“There’s a new Christmas movie coming to Netflix,” we heard.
“Mm, okay. Is it about a prince?” was our first question.
“No, it’s about Santa. And Kurt Russell is Santa,” came the reply.
Well, needless to say, we were immediately on board. We were going to watch this thing, no matter what. “Kurt Russell is Santa”…that’s all we needed to know. Chances are, if you also heard “Netflix”, “Santa” and “Kurt Russell” in the same sentence when the film was first announced a while back, you felt the same way. After all, even if The Christmas Chronicles – for that is the film in question – ended up being just a bit of cheesy seasonal fare, Kurt Russell is playing Santa!
Russell. Santa. Done deal.
‘Course, then there’s the business of watching the film, which we can confirm we’ve done for completeness (you’re welcome?), and we can now categorically state that Kurt Russell does indeed play Santa in Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles. So there’s that.
Elsewhere in the tinsel-strewn flick, there’s the Pierce family, who used to be all about Christmas until their dad died. Nowadays, teenage rebel Teddy (Judah Lewis, stepping off a star-making turn in one of this summer’s indie horror gems, Summer Of 84) is acting up and getting into trouble, and he and his earnest sister Kate (Big Little Lies’ Darby Camp, lookin’ like a wee curly-haired Felicity Jones) have been fighting over whether they should continue to give a hot string of baubles about the holiday anymore or not, while their mum (Kimberly Williams Paisley, best known for being the daughter in Father Of The Bride) struggles to keep the Chrimbo lights on by pulling double shifts at the hospital.
Early on in the story, young Kate catches a glimpse of someone she believes to be The Real Santa delivering presents to them in an old home movie, and she’s soon strong-arming the eye-rolling Teddy into helping her make her own Christmas-themed gonzo film that will expose Santa as being totally real and not at all make-believe, as Teddy very nearly insists. He’s certainly not expecting auld St. Nick to actually turn up and give them a night to remember, but naturally, he’s soon eating his words, because not only is Santa real as hell, he’s cool af. After these two meddling kids are done interfering with Santa’s Christmas Eve plans, however, he’s not feeling up to the job of getting everything sorted out by himself, so the trio is going to have to pull out all the stops to make things right again.
Kurt Russell’s version of Father Christmas was never going to be the traditional type, and it’s admittedly great to see everyone involved not trying too hard to make him so. This Santa is an often-sarcastic flyboy with a floor-length red leather coat and a bunch of neat little gadgets. So yes, it’s basically all you could hope for from a kids film where Russell is striding around stroking his long white beard and waffling on about “the spirit of Christmas”.
Are there any major problems with The Christmas Chronicles? That’s a question that can only really be answered in context. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t really like Christmas films, especially ones aimed at younger viewers, then it’s unlikely you’ll get too much out of the feelgood ‘happy ending or bust’ vibes stitched into the seams of this one. But if you have a heart innately bursting with yuletide joy, and have been known to ‘casually investigate’ (by which we mean ‘religiously watch’ – no pun intended) the True Christmas channel on an afternoon, you’re rather more likely to have a good time.
It’s very much a competent outing from the team of Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds Movie) and Matt Lieberman (in his first feature film screenwriting gig), along with Home Alone and Harry Potter’s Chris Columbus, who waved his magic wand over all of this in a producing role.
Which is not to say there aren’t a few WTF moments. There are Santa’s weirdly violent CG elves, for example, who we can only presume were created in some unholy union twixt Smurf, Lorax, Minion and bath salts. Then, there’s the part where Santa informs the children that all of the worst wars and human atrocities occurred when he was unable to complete his present-delivering rounds, which leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth – humans have historically devolved into murderous monsters ‘cause they didn’t get…some socks or Hot Wheels? It’s nice that the film has some genuine peril, but those are quite the consequences to be weighing heavily on the minds of these two young urchins. Speaking of ‘weighing heavily’, there’s also a running joke where Russell’s Santa objects to being characterised as fat. Your mileage may vary with that one.
This is all before we get to the third act’s seemingly-random big song. Yes, Kurt Russell does indeed belt out a big blues-rock number in what may or may not be a nod to his 1979 turn as Elvis Presley, and we need to prepare you for it, as it comes out of bloody nowhere.
All in all, though, The Christmas Chronicles is entertaining enough – and you’d have to have a lump of coal where your heart is to not enjoy the film’s closing moments – but it’s not the new Elf, if that’s what you were hoping for. Realistically, it’s not even the next Jingle All The Way. But, if nothing else, Netflix has definitely delivered a strong contender for the title of ‘Coolest Santa Ever’ in Kurt Russell.
Russell. Santa. Done deal.
The Christmas Chronicles will be streaming on Netflix from 22nd November.