But the story lacks the cohesion of the first movie, which had a relatable throughline in saving Christmas for all the boys and girls on Santa’s list. The sequel, by contrast, feels like an overstuffed stocking: Reindeer/Yule Cat/jackal-coyote-hybrid chase scenes! Toy-making montages! Elves going full Gremlins! Another unnecessary musical sequence! Time travel! Russell and Hawn are clearly having a blast as the ultimate Yuletide power couple, yet none of the plot elements satisfyingly fit together. Worst of all, these flashy interludes distract from an actually solid emotional lesson about how the holidays change as one gets older.
The Christmas Chronicles movies are clearly trying to grow with their audience; Kate remains the POV character, but instead of unrealistically clinging to her earlier naïvete, she’s taken over her older brother Teddy’s (Judah Lewis) role as the cynical teenager. The movie’s conflict, instead of some vague lack of Christmas spirit, concerns those who deliberately reject the holiday for not fitting some narrow, quintessential mold.
Like Kate, the villainous Belsnickel had friction with his surrogate parents, the Clauses, right when he hit the elven equivalent of puberty—the confusion and rejection of which Dennison plays with surprising gravitas. The movie establishes these compelling parallels about the communication breakdowns between teenagers and their parents. But before it can do anything of note with that connection, it pivots back to childish fare, like elves carousing to “Who Let the Dogs Out” or another baffling musical number that reinforces Russell’s confusing hot-Santa vibe while also stalling the plot.
With Columbus at the helm, one might hope that The Christmas Chronicles 2 could conjure some of the brilliant, generation-spanning appeal of his 1990 masterpiece Home Alone. Alas, it won’t be remembered after this year. Yet it might be distracting enough for hyperactive kiddos, and relatable enough for over-it teens, that it can carve a few hours out of the holidays.
In a year when a stay-at-home Thanksgiving and potentially Christmas will look very different from what many people expect and hope, The Christmas Chronicles 2 is like so much escapist candy. Just make sure you stuff your movie queue with the aforementioned Macaulay Culkin classic and a snarkier standard like The Santa Clause to remember the real quality Christmas chronicles.