Every year we get a new crop of Christmas movies and television shows to wade through. Some are pure crap. Others are pure gold that they become instant classics. As of today Netflix released its first new Christmas entry of the year – The Christmas Chronicles.
Kurt and Co
I noticed the advertisements early on for this Netflix release. The major selling point has been its main star. Kurt Russell stars as the big Claus himself. Starring along side Russell are Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride, Christmas Shoes) as the mom, Claire, and Oliver Hudson (Doug) as the father. The two children, Teddy and Kate, are played by Judah Lewis and Darby Camp.
The story starts by setting up a near perfect family that loved Christmas together. Everything was great until Doug drops out of the story in 2017. Present day is 2018. While we are not told what happened, through the progression of the story we find out Doug was a firefighter who died trying to save a family from a burning building.
At this point, Claire is hurting from the loss of her husband and Teddy has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Kate ends up filming Teddy and his buddies hijacking a car. She uses this against him to get what she wants, but it is not until she catches on tape, a glove grabbing cookies on Christmas. She swears it has to be Santa Claus. She offers Teddy the car tape if he will help her catch Santa in action.
Their system of traps not only warns them of Santa but gives them a chance to crawl into Santa’s sleigh. Santa takes off only to be startled when Kate taps him on the shoulder from behind. Everything goes down hill from here. Santa crashes his sleigh 1000 miles away in Chicago, destroying his sleigh, losing his hat which grants him his magical powers, his reindeer, as well as his bag of toys. Teddy and Kate must now help Santa recover all of these things in time to save Christmas.
How Does It Follow Through?
The Christmas Chronicles is pure Kurt Russell genius! When you have movie that stars people like Robin Williams, Dwayne Johnson, and Kurt Russell, the best thing to do is get out of their way and let them be themselves. Kurt Russell makes this role completely his own and shines while doing it. The whole ho-ho-ho thing? Fake news.
The story is fairly straight forward but then again most holiday movies are. Kate is the true believer that, while 10 years old, still believes in the big red guy. Teddy is having a crisis of self. He has lost faith in everything since his dad died. Mom, while a small part of the movie, has lost belief in Teddy and is struggling to hold the family together.
The acting from the kids is average. When they need to get emotional, it stretches them a bit beyond their ranges, but it is not horrible. Teddy talking about his father isn’t 100% believable, but it is serviceable. When they are in full go mode they work just fine. As i said earlier, it is Kurt and his “Kurtness” that adds all the flavor to the movie and makes it so much fun. He brings a realness and believability to the role of Santa. His woo-ing of characters through out the movie by reciting who they are and their favorite toys from when they were little totally works with everyone he encounters.
Above all the single greatest strength to this movie is its design, CGI and visual execution. Kurt’s Santa suit is true to Santa but styled slightly different. It is totally fitting to the Santa Kurt plays. In fact Kurt has an ongoing issue with the “fat guy” he is always portrayed to be. Even Santa’s beard and hair are a nice mix of tradition as well as a look that suits reality and Kurt.
The sleigh has a design mixing practicality and magic, especially during the crashing sequence. Later on when Kate makes it to the North Pole, Santa’s workshop is a brilliant design of the old wood tables, tools and lens you might see from a Norman Rockwell painting, but it also flawlessly mixes in a bit of modern technology so as to feel more current.
The CGI was impressive for a film of this level. The time tunnels are mesmerizing in both design and color. Of course it wasn’t big screen great, but the reindeer were very realistic. Their looks and moves blended into the real life surroundings very well. Then the “Elves” show up. Tiny little things, half cat, half gremlin, they stole the scenes they scurried through, especially with their Swedish-like speech (think Oaken from Frozen but more extreme). They are pretty adorable.
When the ending finally rolls around, movies like this usually get pretty sappy and predictable. While you can predict most everything that will happen in the broad terms, there are some very subtle moments that are done very well. It also does a nice job of attempting to nip at the heart strings versus seizing them and trying to pull as hard as possible. Mrs Claus at the end is a nice addition also, but I’ll leave that alone.
How Good Is It?
I don’t know where I would rank this in my favorite Christmas films of all time. Having only seen it once, i don’t know if it belongs amongst the all time greats, but it is definitely up there. Kurt Russell is the selling point behind this movie. His charm, charisma and lovability really shine through, not too dissimilar to the first half of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and his character Ego. Until you find out Ego’s evil intents, you are cheering for him and Peter to get back together as family. Naturally, Santa doesn’t have that bad side, well, except that he does steal a car, resist arrest and bribes an officer with a vintage 1978 Han Solo still in package, but hey – IT’S SANTA! If you love Kurt Russell or fun, energetic Christmas movies, you will love this film. Great job Netflix!