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Believe me when I say that I never expected to fall in love with Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles, but I guess the holiday magic is contagious with this one. From a deliberately Hallmark level of sap beginning, I was truly not on board until the one and only Santa Claus made his appearance. From then on out this film transforms into a childhood dream, as well as one that as a kid of the The Santa Clause films is a delight to witness.
Clay Kaytis has only one other feature film under his belt, and that’s a film I didn’t particularly enjoy, The Angry Birds Movie. However moving into live action, this film takes a whimsical filmmaker to make it work as well as it did, and that’s a strong feat for this newcomer. After a worrisome straight-from-Hallmark start, the film expands wildly into an unexpected adventure with a terrific Kurt Russell behind it all. While the person editing the trailer should be let loose, the final film is an incredibly fun holiday film that with any luck may become a classic. Kaytis almost appears as though to not be making a film from this decade but from an earlier one, as the jokes aren’t particularly topical and the technology is almost entirely absent from the picture. Scenes that could have looked completely bizarre in retrospect turned out astonishingly charming in Kaytis’ film. It’s not that his direction is one to look at as award worthy, but it’s comparable to other holiday classics, and the execution is near flawless; whether it feels like a more exciting Hallmark film or not.
Sure, Matt Lieberman’s writing may be cheesy and off-the-walls entirely throughout the film, but it’s incredibly fun. If you ever thought as a child about what Santa would do if he ever lost his reindeer, then this film answers that question in brilliant, laugh out loud fashion. Countless hypothetical questions about Santa and Christmas are answered throughout the film, creating a screenplay that reads as though it was written by a “true believer.” The story flowed quickly, taking us from one scene to the next until the night had come to a close, which is a plus as it showcases the screenwriters talents while barely ever slowing down or losing its captivating qualities. Maybe not one that will make the top five best holiday films of all time, but for recent years, Lieberman has accomplished greatness with this cheesy yet charming Christmas film; it gives me new hope for several “doomed” projects he is currently penning.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Kurt Russell is and always will be known for many classic characters throughout film history, from a Snake Plissken (Escape From New York) to Ego (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2), but who would have ever guessed that Russell would make an ideal Santa Claus - and one that we never knew we wanted. A speed demon behind the wheels, a jazz singer in jail, a hypnotic negotiator, and most importantly a magical being that delivers presents on Christmas Eve. He may not look exactly like the Santa Claus we’ve all come to know, but the film takes on that obvious issue in a really creative and simple way - even making it a running joke throughout. Beyond Russell’s Santa however are two less than average young actors, who obviously were scouted from a Hallmark Movie audition line. The dialogue is choppy and unauthentic, but it works mainly due to the charm of Russell on screen. Remove Russell and the film would become not as much “entertaining,” but more of a typical TV movie that disappears into the airwaves immediately after viewing.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
If it gives you any indication of how I feel about the sound design in this film, I honestly don’t remember anything about it. That’s a gigantic issue when the film, whether for the best of reasons or the worst, is filled with incredibly memorable qualities, and this is certainly not one. Basically if you wanted to recreate the score for this film, take any Hallmark Christmas movie and swap out the scores - they’d be the exact same. Sound design is hardly there to talk about either. Stereotypical car chase noises and annoying elf language may be the only lasting impressions I got from the film when it comes to the sound.
This is where the film looked like it was going to suffer greatly, especially with the reveal of the elves in the trailer. Somehow, The Christmas Chronicles sprinkled a little holiday magic and made the effects work for the final film in a very positive way. They’re not high budget or overly impressive, but the small elves and flight effects have an attractive nature to them all, reminding me of my childhood. Kurt Russell feels like Santa, and that’s not just because of his personality, it also comes from the great character design present with Santa; it may be almost the same as the iconic image of Claus, but it’s great to see the man in red represented so purely. Barely any of the other makeup or costume design stands out quite as well, and that’s a shame, especially after that electric jail time musical number.
Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles may not be a great or terrible movie, but it’s a comfortable one that properly preps you for the holiday season ahead. Beyond the film’s Hallmark attributes, the film has a lot of good that any non-Hallmark fan can appreciate. It helps enormously that the quality of the writing resembles that of the older Christmas films that a kid of the 90s can certainly enjoy, and it accomplished the greatest feat possible in confirming that Kurt Russell is the definitive Santa Claus that we’ve always wanted to see.