Director: Chris Columbus
Producer: Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Mark Radcliffe, Kurt Russell
Writer: Chris Columbus, Matt Lieberman, Enrico Dante-Mann
Cast: Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Darby Camp, Julian Dennison, Jahzir Bruno, Judah Lewis, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tyrese Gibson
Streaming Platform: Netflix
There’s something fundamentally for-children (as opposed to childish) about The Christmas Chronicles: Part 2, and this isn’t a flaw of the film. It’s a characteristic baked into its very DNA- a story of hope and belief in Santa Claus, elves, and magic. The capacity for an adult to enjoy it comes from their ability to mask doubt with conviction. With some films like Jingle Jangle, also on Netflix, that masking is harder, while here it was somewhat easier given the busy plotting that is meant to distract the adults and entertain the kids. The same rule goes for the cloying candy rom-coms- keep it busy, and keep it going.
The sequel to Christmas Chronicles (2018), this film follows an inter-racial couple (in that nebulous threshold of will-they-or-won’t-they-propose), each with their own kids. Kate (Darby Camp) is afraid that her mother, falling in love with this other man, is going to forget her father who passed away years ago. Kate is a newly christened teenager, and she is still grappling with that dual-feeling of guilt and entitlement. (This is also an interesting age for this genre, weaning away from the gullibility of childhood into the radical doubt of teenagehood) The family is on vacation in Mexico during Christmas, and Kate wants to escape this, but lo-and-behold she finds herself in the North Pole with her step-brother Jack (Jahzir Bruno), the youngest, and also most afraid, in the midst of a Christmas War. One of Santa Claus’ elves, Belsnickel, who had betrayed him years ago is back as a human (Julian Dennison) to take over Santa’s Village. Santa (Kurt Russell) and his “homely” wife Mrs Claus (Goldie Hawn) with Kate and Jack fight this off, and exorcize themselves of their inner doubts- Kate reconciles with her mother, Jack reconciles with his cowardice, and Clauses with their lack of children to nurture.
I liked that the film kept things busy and going- with impressive special effects, well-paced yule cat chases, and cannons chugging off red glitter powder. At any given point there were two layers to the storytelling – the Christmas War and Kate’s own inner turmoil.
The fact that Kate’s family consists of a widow and a widower brings a nice flavour to the idyllic “Christmas family” we are used to seeing. Of course there is also Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, grandparent figures, who embody the more traditional setup. Mrs.Claus doesn’t even have a first name, and is mostly domestic in her duties- giving off orders to mix in thistle berry, jitterbug juice, and Cornish pixie dandruff to make hot chocolate, or busy baking broccoli into cake, or nursing wounded reindeers back to health. But the film is very aware of this- which is why Kate asks Santa why the village is called the “Santa’s Village” and not “Mrs Claus’ Village” since she designed it. He mulls over it doubtfully, and Mrs Claus smiles knowingly. The world of the “modern” and the world of “traditional” exist side-by-side, each questioning the other’s merits, but never dismissing it. Like most good Christmas movies this one gives Christmas an existential threat- that isn’t tense but also isn’t boring- which is whisked off with ease. After all the world here is one of magic, and if you can’t give us a happy ending here, then what chance does reality have?