The Christmas Chronicles
Kurt Russell has made a career out of being a man’s man. After outgrowing his child acting days, Russell has had a long run of ass-kicking, heroic (though occasionally clumsy) roles that have kept him in the public’s good graces for decades. Why would Russell playing Santa Claus be any different? In Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles, we get a gruff, masculine Saint Nick, worthy of Russell’s reputation.
Like so many children’s stories, The Christmas Chronicles begins with the death of a parent. Through a series of home movies, we can see that the family at the center of the tale had been quite happy. Dad (Oliver Hudson, Russell’s real-life stepson) and Mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) are in love, and their kids seem to love each other too. After going through the years of Christmas morning footage, Kate (Darby Camp) begins her own video letter to Santa. Teddy (Judah Lewis), now a dismissive teenager, teases her for still believing in Santa, but he stops short of telling her that Santa isn’t real. As torn as this family is from the loss of their father, it’s clear that they still have a core of affection and loyalty, even though Teddy would never show it.
That night, Christmas Eve, Mom is called back to the hospital to work an emergency shift and Teddy and Kate are left to themselves. Upon even closer inspection, Kate spies Santa – the real Santa – in one of her family videos. She then hatches a scheme to catch the big red guy himself that very night. Inevitably, she and Teddy catch Santa, but also manage to crash the sled in Chicago, lose Santa’s big red sack of presents, and his magical hat too. This trio then head off into the city to save Christmas.
The plot of The Christmas Chronicles is disposable and the kids are as uninspired as they come, but the film largely rescues itself by reimagining Santa as an all-American pillar of masculinity. Russell’s Santa wears leather, is slim, and refuses to say “Ho Ho Ho.” He likes muscle cars and spouts off about “fake news.” Though the Right-leaning rhetoric behind this Santa seeps out from the film’s seams from time to time, Russell has such fun with the performance and brilliantly puts his own stamp on the world of Christmas that I’m willing to give him a pass. Watching The Christmas Chronicles is all about letting him run with the iconic role, and it’s a joy.
The Christmas Chronicles is a low-stakes and light kids’ holiday film. The bad guys are bad. The elves are unsettling. The Christmas spirit is unsquashable. And when it steps aside and lets Kurt Russell take over, it’s a fun addition to the world of cinematic Saint Nick.