Festive film treats are plentiful at this time of the year, but every so often one comes along that really captures the magic and delivers an unforgettable ride. The Christmas Chronicles, which releases on Netflix on December 22nd, is just that movie – a funny and thoroughly entertaining family adventure that evokes the classics from the past and gives us a fresh new spin on Santa Claus, thanks largely to Kurt Russell’s outstanding leading turn.
The Christmas Chronicles is brought to you by the people responsible for Home Alone and Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone with Chris Columbus acting as one of the films many producers. This film clearly takes a lot of inspiration from his past work, and creates a story that focuses on characters and relationships rather than bombarding you with special effects. That’s not to say that The Christmas Chronicles doesn’t have that, but it makes sure the story is always the most important part of the experience.
The plot revolves around siblings Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy Pierce (Judah Lewis). The opening credits of the movie sets the scene very well as we are shown various Christmas home-movies from the Pierce family archives, as parents Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and Doug (Oliver Hudson) capture the holiday season with their young kids. Time moves on and the kids grow, but their traditions stay the same.
In the present day, Claire is widowed and is struggling to balance her work as a nurse with caring for her kids. 10 year old Kate is young enough to still have the magic of Christmas in her heart, but her teenage brother Teddy seems to have lost that spark. He’s clearly still struggling with losing his dad and has taken to petty theft as a means of coping. When Claire is unexpectedly called back into work on Christmas Eve night, Teddy begrudgingly has to stay home and look after his little sister. A quick bribe sees Teddy help Kate rig up the house with a series of cameras and bells to ‘alert’ them when Santa arrives. But what he thinks is harmless fun ends up being something very special when they actually catch the real Santa (Kurt Russell) delivering presents.
The set-up is simple but very effective and really gets the film off to a strong start. What follows is the kids stowing away in Santa’s sleigh, and then the fun and chaos really starts to kick in. The Christmas Chronicles takes the old 80s trope of ‘one crazy night in the city’ and runs with it like a kid on a wild sugar-rush haze. The film only works if you believe in the two kids at the centre of the narrative and in Camp and Lewis, the movie finds two fine actors who really deliver the magic. Darby Camp is especially great and always keeps her sense of wide-eyed wonder, whilst Judah Lewis balances his characters shift in tone very well.
The film also has some wonderful supporting cast in the form of New Girl’s Lamorne Morris, Martin Roach, Tony Nappo, Vella Lovell and Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who once again manages to bring her sparkling charm over from the Father of the Bride movies. Oliver Hudson is only in the film for a bit but he is great, as is a secret surprise cameo from a beloved actor right at the very end of the film.
But as great as they all are, the film undoubtedly belongs to Kurt Russell as Santa. He delivers a gloriously entertaining leading turn that sparkles with comedy and humour at every turn. It’s not overestimating the impact he makes in this film when I say he is, hands down, the best Santa we’ve had onscreen for years. He manages to bring the classic figure we all know and love, and contemporises him with just the right level of coolness. Russell gives the role his all and really goes for it, delivering scene after scene of memorable fun; be it a high speed car chase evading police capture, a uncanny ability to remember every person he ever meets, or his outstanding musical number with his fellow inmates whilst in jail! Kurt Russell is simply a revelation here.
The Christmas Chronicles is a sure-fire hit for the festive season and a Christmas movie for the ages. I sincerely hope we get many more of these films with Kurt Russell in the lead role – he brings an energy and passion to the story that guarantees a great night’s entertainment. Kudos to director Clay Kaytis and writer Matt Lieberman for channelling the classics from our past to give us a Christmas film that we can happily add to our re-watch list every year.
Cast: Kurt Russell, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Oliver Hudson, Lamorne Morris, Martin Roach, Tony Nappo, Vella Lovell Director: Clay Kaytis Writer: Matt Lieberman Released By: Netflix Release Date: 22nd November 2018