Leave your cynicism by the fireplace, open up the Yuletide brandy and settle back with the family for a Christmas movie that succeeds in being fun and festive (and, yes, just a little bit cheesy) thanks to a terrific central performance from Kurt Russell.
While Russell is best known for tough guy roles in movies like Escape From New York, Tombstone and Bone Tomahawk, he’s also pretty great at comedy – just check out the lovely 1987 movie Overboard – and it’s his charm, wit and – yes – jolliness – that make this seasonal movie a must-see.
He stars as Santa Claus, who is merrily pouf-ing into a cloud of red smoke so he can zip down thousands of chimneys delivering presents on Christmas Eve. Things go a bit pear-shaped however, when he visits the home of Kate (Camp) and her teenage brother Teddy (Lewis) who, along with their mother (Williams-Paisley), are facing their first Christmas together since their dad (Hudson) died.
Determined to prove the big red-coated dude does exist, the siblings have set up a trap that ends up with them accidentally hitching a ride in high tech Santa’s sleigh, followed by a crash that separates Santa from his sleigh, reindeer, bag of presents and, most importantly, the magic hat that gets him around the world so fast. There are only a few hours to save Christmas, so a now magic-less Santa is going to need Kate and Teddy’s help.
While the story itself is a bit uneven – there are some strange moments including Teddy being kidnapped by a group of hoodlums that don’t work very well – there is a warm heart at its centre as a night with Santa helps a jaded teenage Teddy believe once more, along with many of the other people he encounters.
Yes, it is formulaic, mixing a bit of Adventures In Babysittingwith all the Christmas clichés you’d expect, but there are some highlights, too, including the kids’ first reindeer ride, Kate’s falling-through-the-rabbit-hole style moment when she climbs into Santa’s sack of presents and meets the elves, and the revelation of Santa’s office where all the letters (and videos) from children are stored.
What makes this so enjoyable despite its flaws, even for the Scrooges and Grinches amongst us, is, of course, Kurt Russell. White-haired and bearded, clad in a sweeping red leather coat and biker gloves, one of Hollywood’s most likeable actors becomes the coolest movie Santa of all time as he remembers the favourite gift of every adult he encounters, gleefully boosts a red sports car, or gets the hookers and tough guys he’s sharing a jail cell with to sing along to a bluesy ‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’. It’s his movie, and a Christmas blast of joy for everyone watching him.
Is The Christmas Chronicles suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Kate and Teddy are missing their father who has died, and this may upset sensitive and younger children.
There are a few moments in the movie when the kids are in danger – Kate goes alone to find the reindeer, Teddy is taken by a gang – that may not be suitable for very young (under 7) viewers.
Very young children may find the elves a little scary when they first see them.
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