Now, we already know that Netflix have added some pretty questionable Christmas films this year but I actually had some hope for this one. It’s Kurt Russell for fuck’s sake. Kurt Russell playing Santa. I love Kurt Russell. I love Santa. It’s a dream combination. Then I saw the trailer and it looked like a Frankenstein’s monster made up from the tired narratives of old Christmas films. So my excitement started wavering a bit and I put it to the bottom of my pile. Then I watched The Princess Switch and decided it couldn’t be as bad as that. And, there have been loads of people at work raving about it. Once again, I swayed due to popular opinion and decided to watch it this week. Well, that and the fact that the only one I really have left t watch is the stupid magical advent calendar one and that looks even shitter than A Christmas Prince 2. And, if nothing else, Kurt Russell was sure to be perfect as Santa, right?
The Christmas Chronicles starts off the way every good Christmas film does: a dead dad. Seriously? Didn’t we learn anything from Michael Keaton in Jack Frost? Dead dad’s don’t shout Christmas. If we need dead relatives anywhere at least leave it til Easter okay. It’s pretty much the theme. Plus, the guy’s a firefighter so he fucking burns to death. Yep, we’re starting a children’s festive film off with a dad who dies in a fire. It’s that bloody song by The Pogues that has done this. It’s turned Christmas into a violent and mean holiday instead of one about Muppets pissing off academy award-winning actors. But, on the plus side, we don’t actually see his death. That would definitely have been a step too far.
So, already off to a jolly start, we are then introduced to teenage criminal, Teddy, and his annoying younger sister, Katie. Having caught a quick glimpse of Santa on an old home video, Katie thinks up a plan to catch the legend in the act. Unfortunately, things go a little awry when, after sneaking onto his sleigh, the kids cause Santa to crash and lose all of his shit. With Christmas spirit decreasing by the second, the trio have to find the reindeer, the sack of presents, and fix the sleigh if they have any hope of saving Christmas and prevent society breaking down… apparently. Plus, Santa gets put in prison for stealing a car, Teddy is nearly beaten up by a gang of thugs, and Katie meets some weird Gremlin/troll-like elves. And there’s that unnecessary moment when Santa turns his prison cell into a blues gig.
Which is all sounding kind of fine until you remember this is a Christmas film. To say that this narrative is all over the place is an understatement. This film isn’t an original and modern festive story but a Frankenstein’s monster made up of segments of other, often much better, films. It’s part Elf, part The Santa Clause, part Arthur Christmas, part Jack Frost, part The Blues Brothers, and god know’s what else. Far from breaking away from the Christmas film tradition, The Christmas Chronicles uses every clichéd trick in the book. In terms of the basic narrative structure, we know exactly how it’s all going to end, even if we take several interesting detours along the way. It’s schmaltzy and manipulates it’s audiences emotions very obviously. But, it is a Christmas film and, I guess, it is the kind of thing this film should be promoting.
And it’s not as if The Christmas Chronicles didn’t try to change things up. When it comes to the legend of its central character there are some hints of development there. Kurt Russell’s Santa is slightly sassier and angrier than the man we’re used to. He likes to have a bit of fun at other people’s expense and he gets openly annoyed by the children thrust into his care. He’s still a good guy, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s cheeky and there’s a hint of the bad boy about him. He gets very excited when given the chance to steal a car and try to outrun the police. It gives him a bit of an edge which, when teamed with the natural twinkle in Russell’s eye, makes him seem a bit more modern. However, I think it could have been played up more. I’m not talking Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa style but this is still very tame.
Still, without Russell I dread to think how bad this film would be. Do I feel like he was kind of self-indulgent with the unnecessary and jarring blues performance? Yes. But his presence here elevated an otherwise forgettable and messy Christmas film. A film that lacks character development, charm, and originality. The film drags when Santa isn’t on-screen and you wish he’d come back as soon as possible. The Christmas Chronicles isn’t the worst Christmas film that Netflix has come up with this year but that’s probably because the others are so bad. It’s enjoyable enough but, really, when it comes to Christmas films I want to be slapped in the face with joy for at least 90 minutes. I didn’t get that here. So I can’t praise it.