One Liner Review:
A movie that starts out pretty great, but then slowly becomes The Santa Claus meets Adventure in Babysitting, which is to say that it feel less and less like something new or creative.
The thing about The Christmas Chronicles is that it’s not very new or creative or different from every other movie about Santa delivering gifts on Christmas Eve. This movie never met a cliche it didn’t like, including people’s dwindling Christmas spirit being a cause for Santa having all sorts of problems. Just like in The Santa Claus, our characters discover Santa by surprising him while he is up on the roof, and soon become a part of his mission. Only there’s nothing clever like the transformation of a character into Santa in this movie. There’s no Buddy the Elf roaming the streets of Manhattan and trying to find his real Dad. Instead, the Christmas Chronicles is a very paint by the numbers movie about Santa losing his magic hat and his reindeer and having to spend the night with these kids trying to find those things. If the night led to some fun and wacky scenarios, like a take on Adventures in Babysitting, it could have worked. But here, the situations these characters get into don’t exactly stretch the imagination. There’s a nice setup at the start of the movie, featuring the relationship between two siblings and how one catches the other one committing a crime, but once Santa enters the picture, this movie feels way to familiar and unoriginal.
The Christmas Chronicles is a movie that basically combines Christmas cliches from the movies of the last few decades. Specifically Elf and the Santa Claus. This is a movie about Santa delivering presents on Christmas Eve and then running into some trouble. It’s also about kids who discover Santa on their roof and end up becoming a part of Santa’s mission and helping him out that night. And then there’s the Christmas spirit idea, and how it’s down now more than usual and how if it doesn’t get back up, it will be gone forever, or something catastrophic like that. Despite all of this being very familiar, the movie does start off kind of fun. The first half far exceeds the second half, and that’s largely because the first half is about real characters and a family, and takes its time to develop those characters, whereas the second half is about rushing to those familiar beats and moments we have already seen in every other Christmas movie.
At the start of the film, we meet Kate and Teddy. Kate is just a small girl, who still believes in Santa and is making a video tape to send to him. We learn that the two of them live with their mother who is an on-call nurse at a hospital, and that their father was a fireman who died saving people from a burning building. Since then, Teddy has become hardened and unkind to his sister. When she catches him stealing a car and gets the whole thing on video, he doesn’t exactly start liking her any more. But Kate is able to use the video to blackmail her brother into helping her with her quest.
Kate’s quest is to catch Santa in the act. It is Christmas Eve, and their mother is away for the night, working at the hospital. While Kate is watching old family videos, she pauses one at just the right moment to catch an arm wearing a red coat dropping a present off under the tree. Kate takes this be a sign that she caught Santa on video. Teddy, wanting the tape back of him stealing the car, helps Kate set traps all over the house, Home Alone-style. And the traps work. At least enough to wake Kate up that night, while Santa is on the roof. She and Teddy go outside and see the sled suspended in the air, up by the telephone poles and wires. She and Teddy now climb into the sled, hide under blankets, and wait.
When Santa arrives back in his sled and starts flying the reindeer through the air, he and the reindeer get a real surprise. They find the two kids in the sled alongside them, and this shock throws the whole sled flying off its course. Santa loses his hat, which apparently has magical powers that let him slide into tiny places and deliver all the toys. The sled also falls apart and Santa’s reindeer run off. Now, he’s in some big trouble. With no car or way to get around, Santa and the kids go into a restaurant to try and ask for a ride. Santa walks up to different tables to tried to impress people with how much he knows about them, but it comes off like a homeless person trying to prove he is a psychic. None of it works. And so Santa and the kids are back out on the street again.
At this point, Teddy steals another car and convinces Santa that it’s okay, since the car is already stolen by the bar tender, who is on the naughty list. Really? This is where the movie is going? Santa is involved in stealing a car? A much better idea would have been if the kids remembered that their mom was working at the hospital just down the block and that they could go to the parking lot and borrow her car, just as long as they had it back by morning, so that the mom would never know. That would have given us a new mission, (to get the car back by a certain time,) other than the usual one of having to deliver all the presents in one night. Instead of Adventures in Babysitting, it would have seemed more like License to Drive.
While Teddy and Santa are driving around in the stolen car, and Kate is out looking for the reindeer (so this little ten year old is out by herself at night looking for the reindeer, just to be clear,) the cops show up and we get a car chase. They have found the stolen car and are now after it. Kate finds the reindeer and gets them to fly right by the cops, but it’s not enough. The cops still lock Santa in jail, putting him in a cell with a whole lot of other people. Meanwhile, both kids get into messes of their own.
Kate climbs into the Christmas bag, which leads her through a portal to the world of elves. And Teddy travels around with the bag until he is jumped by a bunch of guys on the street who try to steal the bag from him. When Teddy won’t part with it, the guys bring both Teddy and the bag to their boss, in some garage. All of this is very convenient. Like wouldn’t the guys just take the bag at some point, and not actually take Teddy along with them? Elves jump out of the bag and attack the criminals and everyone gets away. That’s how this conflict ends. Oh and Kate emerges from the bag.
Meanwhile, Santa in his prison cell knows that time is wasting and he still needs to deliver all of these toys. He tries to convince one of the cops that he’s the real deal by speaking to the cop about his relationship. Apparently this cop really wants an old flame back for Christmas and Santa tells him that the girl is feeling the same way. Then the girl calls the cop, and all is set right. None of this is very interesting. Especially when nothing seems to really convince the cop to let Santa go. And then Santa breaks out into a rock and roll song complete with every inmate playing an instrument in the cell, and even back up singers. The lights in the whole prison cell change to be concert performance lights. It’s like the kind of scene that would play with the end credits, as a joke of the cast just fooling around having fun. But here it is actually used as part of the movie, and it makes no sense at all.
It goes without saying that the climax of the movie will be the characters riding in Santa’s sled, delivering gifts, but that’s really not all too exciting at this point. We’ve just seen it so many times before. Part of the problem is that there’s no enemy or antagonist trying to stop them. There’s nothing in their way at this point. A movie needs some kind of opposition, and if that can be in the form of a villainous character, it goes a long way. Here, the opposition is that Santa gets locked in prison, and he spends a solid chunk of the movie there. It doesn’t really work.
The Christmas Chronicles is a movie that was made on a very thin plot idea. What if Santa didn’t really look like the Santa we know him, but instead had gray hair (not white,) and was more of a rock n’ roll star than an old man? What if Santa’s elves were a bunch of little creatures and if Santa’s powers and abilities were controlled by his magic hat? And then what if he lost the hat? It’s so simple and basic that it seems like very little thought got put into this thing. The hat is an obvious Mcguffin. But the story itself is basically just a take on the Santa Claus. Only instead of one of our protagonists becoming Santa, this time they just travel along with Santa and try to help them. If there were more conflicts for Santa and the kids to go through, or more interesting conflicts, this might have been better, but as is, it is all very basic, simple, and seen–it-before.