You know the film. It’s a film you have never heard of. The cast might be composed of actors you know and love or complete unknowns. You stumble across it on streaming and wonder if it will be worth two hours of your time. This series will be devoted to reviewing films like these, the strange items that pop up when you are looking for a flick on the streaming service of your choice. This is “We Found It On Streaming”
FILM: The Christmas Chronicles
Release Date: November 22, 2018
Run Time: 103 Minutes.
Streaming Service(s): Netflix
Rating: PG for mild action/violence and brief language
Teddy (Judah Lewis) and Kate (Darby Camp) are reeling from the recent death of their firefighter father Doug (Oliver Hudson). Their grief is causing the once close siblings to withdraw from each other. Kate spends most of her time watching old videos of her father on the video camera her dad got for Christmas years ago. Teddy is leaving the house to hang with bad crowd, stealing cars and heading down the path that will eventually lead him to prison. When they are together, all they do is snipe at and fight with each other.
When Kate finds something on an old video that makes it look like Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) visited their house in the past, the siblings share one last adventure before they possibly drift apart forever–try to capture evidence that Santa is real.
It turns out that Santa is real and in the pursuit of capturing more proof of his existence, they stowaway on his sled. Through a convoluted series of events, they cause the sled to crash, Santa to lose his bag of gifts, his magic hat, his team of reindeer and that puts Christmas in jeopardy. Teddy and Kate have to work together to help Santa get all his stuff back together or half the world won’t get their gifts, Christmas will be ruined and, as a result, an already cynical world will be cast into a dark age of negativity and conflict. Big stakes indeed.
If, while reading that plot summary, you got the feeling that I was describing two different movies, I kind of was. There are two tonally different films in The Christmas Chronicles. One is a heartbreaking examination of grief and depression and how it can tear families apart, the other is a wacky, CGI-heavy comic caper film. And one of the main flaws of the film is that it struggles to find a balance between the two tones.
The film is well made and excellently constructed. The early part of the film, which chronicles the family Christmases from before Kate was born to right before Doug dies is a great piece of storytelling, showing how the family grew and the love they shared. The grief the kids feel over their missing father is strong and palpable. And they approach the Santa Claus mythos in interesting and inventive ways. However, it is a jarring shift when the film moves on to Santa leading a jailhouse concert or Kate trying to convince Santa’s elves that Santa needs their help. The goofier elements are also well done, but it makes the film seem like a rollercoaster ride in contrast to the more somber moments and not necessarily in a good way.
A lot of the film gives off an Adventures in Babysitting vibe, which shouldn’t be surprising considering this film is produced by that film’s director, Chris Columbus and features a pair of siblings gallivanting through Chicago. That was also a film that married comedy and danger, but to far better effect. For example, similar to that film, Teddy runs afoul of the Chicago criminal element, this time thugs associated with what looks like a chop-shop operation. The thugs come across Teddy right after he finds Santa’s bag, and they take him and it to their boss.
The sense of menace in this scene is strong. You believe that Teddy is in peril and wonder how he will get out of the situation. But when Kate leads Santa’s elves to the rescue, and the section devolves into slapstick violence as the CGI elves take out the gang members, it is too abrupt change to be fully enjoyed. You are worried you will get whiplash from the shift in tone.
The reason the film holds together as well as it does lies with Kurt Russell. Russell is one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood and that charisma oozes its way into his performance. The film has a lot of the “Santa having to prove that he really exists” trope that is common in and holiday that, well, Santa has to prove that he really exists. It is a well-worn trope, but Russell makes it seem fresh. He approaches his doubters with a fatherly patience which makes the fact that he has to prove himself again and again and again a bit easier to bare.
The acting is fairly solid from top to bottom. Lewis and Camp give performance on a higher level than you’d typically find in child actors. They share a majority of the screen time with Russell and do a lot of heavy lifting moving the plot along. They never seem cloying or overly cute and they share a lot of chemistry with each other and with Russell. Kimberly Williams-Paisley does a good job as the kid’s mom, Claire, but it is not a big role.
Your enjoyment of the film will depend on how well you adjust to the shifts in tone. My advice would be to focus in on Kurt Russell’s performance and let that guide you along. Personally, I was drawn into the film’s emotional arc, but wished for more of it whenever the film introduced it wackier elements. Your mileage might vary.
Have you found a film on streaming that you’d like us to look at? Leave it in the comments and it might appear in a future installment of this feature.