December means making time for Christmas movies and as far as I’m concerned, that entails ramming as many festive films into the month as possible. I have staples on my list every year without fail, such as classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street and One Magic Christmas. But each year there’s always a few new release titles that add excitement to the line-up. Sometimes they’re crude comedies like Office Christmas Party and sometimes they’re cheeky horror nasties like Better Watch Out… but most exciting of all, sometimes they’re wholesome family movies like The Christmas Chronicles.
Kurt Russell stars in this new Netflix Original holiday adventure, which tells the story of two children who on Christmas Eve bust Santa in the act on their camcorder and subsequently jeopardise the entire holiday. Having lost their father the year before, the two siblings struggle to find cheer this year, with the brother particularly at a loss. When their encounter with Santa sends them on a whirlwind caper, they find themselves learning what the Christmas spirit is all about, and have a ton of fun in the process.
The synopsis suggests a familiar (generic, even) holiday ring-in, and you would be forgiven for thinking that The Christmas Chronicles has been done before. There is an element of truth in that, after all, Ernest P Worrell went on the same adventure exactly 30-years ago in Ernest Saves Christmas, and several scenarios within the story hint at other past favourites such as A Christmas Star and Santa Claus: The Movie. But the same way that most Christmas carols ring a familiar tune, so too do Christmas movies. There’s comfort in familiarity and being wrapped up in a cosy blanket of festive cheer is what this time of year is all about. And despite this new adventure ploughing a familiar path, it lights up the screen with an explosion of thrills and authenticity.
Russell is the perfect candidate to play jolly Saint Nick. His A-list credibility and all-round coolness gives him the edge on all others and his portrayal of Santa Claus is “classic Russell”, with his laid back mannerisms and aplomb delivery offering the screen a new Father Christmas, unlike most who’ve come before him. His two young co-stars are Darby Camp (Benji, Big Little Lies) as Kate, and Judah Lewis (Summer of ‘84, The Babysitter) as Teddy, who are both wonderful additions to the story. Lewis’ trajectory from a grief-stricken lout to a loving older brother is perfectly measured, while Camp’s unwavering faith in Christmas is a delight. She is, after all, noted by Santa as one of the “True Believers”. And when you remember Kurt Russell as that little boy on the Disney payroll way back in the 1960s, it’s always a pleasure to see him return to family-friendly fare.
The team behind The Christmas Chronicles is made up of a curious bunch, with the likes of Chris Columbus producing and Matt Lieberman writing. Columbus is no stranger to the genre, having directed Home Alone and Home Alone 2 (he also wrote Christmas With the Kranks and produced Jingle All the Way); whereas Lieberman’s only previous title was Dr. Dolittle 4. And the movie was directed by Clay Kaytis, who comes from an animation background, having been a visual FX artist for Disney, but had only directed one movie, The Angry Birds. Considering the overall lack of experience behind the film, the outcome is astonishing. Kaytis has dealt us a glorious treat, although one can’t help but suspect that Columbus played a big part in bringing many of the pieces together.
The Christmas Chronicles is a lovely addition to the ever-expanding catalogue of festive gifts. It is guaranteed to put smiles on a lot of young faces, while parents might get a kick out of its mature nuances. I can’t think of a better way to kick off my Christmas viewing and I can guarantee you that this one will be on my list of movies to revisit in the years to come. Damn, I’m such a sucker for good Chrissy flicks!
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘The Christmas Chronicles’ is currently streaming on Netflix right HERE.