Like the 2018 original, “The Christmas Chronicles 2” (Netflix) feels like an instant family-friendly holiday staple with its colorful filmic magic, broad messages, and warm relationship between Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) and his young True Believers (led by Darby Camp’s Kate). It’s a children’s movie that will make adults feel good in the moment, even if we forget the details as soon as it’s over.
A highlight of the first one is when Kate gets a peek at the North Pole’s post office. But this time we go all in, seeing the community of elves as they live, work, play and – thanks to a magic powder – cause mayhem in Santa’s Village, which the kids liken to a giant snow globe.
Kate is joined by stepbrother-to-be Jack (Jahzir Bruno), and Santa is joined by Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn). Russell and Camp show more energy than their new costars, who are a little stiff – but not distractingly so – as they have to do a lot of acting across from CGI elves, reindeer and other inventive creatures.
Julian Dennison was entertaining as a deadpan sidekick in “Deadpool 2” but he’s not as compelling as main villain Belsnickel, although it is cute to see him transformed into human from an elf who looks exactly like him (except smaller and with big pointy ears). Dennison has a difficult role because he’s the bad guy, but of course he can’t be too bad.
“CC2” – from returning writer Matt Lieberman and veteran family-film director Chris Columbus — falls short of the original because it’s missing the fun guest-actor turns. The sequel is primarily set at the North Pole, and while I now accept the cute little elves as real within this world, we have moved further from grounded reality.
The film has a not-too-contrived sense of wonder, from Kate and Jack being whisked through a wormhole to Jack battling possessed elves, using his toys against their toys. I like how the reindeers’ flying ability is contingent upon the amount of Christmas spirit in the world – it plunges to 7 percent when holiday flights get delayed.
Kate’s arc teaches children that it’s who you’re with (not where you’re at) that matters, and also that you should open your heart to new people. The beaches of Cancun aren’t Kate’s idea of Christmas trappings, so she implausibly decides to fly home to Massachusetts. She’s peeved that Bob (Tyrese Gibson, in surprising casting, especially if you’ve recently watched the “Fast & Furious” movies) could become a parent alongside Kimberly Williams’ Claire.
The lessons of Belsnickel’s arc are muddled: He is miffed that Santa gets all the credit whenever he, as an elf, invents a toy. So he aims to flee to the South Pole and start a rival toy factory. Although his methods are harsh, Belsnickel is not wrong to be peeved. But “CC2” skims over this issue, as it’s too complex for its aims.
Even though it’s rarely grim, big laughs also aren’t an aim of the sequel. When the kids suggest that it should be “Mrs. Claus’ Village,” not “Santa’s Village,” since she designed the toy factories, Russell’s amusing reaction made me wish for more comedic moments.
Still, “Christmas Chronicles 2” has spirit, and Santa, Kate and the elves are all cute in their own ways. It’s likely this series will keep sleigh-riding into future Christmases.