I’m going to start this review with a very important disclaimer.
Were a studio to look through my dream journal to engineer a movie for my tastes, they would find among the list three very distinct points: Christmas, Santa Claus, and Kurt Russell. I won’t bore you with their precise placement in relation to each other, but I assure you that they’re all in the Top 10.
As such, I was the perfect mark for The Christmas Chronicles. The moment I saw the trailer for it, I started anticipating it as much as any other film in 2018. Being a family man, I gathered the tribe to experience it with me.
I’m happy to report that we were all delighted. This is a great, big, warm hug of a movie.
The casting for the movie is strong, which is key in carrying the material forward. Darby Camp is positively adorable in her role as Kate. She has a sparkly charm that endears her immediately. Judah Lewis, as her older brother Teddy, manages to play a predictably annoying teenager with a gentle enough touch that we’re always rooting for Teddy to pull through to his inevitable awakening to the true meaning of love, family, and duty. The supporting cast is strong, from the police officers to their mom, and there are a few fun cameos along the way.
As for Kurt Russell, he’s a pleasure to watch in any movie. Here, though, you can see he’s relishing the opportunity to play Western Culture’s most famous philanthropist. He’s having so much fun it’s infectious. His joy at playing St. Nick would have been worth watching regardless if everything else in the movie had fallen apart, but thankfully it all holds up.
The two missteps are the character animation and the one major “danger sequence.”
The character animation is simply more ambitious than is good for itself; Santa’s elves exist in that odd place between “photorealistic” and “cartoon” that comes off as hedging a budget bet against scene impact. That said, I got some legitimate chuckles out of the elves’ antics.
At one point, Teddy’s placed in danger to move the plot forward. He’s protecting Santa’s sack into which Kate disappeared; it’s a portal to Santa’s workshop, but he doesn’t know that. While she’s in there, he’s kidnapped by a gang who wants to know what goodies he’s got. He’s taken to a chop shop that seems ripped out of the script for Adventures in Babysitting. Since Babysitting was directed by Chris Columbus and he serves as producer here, I can understand reusing a “clean crime” element for a movie about Santa Claus. It just comes off as an anachronistic hiccup in a movie shaped by more modern sensibilities in its world-building. I can think of several better ways to get from Point A to B without that specific scene, but it’s not enough to ruin the ride.
There’s an odd tangential lesson from The Christmas Chronicles, with regard to franchises. If you want a window into how resistant people are to changing or updating something from their childhood, look at how hard it is for new Christmas movies to gain acceptance. This actually feeds some trepidation about viewing a new Christmas film, as plentiful as they seem to be. Sure, you have the occasional smash like Elf, but that’s so heavily reliant on self-awareness it still has a sour aftertaste in less guarded moments. It turns out as some sort of relief that The Christmas Chronicles has the necessary verve to succeed.
Kudos to all involved. This is a fun holiday movie that lacks pretence and simply jumps in with an infectious happiness. My family’s found a new entry for our annual holiday watching, and I heartily recommend you give it a watch.