It’s a Wonderful Life. Miracle on 34th Street. A Christmas Carol. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Christmas Vacation. Home Alone. The Santa Clause. The Nightmare Before Christmas. Bad Santa. Elf. I could go on…Christmas movies were a staple up until about ten years ago, when Hollywood decided to abandon the greatest holiday of the year for reasons unbeknownst to the millions of people who hate-watch Hallmark every year, or put on any one of a hundred classics each December. When they try, the studios that be can be jolly good at nailing the wonder of childhood for kids and the will of nostalgia for adults. Christmas movies are all about embracing both, and Chronicles is a prime example of that.
I have my issues with Netflix, their aversion to the “church” and their lax marketing to name a few, but I’m grateful for their willingness to rescue forgotten genres from the brink. For naughty or nice, they’re dabbling in romantic comedies, erotic thrillers, now Santa Claus fantasy, and it’s a film buff’s delight to see them all back from the grave. Last year’s Hallmark-level Christmas Prince notwithstanding, they’re on the right track with Chronicles, a fun romp through the night before Christmas with a younger, svelter Santa played by Kurt Russell. A cute little girl and her rebel older brother are at each other’s throat at Christmas, a year after the death of their fireman father. A dead parent story is the oldest trick in the book because it usually does the trick, and Christmas Chronicles does it well, lending heart and even character development to the cartoon shenanigans. Even better is Russell, a cool cat with his own tricks, some literally up his sleeve, having a ball as a post-modern Santa minus the cloying Marvel snark. He has a way with people, true believers and non, and director Clay Kaytis can add new wrinkles when he chooses, such as Santa’s back pocket of languages and penchant for the blues. He can even inspire, such as that twinkle of wonder when ten year-old Kate Pierce wanders into Santa’s bag and finds a floating menagerie of presents.
The little things count, particularly when the spirit of you-know-what is at stake (again) and the kids must band together to save Christmas, all while outrunning cops (Lamorne Morris, Martin Roach) in a big red car and fending off thugs from the big red bag. It’s all conventional stuff, just shy of becoming a made-for-TV movie. But throw in affable cops, amusing criminals, and especially tiny, cutesy, Nordic elves ready for a fight, and Christmas Chronicles reminds you why so many of these stories became classics in the first place. Hopefully it’ll inspire the big red Net to double-down and treat us to more of these each December. Call me a holiday softie but we need them now more than ever.
P.S. Stay for cameo gold at the very end.