O ver the past 10 years, Hollywood has been hesitant to put much effort behind Christmas movies. There have even been years without a major studio release bearing any holiday themes or connections. But Netflix is ready to fill the void by releasing a series of original films operating somewhere between the Hallmark channel and the multiplex in terms of production values.
Sure enough, dear old Dad Oliver Hudson died tragically on the job, heroically saving families from a burning house. This leaves Mom Kimberly Williams-Paisley juggling her demanding job at the local hospital with single parenting her teenage son Teddy Judah Lewis and year-old daughter Kate Darby Camp.
Meanwhile, Teddy is quickly devolving into juvenile delinquency from underage drinking to stealing cars — an action that is portrayed with shockingly little repercussion in a film aimed at families.
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After a painfully long prologue, we arrive at Christmas Eve and Mom has been called in at the last minute to cover an overnight shift. Teddy and Kate let their sibling dysfunction ease slightly and work together to set up a hidden camera in hopes of catching a glimpse of Santa. Something abnormal does happen — although not of the ghostly persuasion — as Santa does in fact arrive. Santa is played by Russell who instantly brings a level of energy and professionalism sorely lacking from the film.
His comic timing, twinkly eyes and impressively styled beard are almost enough to inspire hope that the movie will turn around. Hijinks and attempted heartwarming ensue and before we know it, we find Santa locked up in the slammer offering his own take on jailhouse rock.
While Russell does his killer Elvis impression and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul cameo as his backup band, you might ask yourself, if this still for kids? Did she retire from the North Pole upon his death? Was he too new on the job to even contemplate that? These are all things the story ignores in favor of a plot contrivance that allows an ordinary guy to become Santa after the old one — who can magically slide down chimneys, among other things — is defeated by slippery shingles.
Santa found dead
Something doesn't add up there. Once Scott arrives at the North Pole and finally gets a little explanation from Bernard, the head elf seems to simply want to placate him rather than hit him with too many details. He tells Scott he's going to leave tomorrow morning and then sends him to his room to get some sleep. He writes it all off as a weird dream, but then his body starts to change in ways that are frankly horrific, and he still gets no word from the North Pole.
The first piece of concrete information he does get from Bernard is "the list" in the form of thousands of packages stacked throughout his house. The point is supposed to be that Scott won't understand how to be Santa until he believes in himself, but that's not how Bernard and the elves frame it. They simply seem to look down on his ignorance right up until he's willing to embrace them, and that feels like a bad way to run a Christmas operation. The Santa Clause is a film that hinges on belief, and the central conflict involves Charlie's steadfast belief that not only is Santa Claus real, but that his father has now become St.
Nick himself. This creates genuine, tragic problems within Charlie's family, as his mother, Laura Wendy Crewson , and stepfather, Neil Judge Reinhold , become convinced that Scott is making himself appear to be Santa in order to take Charlie away from them. This conflict introduces the classic Christmas story trope of adults not believing in Santa Claus like children do. Laura and Neil even discuss this while they recall the exact moments they stopped believing in Santa because they didn't get the gifts they asked for.
Here's the problem, though: the audience knows that Santa is real, and that means these families all wake up on Christmas morning to presents that weren't there when everyone went to bed. How do the parents feel about this? Is there some strange magic spell that convinces them they put them there? Do they simply forget which presents they bought and which ones they didn't? Are they just confused? It doesn't matter that much to the plot, but it would have been nice to get even a throwaway explanation for this, since the film spends so much time on the theme of belief.
Most of the film takes place during the year between two Christmases, as Scott slowly but sincerely becomes Santa. One of the fun visual touches throughout the "real world" scenes is the way elves are hidden in plain sight. You can spot these little child-sized creatures by their pointy ears as they hang around the human world, watching Scott's progress and making sure the transition is proceeding.
At one point, during the career day scene at Charlie's school, you can even see one of them sitting in the classroom as a student. Now, most of the time the elves are just face in a crowd, and when they walk away no one really notices. This elf, though, sat in a classroom with pointy ears and apparently participated in at least one day of elementary school.
Did he forge paperwork and invent fake parents to do this?
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Is he hiding his ears from the other kids through some kind of glamour magic? Does he answer questions and do homework too? This feels like it could be a whole other movie. When Scott discovers Santa's sleigh on his roof, it seems to be a very classic, simple interpretation of what Father Christmas' gear would look like.
The suit is simple and cheerful, the sleigh is polished and classic, and the reindeer are… well, the reindeer. Everything seems to operate under the simple banner of "Christmas magic," and it all stays that way until the following Christmas, when everything gets an upgrade. When Scott heads out for his first full Christmas Eve, his new sleigh is outfitted with everything from individual seats to a snowscreen, his hat has a two-way radio in it, and he's wearing a flame retardant jumpsuit under his coat.
Plus, there's a whole team of elves with jetpacks waiting to assist him at a moment's notice. Did the old Santa just prefer to kick it old school? Were the elves just waiting to leap into the 20th century? Plus, Charlie tells his mother that he's helping the elves make the new sleigh right before Christmas. How long were they sitting on these ideas? Speaking of those elves with jetpacks, they're known as E. Effective Liberating Flight Squad , and they're called into service when Santa is arrested after attempting to do his Santa thing at Laura and Neil's house.
Now, setting aside the idea that a man who can fit down any chimney somehow can't do anything about prison bars, the "elves with attitude" stage a very flashy and not-at-all covert extraction of their boss. They tell the cop on duty that they're his "worst nightmare," wrap him up in ribbon, and shove a donut in his mouth. Then, they cut the door off of Santa's cell with some kind of high tensile strength "tinsel" and simply take him away. Never mind that these holding cells would probably have more than one cop hanging around. Now there's going to be a police report, and even probably some surveillance footage, showing a group of apparent children magically ribboning up a cop and abducting a guy dressed like Santa from a cell.
Complex police work aside, that's going to make for some very weird meetings with supervisors after Christmas. The Santa Clause , of course, has a happy ending, as Scott finally accepts his job as the avatar of Christmas joy and flies off to the North Pole having converted Neil and Laura to his cause and forged a loving, lasting relationship with his son. What the ending doesn't address is what happens to "Scott Calvin" the human man, with a house and a job and, presumably, a series of public records that include paying taxes, having a driver's license, and owning property.
Later films confirm that Scott still maintains his civilian identity in some form, as he occasionally arrives in the human world to visit Charlie, but we don't know the real extent of it. He could simply be showing up, introducing himself as Charlie's dad, and then going back home, but he also eventually does things like drive.
When he met Bernard, Bernard told him he had 11 months to "get his affairs in order.