Verdict: A heart-warming and refreshing take on the predictable kids-save-Christmas tale.
When I first learned that Kurt Russell was going to be a Santa, my first thought was: ‘well, that’s awesome’. There are a whole host of brilliant Santa Clauses that grace our screens each year: from Tim Allen’s legendary comedy in The Santa Clause trilogy (1994-2006), to the gentle grace of Richard Attenborough in Miracle on 34th Street (1994) and that’s not forgetting Edward Asner’s crucial role in Elf (2004). Even from those dates, you’ll see that they’re aren’t many new Christmas films willing to tackle the festive feature battle for dominance. Netflix has stepped up to the plate.
The Christmas Chronicles starts with a home-video style view into the lives of the Pierce’s; Christmas traditions abound, with tacky christmas jumpers and all. Immediately, it’s clear to see that Netflix has spared nothing in its attempt to create a contending family favourite. We focus on Kate (Darby Camp) and her older brother Teddy Pierce (Judah Lewis) who grow before our eyes as the videos progress through the years. Once we hit 2018, Kate is alone and curating a video wish list to send to Santa Claus. Teddy interrupts, mocking her, but it’s clear that Kate very much wants to keep the festive spirit alive.
Christmas Eve arrives and their mother Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) is called into work. Reluctantly, the two siblings agree to spend Christmas Eve together. Their mum insists that they at least try and get the decorations up before Christmas, but it is clear that there is a rift in the family’s relationship, despite Claire’s best intentions – an event not yet disclosed has sapped the family’s Christmas spirit.
Enter: Santa Claus.
Having set up a video camera to catch Claus on camera, Kate soon convinces her brother to join her outside after hearing noise on their roof. (Sound familiar? Of course it is, but isn’t that why we love Christmas films?) Curiosity prevails, Kate runs off and after falling into the sleigh, the pair end up startling a rather well-dressed Santa.
After several screams, a near-fatal fall from the sleigh and mad descent into Chicago, Santa ends up crashing the sleigh. The Pierces are miles from home and have seemingly endangered Christmas for all. Santa, having vowed to put them on the naughty list for the rest of time (*sharp intake of breath*), accepts their help and seeks to find his sleigh, reindeer and sack of presents that are scattered far and wide.
It may be cliche, it may be predictable (at first) but honestly? Stick with it. You’ll see Santa in plenty of surprising situations that balance out the predictability.
Kurt Russell’s Santa is charming, rough-around-the-edges and vehemently refuses to say, ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’. He despises the ‘fat man in the suit’ persona that drinks companies have constructed and actively challenges his traditional identity. It is a pleasure to see such an iconic character be given yet another lease of life by a well-chosen actor.
Christmas films need to walk the line between tradition, fun and re-watch-ability. Netflix has achieved what so many fail to do at this time of year (I’m looking at you, Hallmark): a Christmas film that is enjoyable for both kids and adults; a Santa Claus that is real and relatable, yet magical enough for the kids to believe; and a heartwarming tale that you’ll want to see again once you’ve dusted off your decorations.
If you’re looking for new Christmas film to add to your festive repertoire, I suggest you give The Christmas Chronicles a shot. You won’t be disappointed.
PS: The CGI elves are adorable.