Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two is the next chapter in the holiday action/comedy movie series. Kurt Russell returns as Santa Claus, and this time he’s not alone: Goldie Hawn hops in the sleigh as Mrs. Claus. Darby Camp is back for another adventure too, joined by newcomer Jahzir Bruno. But can they stop the menace of Belsnickel—also, what’s a Belsnickel?
The Gist: It’s been two years since Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) was caught delivering gifts by a couple of kids (Darby Camp and Judah Lewis) and crashed his sleigh in Chicago. Not much has changed in the North Pole; Santa’s still chilling with Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn, now a full-fledged cast member after a cameo in the first film) and Santa’s furry little elves are prepping for his annual Christmas delivery run.
Back in the mortal world, however, things have changed too much for pre-teen Kate (Camp). Her mom’s dating a new guy (Tyrese Gibson) and it’s getting serious. Even worse: they’ve whisked their kids—including The Witches breakout Jahzir Bruno as Gibson’s son Jack—to Cancun for Christmas. This is bogus. Kate wants snow for Christmas—but she mainly wants to preserve the memory of her late father.
And now a phrase one can only say when describing a Netflix holiday movie: Enter: The Belsnickel! Played by Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Deadpool 2), Belsnickel has a major, mysterious grudge against Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and this is the year that he exacts his revenge. Preying on the Santa-approved power of Kate as a True Believer (just go with it!), the Belsnickel uses the totally disillusioned Kate as bait to hitch a ride back to the North Pole wherein he hopes to, y’know, generally destroy Christmas and all that. Of course the Belsnickel didn’t count on a stowaway, and Kate’s soon-to-be stepbrother Jack also finds himself mixed up in this kooky-yet-dangerous Christmas takeover plot.
In order to keep Christmas alive, Santa and Mrs. Claus must team up with Kate and Jack against Belsnickel, all his gadgets, a vicious Yule Cat, and an army of angry elves. Can they save Christmas?!
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Oddly enough, not The Christmas Chronicles! Similar to the Santa Clause franchise, this is another sequel that trades the all-American setting of the first film for a totally fantastical North Pole setting. Santa’s not a fish out of water anymore. He’s back and he’s swimming through an arctic ocean of mythology and continuity!
This fantastical setting allows for director Chris Columbus to fully indulge whatever superhero fantasies he’s long had. The high-flying action is even more Marvel-ous this time around, as are the visuals. Like Asgard’s Bifrost, the North Pole is protected by a multi-colored Veil of Borealis. And Santa’s showdown with the similarly magical Belsnickel feels pulled straight from any Avengers movie wherein a hero faces a similarly powered villain.
And this being a Chris Columbus Christmas movie, you definitely feel a bit of Home Alone—especially in Kate’s desire to ditch her family and one absolutely phenomenal scene in a Boston airport.
Performance Worth Watching: As with The Witches last month, Jahzir Bruno is the standout in another special effects spectacle. Reminder: this kid’s first two films put him in scenes with Octavia Spencer, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Goldie Hawn, and Kurt Russell—and he more than held his own! This kid’s somehow having a great 2020 despite 2020 being actively terrible.
Memorable Dialogue: While staring down his opponent and fighting for control of the film’s mystical Christmas Star (I love that this is a thing that happens in a movie, BTW), Santa grits his teach and growls, “That ‘stupid holiday’ makes billions of people feel love and happiness!” It’s great.
A Holiday Tradition: Well, Kate’s mad about a bunch of broken traditions. She’s not spending Christmas at home and her mom’s new boyfriend keeps trying to sing “O Christmas Tree.” Excuse me, Bob, but that song was Kate’s dad’s jam.
Does the Title Make Any Sense?: It’s straightforward and to the point! And y’know, good on the producers for not saddling this movie with a subtitle like Belsnickel’s Revenge and thus forcing people to remember and spell the word “Belsnickel” over and over again.
Our Take: Sequels are hard. They have to recapture what we loved about the first film and somehow put all that magic into something that’s thrilling and new, but also comfortably familiar. For The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two, you wouldn’t want to see Santa get stuck out in the real world again and try to convince a bunch of, I don’t know, Mounties that he’s the real deal. Been there, done that! So The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two leans in the other direction. It, like Thor: The Dark World, flips the structure and sets most of the action primarily in the fantastical realm of Santa’s—or Mrs. Claus’—Village. If that Thor: The Dark World reference gives you pause, well, it’s not not merited.
We’re entering real your mileage may vary territory, but by marooning much of the movie in the North Pole, The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two doubles down on what I found to be the worst part of the first film: the elves. The elves are creepy, quasi-cuddly, cartoony nightmares that exist to make fart jokes and—I kid you not—throw a dance party that puts a few cents in the pockets of the Baha Men. Why are we still hearing “Who Let the Dogs Out” in the year 2020? The elves are a cloying mashup of Minion and Chipmunk, proof that market research is nothing but alchemy designed to give kids what they want and parents nothing but headaches. Anyway—the elves are a major, major part of this movie and… while I get that the kids will love it, I just can’t.
Fortunately, there are parts of this movie that aren’t overrun with those gremlins in pastel knitwear. Those parts of the movie are mostly delightful! The movie’s real, continued saving grace—and it’s entire reason for existing—remains Kurt Russell’s gregarious, blues-y, ’80s action hero Santa Claus. As Kris Kringle, Russell is still larger than life and—somehow!—down to earth. He’s the Santa you want to get a beer with, and it’s truly remarkable that that doesn’t feel wrong. You have to give credit to the film’s production and costume design; they make the North Pole and Santa’s suit look so lived in, so real, so specific to a traditional time and place that never existed. That’s what makes Russell’s unique Santa vibe still feel so Christmas-y, even as he’s saying that riding around in a sleigh is “like novocaine in the ol’ buttcheeks sometimes.”
Adding Goldie Hawn into the equation? It’s like adding marshmallows to hot cocoa. They’re a perfect match, and Hawn is just as game for all this Christmas pretend as her IRL partner of 37 years. Their affection for each other is real, the chemistry is delightful, and seeing the two of them in these mythic roles is a real Christmas gift to every movie fan… uh, ever?
The problems, however, aren’t limited to just the elves. This sequel dives deep into the mythology of this particular Santa Claus, which includes lots of Biblical references and even a flashback to—no joke—Turkey in the year 312 A.D. Russell plays Saint Nicholas during his Middle Eastern origin scene. And there’s a Turkish elf voiced by Malcolm McDowell. I’m just saying… brace yourselves for (justified) Christmas Chronicles Discourse.
I also wanted more for Julian Dennison to do, as he’s one of the great scene-stealers of the last five years. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t bend to Dennison’s naturally chaotic energy. There are some solid moments, like when he proclaims, “Humans suck! Elves rule!” But most of the time, Dennison’s stuck playing a pretty by-the-numbers movie villain, albeit one delightfully dressed like a South Pole Bash Brother. Justice for Belsnickel, in this one specific instance!
It’s telling that the absolute best sequence in the movie involves neither the North Pole nor the elves or even Belsnickel: it’s a time travel sequence back to Logan International Airport in 1990. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Columbus’ style feels way more at home in an airport in 1990, and this scene—which includes a show-stopping turn from the legendary Darlene Love!—reminded me of what I loved about the first Christmas Chronicles. We don’t want all the bells and whistles and CG tomfoolery. We want Santa—Kurt Russell’s charismatic, rock and roll Santa, honkin’ on a saxophone behind some Ray-Bans. All the action movie stuff is great, eye-catching wrapping paper, but Russell and Hawn are the real gift.
Our Call: STREAM IT. I’m not a Grinch and while The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two ventures possibly too far into magical hijinks and away from what made the first one so much fun, you still want to see how the Clauses and the kids will save Christmas this year. It’s just that this time around, the kids might have a little more fun and the parents might have a little less.