21st December: The Christmas Chronicles

Image: Netflix

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy!

Year: 2018

Director: Clay Kaytis

Writers: Matt Lieberman, David Guggenheim

Starring: Kurt Russell, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis

The thing about doing a project like this, is that it’s all about expectations. I went into The Princess Switch and Noelle expecting, to be frank, not a lot. I was then pleasantly surprised by two conventional but warm, amusing films that felt like a decent enough way to spend 90 minutes. Clay Kaytis’ The Christmas Chronicles, another streaming-released festive film, worked the opposite way. I went into this having been faced with a whole host of Netflix Original Christmas content when planning this viewing marathon; I chose The Christmas Chronicles because from what I’d heard it was the best of the bunch.

I was expecting a film that was a cut above the usual Christmas fare, a really cracking holiday tale with long-lasting appeal. I was disappointed, then, to find something so incredibly familiar, another ‘we need to save Christmas’ story with pretty basic colouring in of this plot outline. There’s two children, a brother and sister, with a dad who you knew was going to die from approximately the fifth second he appears in home video footage, who must work together and turn their pain into hope in order to help Santa put Christmas back on track.

I am probably being harsh as a result of The Christmas Chronicles coming so late in this project, but for the film’s first act, it all just feels so achingly simple and obvious in set-up. The two young actors, Judah Lewis and Darby Camp, are both pretty good and in the top half of festive child performances, but there’s little immediately new or exciting about their characters to really hook an audience.

Thankfully, once this sub-par plotting actually kicks into gear, The Christmas Chronicles starts to deliver on expectations. The key is Santa himself, embodied here by the Hollywood icon that is Kurt Russell. I have rarely seen someone quite so ‘movie-star’ play the big man himself, and the gamble pays off here. Dubbed the first ‘sexy Santa’ on the Twittersphere, Russell brings old-school charm and a swagger to this rock n’ roll version of Father Christmas.

Not once does he overplay it, though. The film’s overwhelming strength is not in the idea of having a ‘cool’ Santa, but in the quality of Russell’s performance. He’s not playing Saint Nick as some kind of jaded, grumpy rocker, he just brings a twinkle and a physicality that suggests someone of real stature and power. It’s not a desperate gimmick, but a fully-realised and captivating character. This version of the famed present-giver is not just someone you love, but someone you’d quite like to be. When a jailhouse rock set-piece eventually comes, Santa singing and dancing his way out of trouble, it feels entirely natural. It’s an absolute hoot, and from this point on the film cannot fail.

Throw in some good ‘cute elf’ work and a proper commitment to the kids’ storyline in the script, and you have yourself a very satisfying pay-off in the final act. The boy, Teddy, has started going down the wrong path after his dad’s death, and it is his arc that does a lot of the emotional heavy-lifting. I know I criticised the obvious sentimentality of making our protagonist a grieving child, but come the end it works anyway. No matter how cynical I try to be, if clichéd Christmas adventure is done with this much rollicking fun, then I can’t help but be won over.

Like The Princess Switch, there is a 2020 sequel to The Christmas Chronicles that I have not had time to get round to yet. It is with great satisfaction that I say I look forward to reuniting with Kurt Russell’s magnificent Santa, whenever that may be.

Where it Ranks

The last 20 minutes or so really won me round. It went from a 6/10 film to a 7/10 film by bringing the possibility of a tear to my eye, and filling my heart with optimism and joy. It is still ultimately very formulaic and takes too long to hit top gear, so it’s lowest amongst the 7/10 tier, but up there nonetheless. If anyone is interested in my ‘/10’ ratings and how they divide up this ranking, then: everything from Nativity! to The Princess Switch is a 6/10; The Nightmare Before Christmas is my highest-ranked 7/10, with The Christmas Chronicles the lowest; Happiest Season down to Elf are all really strong films, and an 8/10 in my book; just Die Hard gets a 9/10. A full, 5-star, 10/10 masterpiece we have not yet seen in the Christmas Movie Advent Calendar, but I suspect we might before the end…

  1. Die Hard
  2. Happiest Season
  3. Klaus
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. Black Christmas
  6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  7. Elf
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  10. Scrooged
  11. Love Actually
  12. Gremlins
  13. Home Alone
  14. Krampus
  15. The Christmas Chronicles
  16. Last Christmas
  17. Nativity!
  18. The Holiday
  19. Noelle
  20. The Santa Clause
  21. The Grinch
  22. The Princess Switch

Andrew Young

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