The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Santa’s in town early this year
I’ve made it pretty well known at this point that I’ll give almost any movie that employs Kurt Russel a chance when it comes to viewership - even if it’s not a movie I would otherwise watch. The man can act! Here is one of those cases, and also a return to form from a while back when I really hit heavy the Netflix Originals in reviews. It’s the time for giving and family fun, and despite the sparse amount of snow in the world outside my window lately, that means Christmas is almost upon us - and my tolerance levels of yule joy haven’t much changed. Despite my propensity of avoiding the overly-happy and at times mind-numbing holiday movies that flow from channels like Hallmark like an open wound, Kurt drags me into the cheer regardless of if I want it or not - and all that’s left is to find out if this thing is a present of fun or a ho ho horrible time. Let’s take a look at The Christmas Chronicles.
I’ve got expectations going in to this one. Most Netflix Originals haven’t treated me poorly thus far, even if I haven’t actually done a review for all of them I’ve watched. Most Kurt Russel movies I can really enjoy, despite the genre they exist in. Everything points towards an enjoyable experience, with the only hold up being if I can stomach the pure joy and fun of holidays - which for the case of some movies, like Elf, the answer is no. Still, it being a holiday movie and having seen the trailer I set my expectations accordingly, and the story pretty well matches them. It’s not some mind-blowing unique concept that you’ve never seen before. Family troubles, surprising Santa, saving Christmas, and growing into a better person because of it. Even the mix of fancy tech with magic isn’t too crazy out there at this point. So, plot being something that most people getting into it already know the steps and how it will play out, suddenly things somewhat get shifted in importance from the plot - which is by no means bad, despite it’s ranking in the race of being unique - to things elsewhere, like how it’s put together and the actors.
Actors aren’t terrible. Here, I may be giving a bit more leniency than I normally would because, again, I had set my expectations towards the average holiday movie. I expected some cheese, some kid actors that could run the gamut from good to bad, and perhaps some slight serious moments underpinned by potentially good acting. Don’t be too surprised, but that’s all here. I’ll give it to the younger actors, a lot of the moments that might come off annoying or the likes are more probable to have been written that way and not so much just that’s how it came out - but at the same time, it feels rather fitting for most the characters to act the way they do. Some of the side characters, such as the cops, end up getting played off as jokes, or something close to them, but at the same time they have moments to add in more character to themselves (or one does anyways). Most our time is spent with the two kids and Santa, and the kids do a good job of being relatively energetic or dumpy as the moment calls for - it’s not the best acting I’ve ever seen, but by all means it’s still way more than passable. Santa comes off much different than what you’d expect from him a lot of times, which is pretty intentional as far as I can tell, but also plays out in similar ways that you’d expect. Well done job here as well, with some nice cheese in there at some points. I also would be remiss to not mention that despite my appreciation of the guy as an actor and having heard worse, I’m glad Russel is an actor and not a singer.
Which is a great transition to point out just how cheesy this holiday movie can be. Here you are, watching along, and then in pops a musical number. Yeah, a musical number - full blown band and support singers and piano and everything. It’s rather a bit Elvis or Rat Pack, which I certainly don’t mind, but up until the lead in to it I really never expected this thing to have a musical number. Similar to this is jokes spread through the movie - and as always with humor, it’ll differ from person to person how effective they are. You should have a smile on you face for a good portion, and there’s some nice lines in there for sure, but it also isn’t exactly stand up hour either. There is a mix, some pun-likes and plenty of physical humor, so it does at least cover its bases when it comes to the jokes. If a joke doesn’t land, it’s largely just because the viewer doesn’t find it funny - the actors do a good job of making them land and their delivery.
There also, not surprisingly, happens to be a bunch for the effects department to do. Fancy sleighs, reindeer, elves, magical swooshes all happen to be spatter about. While not exactly going to convince you that it’s all one hundred percent real, it generally feels rather fitting of what it’s trying to be. There is even nice little attention to the details if you choose to look that far, such as that candy-cane similarity to the magical swooshing of Santa. There are a few moments, usually a person tumbling or the likes, where the effects can miss their beat a little, but it’s not consistent enough to take you out of the movie and ruin enjoyment - unless you are super picky, at which point there are a lot of other movies you’d probably have some major problems with. We also get some slow motion in there, even if it doesn’t really do much besides get some great facial expressions. On the costume cart we get Santa as the only major standout - I mean, the man isn’t exactly blending in totally with the modern wardrobe of the other characters. That said, it has some nice touches on there, particularly when it comes to the props that go with it - such as the watch or ornament shaped bag-tracker. It all looks good, and it’s plenty easy enough to recognize the main characters against the others on screen - even if two of them are younger than most anyone else and one is in a big red coat with fur trim. Guess sometimes I just need to state the obvious aye?
Audio is balanced pretty well here, and I don’t find myself wondering what’s being said even without resorting to subtitles. The music ties in to everything, and theoretically they even give a reason for the musical number if you want to get into it. Nothing particularly sticks with me afterwards, but it helps to the scene or elaborating moods such as “the sad scene” or “Christmas montage!” Line delivery is pretty well on point, and sound effects play out well too. From the subtle bells jingling, to the emphasized pop of a torch turning on, it doesn’t feel much like the audio department slept on the job here. There is some lines sprinkled about this cookie of a movie that happen to be in “Elvish” I should mention, and at times these lines will either be identified as such by the subtitles or sometimes subtitles will actually tell you what they are saying. I suppose it depends on if the movie feels it’s necessary or not to understand what’s going on. Either way, it’s not largely an issue until you hit the part where it introduces the elves, given that they all speak it - and even then it doesn’t particularly hurt the movie at all.
The other thing about this movie that could be talked about easily is the pacing. It’s a bit slow feeling at the start - not that time isn’t moving mind you. A montage introduces us to a family over the years, we get filled in on the loss of the father, and it sets up the current events so we can be in the same starting steps that the movie wants us in. It feels slow only because there isn’t a lot of things happening, particularly in regards to what follows that - which is a pretty fast paced action here, event there, chase scene then pacing that could give a weak-boned person whiplash when it suddenly slams the breaks at the midway point. It’s at this point we hit that classic wall of “sad things happen, people don’t believe in Santa” yadda yadda that usually happens here. Again, it’s not that things don’t happen during this time period - we get some funny scenes with the cops, some emotional scenes of growth for the older kid, that aforementioned musical number - but after the motor-revving excitement just before it feel much more extreme than it is. Some of the feelings here might just be me - it didn’t really sink in the slow down feeling until the girl crawls in the bag to find elves and gets distracted for what felt like longer than necessary, although in reality it wasn’t that much time. Everyone has those moments sometimes where something drags out, and for me it was that part - and for the most part, it’s all got a purpose despite if feeling a bit like padding.
In the end, it’s another Christmas movie that people could add in to have some fun with on the holiday. I’d argue it’s better than A Christmas Story, but that thing gets so overplayed that at this point I’m not sure if I hate it as a movie or just the fact that it’s everywhere I look on Christmas just getting rammed down my gob. Regardless, the actors do a decent job, and the movie is mostly fun and entertaining even with a few real downer moments and a couple moments of slower speed happenings. I don’t think it will necessarily make a person suddenly love holiday movies, but it’s certainly more fun than some of the stuff I’ve seen on Hallmark when I’ve spent time with the family at dinner and the likes this year. It’s a colorful little blast that seems very familiar while doing a few of it’s own things as well. Just, don’t make angry the elves - they have hammers and chainsaws, and they know what to do with them.