Two winters back, I toasted Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles for presenting at-home audiences with the thrill of a silver-fox Santa played by leather-cloaked Kurt Russell. This holiday, I’m sad to report that even though Russell is back—and has brought his real-life love Goldie Hawn along as Mrs. Claus—the thrill is gone. The Christmas Chronicles 2 is a sequel that plays firmly to kiddos and will leave grown-ups bored and bewildered.
Co-written and directed by Chris Columbus, The Christmas Chronicles 2 picks up with the Pierce family, who ran into Santa for the sleigh ride of a lifetime last time. Now, the kids are more grown-up. Former car thief Teddy (Judah Lewis) is well-adjusted and happily lounging during the family vacation to Cancun, but true believer Kate (Darby Camp) isn’t thrilled about the tropical setting or how her mom’s boyfriend (Tyrese Gibson) and his son Jack (The Witches’ Jahzir Bruno) have become a part of their family celebration. Lucky for her, a disgruntled elf will kidnap Kate—and accidentally Jack—as part of his scheme to get back at Santa.
Funny enough, this villain has the exact same backstory as the baddie from Netflix’s recent Christmas release Jingle Jangle. Behold the happy toymaker with genius ideas sure to delight children around the globe! This man gets much love and renown for his gift-giving genius, and he has a loyal protege to thank in part. But he doesn’t. His mind is on the work, on the children, on his family—not the young boy desperate for his mentorship, approval, and love. So, resentment grows, the boy rebels, steals a McGuffin from his mentor and becomes his greatest nemesis. This time around, the boy is a young elf named Belsnickel, who is so bad that he is stripped of his elfhood and becomes a glowering teen, played by Julian Dennison.
The casting here is almost painfully predictable. Dennison broke through in 2016 with the sensational coming-of-age dramedy Hunt For the Wilderpeople, in which he played a “bad egg” who really just needed a good nest. Then, Dennison took another spin at the hooligan who must be saved role with Deadpool 2. Now, he’s a bit taller, his voice a bit deeper, but it’s the same role all over, down to the petty vandalism, gruff rejection by a macho paternal figure, and redemption arc. Frankly, it’s gotten old. Even giving Belsnickel a pack of eight snapping hyenas to pull his pimped out sleigh can’t make this interesting.
There is some promise in a new setting for this festive franchise. Santa brings Kate and Jack back to Santa’s village, where those furry elves have an array of shops, a town square, and a movie theater, all of which will play backdrops to mirthful mayhem. While Santa and Kate reunite to take down Belsnickel’s plan, Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) and Jack team up to undo the damage wrought by Belsnickel and his Yule Cat (a massive cougar who thrashed Santa’s reindeer). In these branched adventures, Kate will learn Christmas is not about where you celebrate, but who you’re with, while risk-averse Jack learns to be brave. Within all that, the script by Columbus and Matt Lieberman work in time travel, Christmas cookies as weapons, a sprawling musical number senselessly set in an airport, and a menagerie of maniacal elves playing with chainsaws as “Who Let The Dogs Out” blares. Do not ask me to explain why, for I can not.
A rollicking adventure is offered, involving sleigh chases, a hi-tech heist, and a supervillain-style backstory told through CG-heavy flashbacks. Such splashy and loud set pieces may well entrance kiddos. However, any effort to enchant parents begins and ends with casting that makes you go, “Oh, isn’t that whats-her-name?” (It is. Her name is Darlene Love and she is more fabulous than this flick deserves.)
The saltiness and sensuality that made Kurt Russell’s Santa fun in the first one is gone, leaving behind only sickening sweetness as Santa smiles and makes Dad jokes. Hawn is likewise snared in a saccharine trap that makes this movie painfully stodgy. To her credit, she throws her all into lines like, “Dasher is fighting for her life!” However, Columbus is a filmmaker who made his name on keeping content safe and straight, so there’s not even campy fun to be had in this sequel’s absurdities.
All in all, The Christmas Chronicles 2 is a cliche-stuffed bumbling that cruises on shallow holiday cheer. If you’re looking for something to throw on while you wrap gifts, trim a tree, or fold laundry, you could do worse. And that’s about the nicest thing I can say here.
The Christmas Chronicles 2 hits Netflix on November 25.
Header Image Source: Netflix