Both a Christmas cracker and Christmas crackers, The Christmas Chronicles is a festive must-watch, even if some of it will be through your fingers.
But if you’re a True Believer, you’ll already know all that.
This Santa is old yet modern, and, dare I say it, hot? Clad in a long burgundy leather coat, with a huge grey beard and hair so big and bouncy it wouldn’t look out of place on a 1980s Dynasty matriarch, he works out daily to stop all those free cookies taking their toll.
His sleigh is stylishly streamlined; again more burgundy than scarlet, with dark wood and touches of gold. There are nods to the 21st century with his jokes about Ubers and a Christmas Spirit percentage that reduces at the same speed as the battery on my iPhone.
Kurt Russell was clearly born to play Santa (though just remember Kurt, you’re only keeping the sleigh warm for Keanu. Who should be ready in about 564 years’ time). Just as Saint Nick is Christmas, Russell is The Christmas Chronicles, miraculously changing saccharine into purest North Pole candy cane.
Kate and Teddy have been brought up in Massachusetts in a family that adores Christmas, and the start of the film features a selection of home videos of Christmas mornings past, blissfully happy as they open presents and try on hideous Christmas jumpers. In a movie built on myth and unreality, this grinning glee is almost jumping the shark, as by 7am on Christmas morning most of us parents are already down one box of liqueur chocolates and considering taking up smoking again.
But by 2018 it’s all changed; their father has died and their mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) is working overnight shifts at the local hospital, leaving teenager Teddy (Judah Lewis) to look after 10 year old Kate (Darby Camp) in mom’s absence. Teddy is already going off the rails, and Kate spies him stealing cars with his mates (one rather subversive element of The Christmas Chronicles is that this serious lawbreaking turns out to be excellent practice for later events, and there’s never any comeback for his earlier crimes).
This Christmas, the first without dad, the house has gone undecorated, and even the Christmas cookie baking is cut short when mom is called in for emergency Christmas Eve shift cover at the hospital.
Staying up late to try to spot Santa, the two children think they hear something on the roof. Heading outside, video camera jerking all over the place and woolly bobble hats on their heads, they look like a festive Blair Witch Project. But their decision to stow away in Santa’s sleigh inadvertently causes a major accident; leaving Teddy, Kate and a very surprised Santa stranded somewhere in snowy Chicago, with the big man’s magic hat and bag of presents missing and the reindeer gone AWOL.
The race is on to save Christmas: find the sack, the hat and the reindeer, and deliver the presents to the rest of North America.
And if you think it’s a waste of time saving Christmas, just bear in mind that according to this Santa, the Dark Ages were all down to a collapse in Christmas Spirit, so do some googling before you start scoffing at Kurt and his rather cheap-looking market stall elves.
The one time of year you can go out in a red suit and red hat with a big beard and be inconspicuous is Christmas; though any interaction with the police is likely to bring forth sighs and eye-rolling. It’s not long before Santa is taken into custody after Teddy steals a supercar for them to search for the reindeer; and the police aren’t convinced Santa is actually *the* Saint Nick.
Santa’s time banged up in a huge cell turns into a rock ‘n’ roll singalong with three women on backing vocals, and an assortment of ne’er-do-wells on instruments Santa has managed to rustle (russell?) up from his coat pockets.
It’s one of those performances where you start off cringing – so clearly has it been inserted to showcase Kurt Russell’s singing talents, and to fill a few more minutes – but soon you have to give in to the steadily rising Christmas Spirit and just enjoy it (plus he’s good).
Most Christmas films are in some way derivative (except perhaps Rare Exports, a slice of terrifying Finnish festive life), and ‘saving Christmas’ movies are two-a-chocolate-penny. I did spot a nod to one of my favourite animated Christmas movies, Arthur Christmas, as elves dive-bomb out of the sleigh to deliver presents.
But many Christmas movie staples have now become essential festive movie traditions. Reindeer swooping into the sky, seen only by one person with their friends or colleagues turning round just too late, is one favourite of mine. I’ll also never criticise a sleigh-in-flight scene, and I particularly liked when Kate climbs into the newly-recovered sack of presents and falls through a whirlpool of jewel-like gifts, as if drowning in a giant tin of Quality Street.
This is amiable, undemanding festive fun. I’m sure if I’d watched it in June I would have given it a measly 2.5. Maybe if I’d left it until December I might have stretched its score to a 3.5 (but not Christmas Eve when mums are so pissed off by the whole thing it might have been downgraded to a 2).
Without Russell The Christmas Chronicles would have been present-wrapping, background TV. As it is, he fills the screen with Christmas cheer, and a bit of an edge, and makes this worth seeking out with your children.
We’re blessed with another Christmas miracle, in that the two kids aren’t annoying. We know Teddy isn’t really a wrong ‘un. Some of their dialogue is ridiculous, and at times Kate speaks like someone who learnt to read via inspirational Instagram posts. But the actors are engaging, and bring just enough teenage meh-ness and tweenage wide-eyed wonder to feel like real siblings at crossroads in their lives.
And despite the 21st century Santa update, one of the best things about the film is that they don’t spend time on pointless lengthy fake science explanations of how Santa does what he does. At the end of the day (night?) he’s magic and that’s that.
It would have been nice if Santa could have met their mom and fallen in love with her, but it turns out there’s already a Mrs Christmas…
The Christmas Chronicles is currently available on Netflix.
Watch the trailer for The Christmas Chronicles: