TV-PG. Santa makes a butt joke. A kid steals cars. That's about the extent of how bad the movie gets. There's some peril for kids, but nothing that's bad. My kids completely were riveted by it and they hate live action. Yeah, I'll stand by the PG thing, but it's pretty darned innocent. The extend of the scariness? My kids cuddled up with me during the move. That's the exact level of scariness I was hoping for in a movie. TV-PG.
DIRECTOR: Clay Kaytis
I'm slightly grumpy, which is probably the ideal way to write about an adorable Christmas movie. Contextually, I should give you a heads up that I just recorded our podcast episode about this movie. That's right, nothing says "edgy" like a real analysis of The Christmas Chronicles. Bob really thought when Netflix announced this movie, that it was going to be Snake Plissken: Santa Claus. (I have neither the time nor the disposition to look up the spelling of the protagonist from Escape from New York. Christmas humbug.) I knew exactly what this movie was going to be and that's not the worst thing in the world. I just knew that it might not make riveting podcasting. Regardless, we recorded it and I hope you keep an eye out for that.
If Elf is the bar for great contemporary Christmas movies, I would say that The Christmas Chronicles probably hovers somewhere around The Santa Clause franchise for quality. I enjoy The Santa Clause. I enjoyed The Christmas Chronicles. I suppose both of those movies are really vying for the same seasonal real estate in the long run. Tonally, they are almost identical. I mean, they're both movies about contemporary, street-wise Santa Clauses. There's a market there and it is being saturated. I get it. I like A Miracle on 34th Street just fine. I watched it for the first time a few years ago. Maybe it was last year. These days all blend together nowadays. But the charming element of Santa Claus is that he's a dude just like us. Well, he's never going to be like us, right? That's what makes a well written Santa Claus kind of compelling and watchable. I mean, we all see Kurt Russell. There's no denying that. But we also have a Santa Claus that can do anything that he wants. Kurt Russell's Santa Claus might be the most powerful of the Santa Clauses because he uses his powers freely. When he's not using his powers, it's a choice. He's borderline omnipotent but he seems to have regular problems. That's a nifty combo. Add to the fact that he's just Kurt Russell responding to the name Santa Claus and that makes a pretty interesting Santa Claus. It might be the most important thing about the film. The kids are fine, I guess. I'm doing that old thing where I actively state that the kids in a movie aren't amazing, even though I also acknowledge that it is really hard to be amazing, especially when you are a kid. I'm a terrible person because I'm consciously aware that I'm a terrible person who holds kids to impossible standards of performance for a movie that really isn't asking for it. But considering that the protagonist of the movie isn't Santa Claus (break it down and find character goals, especially considering the revelation at the end), but the kids, and Santa Claus really has to sell the movie.
A protagonist should be our primary focus in this story. It should be the boy, but he's not even the central protagonist. (Holy crap, I just realized that this movie is a mess.) Teddy, the boy, (I just looked it up on IMDB) has the greatest character arc. He has the thing to lose and gain. He is without faith and despondent about the loss of his father. But really, Teddy is more reactionary than anything else. He isn't actively pursuing anything until well into the plot. Instead, Kate is the protagonist. She makes all of the major choices of the film. She brings it upon herself to discover Santa Claus. Her major problems are kind of solved by themselves, or rather, by Santa Claus. However, Kate doesn't really want to heal Teddy. She is tired of him treating her like dirty and being mopey all of the time. But her intentions aren't to turn him around. That's a matter of happenstance. The movie is The Christmas Chronicles with Kurt Russell as Santa on every marketing platform. The kids, who might be joint protagonists, aren't really all that noticable in anything, aren't the most interesting characters. But going down that road even further, Teddy has the opportunity to be the protagonist, but takes a back seat to his sister. Really, there's a lot going on here that gets solved without the characters having a ton of agency in their own fates. But again, this is a Christmas movie that's just meant to be a good time. (It is.) I'm just a little grumpy and thinking about how sometimes storytelling can take a flying leap off of a bridge.
I'll say it: I don't like the magic element at the end. Most of the movie is magical. It's not surprising; it's a story about Santa Claus trying to save Christmas (or is it?). Now I'm going to get all selfish because I think I might be a fundamentally selfish person at heart. SPOILER: Teddy has written Santa Claus in a last ditch effort to get a hold of his dead father. It's very bleak, but it's appropriate for a Christmas movie. Santa can't bring back the dead, but he can make a magic ornament that lets Teddy see his dad looking over him any time he looks at it. It's a very feel good moment...unless you've actually lost your dad. I never got into the grand theft auto element of losing my dad, but I did have that desperation to see him once more. The movie needed a happy ending and it knew that it couldn't bring back his dad, but it does give it an unfair answer that the rest of us couldn't get. When I first watched The Christmas Chronicles, it didn't bother me. But the joy of the kids cuddling with me for a family film has started to fade and I'm left with a sense of unfairness. I don't like it. Nope, I don't care for it one bit. But this is such a small moment. This movie has so much going for it and me griping about real deep cuts doesn't really sell it properly. Instead, I get a performance by Lamorne Morris and Vella Lovell. It's not my favorite roles for them. They're TV famous and, for some reason, they tend to get minor supporting roles. Regardless, I like these actors a lot and its fun to see them in movies. I also really love the Lisa subplot. Knowing Santa's revelation, it's weird to see that this is a really intense movie about multitasking. We were discussing on the podcast if the revelation at the end is a bit of a cop out. Part of me thinks so, but the majority of the movie makes a lot more sense. I really like that element of the movie. It's pretty darned great and I really appreciate the fact that Santa's not as out of control as he appears to be at first glance.
The Christmas Chronicles is a better movie than you'd expect it to be, but it isn't going to be one of the Christmas greats. It's a nice alternative to The Santa Clause or Elf, but it will never really replace them. I loved that my kids seemed to really get on board. The special effects are better than they have a right to be, but the living creatures have an uncanny valley element to them. Still, none of this really throws a problem on the film. It's fun. Kurt Russell is fun. That's what you are signing up for and that's what you are getting. Enjoy. It's on Netflix.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.