrella drinks?” she asks and exactly, what kind of person?
She’s scared her dad is forgotten, now her widowed mum Claire (Kimberley Williams-Paisley) is in a relationship with Bob (Tyrese Gibson), who has treated them and his anxious tween son Jack (Jahzir Bruno) to the Christmas trip.
Kate tries to escape back home, but the airport-bound golf cart she finds herself on – with Jack hiding in the back – is being driven by ex-elf Belsnickel (Julian Dennison). Belsnickel needs a True Believer to get him back to the North Pole, where he is going wreak his revenge on Santa and on Christmas itself, and hopefully break the curse he lives under. Kate and Jack are flung through the aurora borealis and deposited in the snowy wastes of the arctic, where they’re spotted by Santa, and are taken home to Mrs Claus.
The aurora borealis has kept Santa hidden for over a thousand years, since… well we get a Santa origins story, about his start as Saint Nicholas (Mrs Claus still calls him Nick), a 4th century Turkish bishop who likes leaving presents on people’s doorsteps. His story reaches Turkey’s persecuted forest elves (their chief, Hakan, a very small Dumbledore, is voiced by Malcolm McDowell), who have a prophecy that the elf king will come and lead them to safety. Santa harnesses the power of the star of Bethlehem into the light that now sits on top of the huge Christmas tree powering (Mrs) Santa’s Village, and leads the elves to the North Pole.
Christmas spirit powers many a festive movie, and not always as the storyline. Too often writers and directors plug gaps with the audience’s seasonal goodwill. Without our very own Christmas spirit, it’s frequently not just Rudolph who fails to soar but the movie itself.
As a sequel Christmas Chronicles 2 also has to work around the lack of surprise – we know he’s a rock ‘n’ roll Santa, we know he’s married to Goldie Hawn, we know at some point Christmas will require saving, we know the villain will be redeemed and welcomed home.
On the whole, this pretty much plays to its strengths: the real-life relationship between its two stars; Darby Camp, who remains an engaging heroine; a back story which blends what we know about the “real” Saint Nick with Disneyfied mythology; and the colour and sparkle of Christmas.
This is cheerful, festive fun with a bouncy cast and a traditional message. It’s even more enjoyable if, like me, you fancy Santa.
And it wouldn’t be The Christmas Chronicles without Santa Kurt shoehorning in a belting tune. This year it’s a gospel duet sung with Darlene Love, playing customer services manager Grace. They perform The Spirit Of Christmas at Boston’s Logan International Airport, because airports during December are apparently the places that are the most devoid of Christmas spirit, without which the reindeer will remain stuck on the runway. It’s tremendous fun and not at all cheesy*.
They’re stuck there because Belsnickel has stuck a gizmo to the sleigh that sends Santa and Kate back to 1990 – where Kate meets someone from her past, so perhaps next year’s Chronicles entry will be subtitled A Very TENET Christmas. (The film begins with an old, sumptuously illustrated book, The Christmas Chronicles Volume XVII, though if they’re planning a franchise I hope the 17 is a joke.)
If logic and novelty were powering Santa’s sleigh rather than Christmas spirit, then it would splutter at times. While Belsnickel’s inventor skills are spot on, his motivations and eventual plans seem scattergun, though as it’s Christmas I shall magnanimously put that down to the ex-elf’s teenage hormones.
Dennison is an engaging Belsnickel, who may be hundreds of years old but is still a kid in elf years. Originally a favourite of Santa and Mrs Claus, elf puberty turned him into, as Mrs Claus sorrowfully relates, “a very naughty boy”. Eventually he broke the elf code and was cursed to become that which he despised: a human.
It’s a cartoon role but one that blends teenage ingenuity and big ideas without thinking of unintended consequences, with a dose of slapstick thrown in. Any teens past the Santa stage, forced to watch this with younger siblings, might well see Belsnickel as a kindred spirit in a festival that that they may otherwise feel both too old and too young for.
Director Chris Columbus takes us round the world, though everyone’s journey is within themselves: Kate has to learn the Christmas isn’t where you are but who you’re with, and that despite Santa’s magic you can’t really put the clock back; Jack has to find his courage out in the snow on his own; Belsnickel has to believe in himself so he can get back to his family; Jola the snarling yule cat has to learn not to eat yellow snow, I mean exploding gingerbread men.
The last showdown in the village, between Belsnickel and the others, goes on and on (every Christmas movie should be 90 minutes max) though I liked how Santa was starting to enjoy himself far too much in the fight. It must be hard to be entirely virtuous all your life when you’re immortal.
A thread through the film is Santa getting the credit for his wife’s hard work, something mums of small children will relate to at this time of year. Mrs Claus is key to the story but misses out on the excitement. If there is to be another film, please give her more to do outside of potion-making and cookie-baking. Who wouldn’t like to see Goldie Hawn stunt-driving a sleigh on Christmas Eve?
*It is but it’s still grate. I mean great.
The Christmas Chronicles: Part 2 is now available on Netflix