Things Only Adults Notice In The Christmas Chronicles
From “Miracle on 34th Street” to “A Christmas Story,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “Elf,” it seems like the list of annual must-watch holiday movies gets longer just about every year.
Will Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles” (2018) enter these lofty ranks? Having Kurt Russell as the headliner could help its staying power. The same goes for the type of Santa Claus he plays: This version of St. Nick isn’t exactly plucked out of “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” As for how successful the film has thus so far, it has a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and has since spawned a sequel, both of which are nothing to sneeze at.
The original film features Santa trying to get Christmas back on track after 10-year-old Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) and her brooding teenage brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) hitchhike on his sleigh, causing it to crash land in Chicago. From there, retrieving St. Nick’s reindeer and sack of presents are a must if Christmas is to endure.
There are plenty of family-friendly shenanigans, along with heartwarming messages, to keep kids of all ages interested in the “The Christmas Chronicles.” That said, here are 11 things only adults notice in the movie.
The movie's Chicago cred is suspect
Although most of the movie takes place in Chicago, the Windy City is primarily depicted via aerial shots, CGI during a car chase and airborne scenes with Santa in a sleigh.
While movie magic does place the characters on Wacker Drive and near downtown landmarks in some scenes at ground level, the movie was shot largely in Toronto. In fairness, the producers did pick a decent substitute locale, as the city looks gorgeous in its holiday best.
The film also does a decent job at paying attention to the small touches. Bears and Blackhawks banners hang in a pub, at one point Santa tells Teddy to go “left on State Street, right on Erie, left on Michigan” — which actually would be the proper directions to get you from Wacker to the Magnificent Mile.
The most Chicago thing the movie has going for it? That might be Windy City native Lamorne Morris, who plays Officer Jameson and is best known for his role on “New Girl.”
Real collectibles are still a thing
Seeing as Santa doesn’t carry a wallet, procuring transportation is difficult when his sleigh is out of commission. In an effort to secure a ride by bartering, he offers a pub customer a mint-condition, 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card in exchange for his Porsche.
Had the movie been made a few years later, St. Nick might have pulled out his iPad and offered the gentleman an NFT (non-fungible token). They’re surging in popularity; just ask anyone who has scored CryptoPunk art.
That said, Santa would have (knowingly) gotten the short end of the baseball card deal. In 2021, a Mantle rookie card made by Topps sold for a record $5.2 million. With that kind of dough, the man could have bought about 24 brand-new, 2021 Porsche 911 sports cars at about $216,000 apiece. If only the customer’s wife had realized such a small piece of cardboard was worth a fortune and not ripped it up. After all, she could have simply handed it back to Santa and said “no thanks.” Yikes.
The real world doesn't stop for Christmas
When Teddy steals a car with his friends, the transgression is easier for the audience to forgive than it might otherwise be because it’s through the lens of a teen acting out. His firefighter dad died in the line of duty less than a year before the movie takes place, and Teddy’s mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) isn’t always around because she works. She’s doing the best she can, but she’s called away on Christmas Eve for an unexpected overnight shift at the hospital.
It can be easy to forget that in the real world, although kids don’t have to worry about school during the holidays, adults don’t always have time off for holiday celebrations. In “The Christmas Chronicles,” that practical element is also reflected in those working at the pub where Santa and the kids are looking to snag a ride, as well as in the police officers simply trying to keep the night, well, silent.
One thing nudges this note of realism to the side, however. When Santa, Teddy and Kate are careening around the city avoiding the police, there’s nary a soul on the streets. In actual Chicago on Christmas Eve, the downtown shops would be empty in the wee hours of the morning, for sure, but chances are the nearby bars and clubs would be fairly lively — which means cabs and a trickle of traffic would be inevitable.
Santa's a gearhead
Not only is Santa the guy you want at the reins in any sleigh race, he might give NASCAR’s best a run for their money. While trying to elude police in a 2014 Dodge Challenger, St. Nick quips that he’s “trading in eight reindeer for 400 horses.”
The base model of that vehicle tops out at 375 horsepower, by the way, though the higher-end versions do get up to 470. As for the police, they never would have caught Santa, as they do in the film, if it simply were a matter of vehicle specs. For the sake of argument, even if the officers in pursuit were driving 2020 Ford Police Interceptor Utility Hybrids, those cars top out at 318 horsepower.
A few fun facts: Reindeer cover more ground — and are faster — than one might think. They can run up to 50 mph, and some herds migrate up to 1,500 miles in one year. The animals also can swim up to 6 mph.
Just don’t give reindeer — also known as caribou — any candy canes, as the movie recommends; they actually eat mosses, grass and other plants. As for the specs and diets of flying reindeer, well, those are a North Pole secret.
The “how” of Santa is front and center
Many a Christmas movie has addressed concerns as to how Santa completes his annual mission. What if a home has no chimney for him to climb down? Isn’t he too big to fit in chimneys, anyway? How does he carry all those presents?
Perhaps the biggest hurdle St. Nick must clear: time. As in, how does he get to every child on the nice list in such a short window — even with time zones? Among the academics who have tackled this scenario is a self-described Santa math specialist at North Carolina State University. He posited that to cover approximately 122 million miles in 24 hours, St. Nicholas would have to travel at an average speed of 5,083,000 mph, or about 130 times slower than the speed of light. And how would he do that? By stretching time like a rubber band using relativity clouds, clearly. Science is amazing, no?
In “The Christmas Chronicles,” magic covers all the bases. Santa has a gadget in his sleigh that allows him to create wormhole-like portals and instantly appear in any city he likes. He also need only tap his nose to conjure a vortex and zip from home to home with blinding speed like a festive version of the Flash. The two should team up — hey, they both wear red suits.
Santa can be naughty — but not too naughty
The laws of physics aren’t the only things stretched in the film. To save Christmas, Santa must do some mental gymnastics in pursuit of his wayward property. Case in point: When Teddy suggests they steal a car, he convinces Santa it will all work out in the ethical wash, because Santa already operates in the gray when he “breaks in” to a billion homes every year. Besides, Teddy says, they’ll return the car once they’re done. Fleeing the police isn’t exactly on the up and up, either, but when you bring joy to the planet on a yearly basis, the universe (and the audience) will let a lot of things slide.
When there’s dirty work to be done, it’s the elves who get the call. They also take “The Christmas Chronicles” to a dark place momentarily. To rescue Teddy from abduction and attempted murder, the elves (which are like the Christmas version of Minions) storm in and take out the bad guys, slapstick-style. The assumption is that pure-hearted St. Nick, who believes pretty much everyone can be redeemed, can’t be involved with such mayhem, even if it is to save a child.
The part that nearly ruins the vibe of the movie is when one of the elves prepares to take a chainsaw to Teddy after they mistake him for one of the criminals. Not cool, elves. Not cool.
“The King” rules Christmas
The biggest showstopper in the film is when Santa, desperate to keep the holiday spirit from dropping to perilous levels, improvises a concert while in jail. After touching the hearts of the men and women behind bars as only St. Nick can, he equips his temporary roommates with instruments and microphones. Before they know it, they’ve rediscovered dormant talents and the jolly old elf is belting out “Santa Claus is Back in Town” by Elvis Presley.
Given Russell’s connections to Presley, this number was a no-brainer. In an uncredited role in “It Happened at the World’s Fair” (1963), Russell plays a boy who kicks Presley’s character in the shin. In 1979, Russell played Presley himself in “Elvis,” a made-for-TV biopic directed by John Carpenter. Then in “3000 Miles to Graceland” (2001), Russell’s role was that of an Elvis impersonator who leads a gang robbing a Las Vegas casino. In that film, he even got to bust out his best hip-swinging moves again as he lip-synchs to “Such a Night.”
In yet another nod to the “King of Rock and Roll” in “The Christmas Chronicles,” Presley’s version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” plays as Santa and the children approach the pub.
Santa is tech-savvy
Can Santa be reached via traditional letter in the digital age? You bet, as Teddy’s unexpected missive proves. But that’s far from the only method kids can use to request presents in this tale. Kate uses her dad’s old camera to reach out, and judging by the video wall in Santa’s workshop, any sort of computer, tablet or smartphone will do the job. He probably even accepts texts, DMs or whatever app kids prefer these days.
The movie also suggests the elves haven’t cornered the market on holiday manufacturing. Santa turns a car radio into a police scanner simply by repurposing junk he finds in a glove compartment and quips: “I am the greatest toymaker on Earth.”
On the other hand, technology gets the best of Santa when he’s not careful: Kate’s camera catches him in the gift-giving act, setting the movie in motion, and she uses it to capture every step of their journey — until he confiscates the evidence before it can go viral.
Also of note: You can tell Kate’s camera is vintage because it doesn’t shoot in widescreen.
Ghosts of Christmas films past
Considering holiday movies are a staple of the season, it’s not surprising there are nods to predecessors of “The Christmas Chronicles.”
One example: The Pierces’ tree in 2018 (as opposed to those in the film’s flashbacks) is shades of the minimalist shrub in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” That piece of depressing greenery ultimately is decorated impeccably, and the same is true of the Pierces’ tree.
In an homage to “Home Alone,” Kate and Teddy rig a system to alert them that the chimney has been breached to catch Santa in the act. Luckily there’s no booby trap waiting for Mr. Claus. Like Russell’s Elvis number, viewers may have seen this bit coming: Christopher Columbus, who directed “Home Alone,” is a producer on “The Christmas Chronicles.”
In addition, one flashback shows Teddy receiving a red pocketknife from his dad, a gift Mom that his disapproving mom does not like. It’s a short leap from that scene to the one in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie’s dad gives him the BB gun he always wanted, despite his mother’s objections.
Santa is health-conscious
About the only things that frustrates Santa more than people on the naughty list are the myths people have created about him over the years. When he first meets Kate, he tells her he does not “ho, ho, ho.”
Beyond that, the images depicting him as overweight — including one on a soda can — really get his goat. Although St. Nick understands why people would have a hard time believing he’s svelte given all the cookies he consumes, much of the movie’s humor revolves around him trying to change that perception. One example:
“A guy goes to the gym every day, stays away from sugar and carbs … what difference does it make?”
Santa gets a sort of revenge during the movie’s climax, as an unflattering billboard is destroyed when his sleigh barrels through it. The writers probably could have done without one or two of these jokes, but at least the only one Santa judges is himself.
Santa knows Mrs. Claus extremely well
The Mrs. Claus reveal near the end of the first film (her role was significantly expanded for the sequel) is straight out of the Marvel playbook. She strolls onto the scene with her back to the camera and a hood covering her head. She says a few lines in Elvish before switching to English, keeping the mystery intact a few more seconds. Finally, she turns to the camera, letting the audience know Goldie Hawn is Santa’s better half.
For those not up on their celebrity buzz, this is a cute touch because Russell and Hawn have been a Hollywood power couple for decades. They have one child together, and they both raised Hawn’s children from a previous message, Kate and Oliver Hudson (who are not exactly entertainment nobodies themselves). In fact, Oliver Hudson plays the kids’ dad in “The Christmas Chronicles.”
“In the first movie, Mrs. Claus became like Columbo’s wife,” Russell told The New York Times. “What’s fun about it is that she’s a mysterious character. She’s not just a sweet old lady who bakes cookies.”