When Kate Pierce and her older brother Teddy come up with a plan to catch Santa on camera things, don’t go entirely to plan. The two of them end up on an adventure that is predictably unpredictable and unsurprisingly life-affirming. There are CGI elves and a musical number as well.
The festive season is always a busy time for me because I have a real weakness for Christmas and with each new film that I watch I worry. I worry that whatever new tinsel-covered rubbish I end up watching will become a firm favourite and have to go into the annual rotation. The shops might start Christmas earlier and earlier each year, but they’ve got nothing on me. If you don’t believe just how much I enjoy Christmas garbage then I present to you Nine Lives of Christmas, that I reviewed for this very site last year – a terrible TV movie starring Brandon Routh about the magic of cats to connect people at Christmas. I tell you this, dear reader, only to emphasise that I am predisposed to like anything with yuletide flair, and also to highlight what it means when I say that I really didn’t enjoy The Christmas Chronicles.
The story focuses on Teddy (Judah Lewis) and Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) who have lost their father only a year earlier in a tragic opening montage incident. Up! this is not. The two of them have drifted apart until they try to catch Santa Claus on film and end up going on a whirlwind adventure with jolly old Saint Nick. The story has a lot of the festive trimmings that we’ve come to expect; a divided family, with a tragic history lingering in the background, brought back together by a chance meeting. Everyone has a magical adventure that brings the true meaning of Christmas back into their previously empty hearts. There’s even a little dash of Arthur Christmas-esque peril as it looks like Santa might not get to deliver everyone’s presents on time.
Most Christmas films have a fairly well-trodden story but it’s usually something in the characters or the setting that gives it a unique flavour. Sadly, The Christmas Chronicles is rather thin on the characterisation front and the setting is nothing that we’ve not seen done a hundred times before (and better). You’d think that the prospect of Kurt Russell as Santa might be something new and different but the reality is that he’s not so much jolly as weird, with his red leather coat and his line in magic tricks. There’s a particularly odd musical number in a prison cell with Steve Van Zandt (yes Silvio Dante from The Sopranos) where Santa seems to have everyone under some kind of mind-controlling spell as he forces the inmates to dance to his dastardly tune. It’s very strange.
As if that wasn’t enough the film only gets weirder when we’re introduced to Santa’s elves – CGI nightmares that seem to have come directly from the 90s. They’re a strange catlike creature that seems to be speaking Klingon or Dothraki, I couldn’t quite tell. They also seem to rapidly shift from loveable assistants to terrifying Gremlin-style nightmares in a heartbeat. There’s one scene where they seemed to be set on slicing Teddy in half with a chainsaw. Family fun at its finest.
The Christmas Chronicles is silly, but not necessarily in a fun way. It’s odd in that there’s a lot of stuff that we’ve seen before but then also an unusual collision of elements that don’t seem to really fit together too well. It’s certainly not one that I’m desperate to watch again but I suppose I’m glad I’ve seen it because I guess it does have to be seen to be believed.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.