As far as Christmas movies go, Netflix's new offering, The Christmas Chronicles, doesn't reinvent the wheel. But what it does is switch up the typical Big American City for Toronto. Now, of course, the speed limit signs are all changed to miles and the police wear badges citing their affiliation with Chicago, but Toronto itself is unmistakable in the background. So if you need a little bit of Christmas cheer closer to home, look no further than this film.
A certain charm comes from these sorts of cookie-cutter children's holiday films. You never expect excellence of filmmaking craft, nor a particularly unique plot, and if you're lucky, you'll be graced with some solid acting performances. Once in a while, a holiday movie comes out that gets burned into our collective psyche as a "classic". Think It's A Wonderful Life, Home Alone, Elf, and A Christmas Story (also shot in Toronto). It would be great to claim The Christmas Chronicles will enter this pantheon but sadly, it falls into the typical Made-for-TV movie genre that you can find on many channels around this time of year. It's nice, it's sweet, it's typical. It is exactly the sort of film to balance the more grown-up side of Christmas with the feel-good vibe that is absolutely necessary in holiday movies.
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The Christmas Chronicles made news in the city when it was being filmed, especially as Kurt Russell was seen frolicking around the downtown core in a red and white Santa suit. Reindeer took over King Street. A holiday bar brawl broke out in Etobicoke. Cops chased a red sports car through the Financial District. Police standoff brought the drama outside the famous Windsor Arms in Yorkville. For a keen eye, there is no shortage of Toronto locations.
The film begins in Lowell, MA, which of course is Toronto's little filming locale cousin, Hamilton. Downtown Hamilton features only briefly because soon, Santa (played well by the charismatic Kurt Russell) crashes the sleigh in Chicago after being spooked by stowaway children, troubled Teddy and precocious Kate (played by the "Big Little Lies" scene-stealing darling, Darby Camp).
And we begin a whirlwind tour of the big city.
The crash's biggest disaster is the letting loose of Santa's reliable sleigh-engines, the reindeer. After provoking a surly, perpetually Naughty-listed bartender into a brawl at Nick's bar, which in reality is St. James' Gate in Etobicoke, the kids and Santa steal hot Dodge Challenger to track down the flighty deer.
What ensues is a cross-Toronto car chase that takes up what felt like a large portion of the film. It's great news for kids who love car chases with Santa. Not so great for anybody else as the film feels very repetitive. But if you love Toronto, it may be just as fun as for the kiddies.
Yorkville features most prominently in these scenes as you can watch Santa and the kids scream down deserted Bloor St., past the luxury brand shops like Tiffany & Co. and the eponymous Louis Vuitton.
The bright teal lights are unmistakable but the blocking of the scene cleverly uses Santa to cover the recognizable Royal Ontario Museum in the background. The car spins around the corner of Bay and Bloor, right outside David's.
Before finally getting cornered, the joyride ends up skidding through the intersection of Yonge and Richmond where Rexall is clearly visible but even more obvious because of the Elgin & Winter Garden and Pantages marquees glowing brightly down the road.
There's also a few blurry hints of the Financial district as they speed down King Street, past BMO and the TD Centre.
Cruising around town comes to an end back in Yorkville, outside the Windsor Arms, one of Toronto's boutique, celeb-attended, 5-star hotels.
The notable green awnings are clearly visible and just down the road, we're given a glimpse of Saint Nick's reindeer running down St. Thomas Street.
Escaping the police just barely, Teddy and Santa screech around the corner of Bay and Bloor again, and then take a hard turn at Cumberland and Bay, where poke-bowl and smoothie mecca Calii Love can be glimpsed at.
Meanwhile, off on her own, little Kate wanders around the downtown core and manages to hunt down the escaped reindeer hiding in a parking lot off Pearl St.
With the gentle touch that only a child in a Christmas film has, Kate's reindeer whispering pays off and she rides Comet all the way to Temperance Street where the police have finally caught up with the dangerously-stunt-driving Mr. Claus. Many of us will recognise this street as one of the ways into the beautiful hidden gem of the Cloud Gardens park. Or if you're more health-inclined, it's right near the Goodlife, which you can see at the end of the street at one point.
This is where grand theft auto Santa ends up in police custody and spends a great deal of the film in jail, doing musical numbers, as the children work to track down the reindeer, Santa's magic bag and hat, and save Christmas. They escape via magical flying mammal to St. James Cathedral on King and the entrance to the imposing structure is featured - the filmmakers even kept the name of the church.
The remainder of the film takes place mostly on studio soundstages doubling as criminal lairs, prisons, and Santa's workshop, complete with Gremlin-esque helper elves which are just oddly creepy enough to bypass the typical cheesy Christmas Elf stereotype. For the finale, everybody helps deliver all the presents and Christmas is saved!
In terms of Christmas films, this would probably fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, with one end being timeless classics, and the other, so terrible only your dog would enjoy it. It's painfully formulaic in terms of plot and incorporates so many of the well-worn cliches of these sorts of movies. The plucky if troubled children, overworked parent, tragic backstory, Santa in need of help on Christmas Eve, and saving the day through believing in the power of Christmas magic and family. It's almost as if the writers took the very end of "Elf" and stretched it out into a full-length film.
But it's innocuous enough that little ones will probably be entertained, and for the adults, Kurt Russell does a pretty good job of a leather-clad silver fox Santa. He's not the holly-jolly overweight old man of many tales, but a hipper version of what a modern Saint Nick would probably look like. And then, for everyone else like me, we can enjoy the CGI reindeer who are unbearably cute and probably the best example of special effects used during this film full of green-screens and magic glitter. As an added bonus, Russell's real-life partner, Goldie Hawn, makes a cameo as Mrs. Claus!
The entire point of these sorts of holiday movies is to create a family-friendly feel-good hour or so of entertainment. When you know as an adult what to expect of them, it may steal some of the enjoyment, but for young children, they're still wide-eyed and full of belief in the big man in red. This will hit the nail on the head if you just want to relax with a bowl of popcorn or a mug of hot chocolate with your nearest and dearest to get in the spirit.
So, put out the stockings, wrap the presents, light the tree, and pull around the family around Netflix to make your own Christmas traditions with Kurt Russell.