While nearly every Santa Claus-centric movie concerns the potential loss of Christmas, arguably the fear of missing the holiday is most keenly felt in 2020. Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles (the 2018 film that kicked off this jolly old franchise) indeed tapped into that when it starred two kids learning to believe in Santa, or else; and Chris Columbus’ The Christmas Chronicles 2 strikes at the source of Yuletide cheer again with a plot to destroy Santa’s Village at the North Pole. But what could be the root cause that’s so extreme as to endanger the entire magical foundation of Christmas for the foreseeable future? Apparently, teenage angst.
Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) is a sulky teen spending Christmas 2020 in Cancún—and, clearly, an alternate universe. While there she bemoans the lack of snow and her mom Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) bringing along new boyfriend Bob (Tyrese Gibson, seemingly here only to sing “O Christmas Tree”), plus his son Jack (The Witches’ Jahzir Bruno). It’s not that Kate’s renowned status as a “True Believer” in all things Christmas is in any danger. She’s just in dire need of an attitude adjustment, as she’s broken the cardinal rule from the classic song: You better not pout…
Unfortunately for stubborn Kate, the same thing that will make her feel better—visiting the North Pole—is exactly what the sequel’s villain Belsnickel (Deadpool 2’s Julian Dennison) needs to literally wage war on Christmas. Teleporting Kate and her adorably neurotic soon-to-be-stepbrother Jack through the aurora borealis allows Dennison’s rogue elf to infiltrate Santa’s Village and steal the Christmas Star, which combines light from the Star of Bethlehem with the energy of the aurora borealis. When the Star is on Santa’s tree, his workshop and village are powered with magic; when it’s gone his village is suddenly visible to the whole world.
Kudos to The Christmas Chronicles for expanding its own internal mythology: Santa’s Village is ur-Christmas cheer, designed like Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade to the nth degree and populated with the Minion-esque elves who aided Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) in the first installment. But the real magical figure is Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn), elevated from the typical nagging wife to a sort of witch doctor who heals wounded reindeer and bakes exploding gingerbread cookies. Even Belsnickel, cursed to take on human form when he committed the elven sin of developing an ego, has a knack for clever steampunk-y inventions that somehow fit perfectly within this Christmas-village-come-to-life.
But the story lacks the cohesion of the first movie, which had a relatable throughline in saving Christmas for all the boys and girls on Santa’s list. The sequel, by contrast, feels like an overstuffed stocking: Reindeer/Yule Cat/jackal-coyote-hybrid chase scenes! Toy-making montages! Elves going full Gremlins! Another unnecessary musical sequence! Time travel! Russell and Hawn are clearly having a blast as the ultimate Yuletide power couple, yet none of the plot elements satisfyingly fit together. Worst of all, these flashy interludes distract from an actually solid emotional lesson about how the holidays change as one gets older.
The Christmas Chronicles movies are clearly trying to grow with their audience; Kate remains the POV character, but instead of unrealistically clinging to her earlier naïvete, she’s taken over her older brother Teddy’s (Judah Lewis) role as the cynical teenager. The movie’s conflict, instead of some vague lack of Christmas spirit, concerns those who deliberately reject the holiday for not fitting some narrow, quintessential mold.
Like Kate, the villainous Belsnickel had friction with his surrogate parents, the Clauses, right when he hit the elven equivalent of puberty—the confusion and rejection of which Dennison plays with surprising gravitas. The movie establishes these compelling parallels about the communication breakdowns between teenagers and their parents. But before it can do anything of note with that connection, it pivots back to childish fare, like elves carousing to “Who Let the Dogs Out” or another baffling musical number that reinforces Russell’s confusing hot-Santa vibe while also stalling the plot.
With Columbus at the helm, one might hope that The Christmas Chronicles 2 could conjure some of the brilliant, generation-spanning appeal of his 1990 masterpiece Home Alone. Alas, it won’t be remembered after this year. Yet it might be distracting enough for hyperactive kiddos, and relatable enough for over-it teens, that it can carve a few hours out of the holidays.
In a year when a stay-at-home Thanksgiving and potentially Christmas will look very different from what many people expect and hope, The Christmas Chronicles 2 is like so much escapist candy. Just make sure you stuff your movie queue with the aforementioned Macaulay Culkin classic and a snarkier standard like The Santa Clause to remember the real quality Christmas chronicles.
The Christmas Chronicles 2 is available Nov. 25 on Netflix.