Netflix's 2018 Holiday Originals, Ranked & Reviewed

Netflix came out with four new Christmas Originals this holiday season, and with the mediocre-to-tolerable reception of their 2017 Originals—A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance—it’s hard to tell whether this year’s flicks will be worth the watch. So, I did it for you! Below you’ll find my reviews of the 2018 Christmas Originals, along with ratings and brief synopses so you don’t have to go digging for any backstories. This review is spoiler-free, except my discussion of the sequel to A Christmas Prince which will refer to some elements of the original film. Let’s start with the best film and move down the list, shall we?

The Princess Switch

Lead cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar

Concept: Chicago baker Stacy travels to the snowy kingdom of Belgravia to compete in a baking contest, accompanied by long time friend Kevin and his daughter Olivia. Soon after arriving, she bumps into the future Princess of Belgravia, Lady Margaret of Montenaro, who happens to look exactly like her! SURPRISE—they decide to switch positions for a few days until the baking contest. As you can imagine, chaos ensues, involving frolicking in the snow, forbidden romances, and some ridiculously overt product placement for Twister. Let’s go, ladies!

Rating: ★★★★☆

Review:

For a movie starring everyone’s fave Wildcat leading lady, playing not one flawless-haired protagonist but TWO, The Princess Switch does not disappoint some relatively high standards! It’s chock-full of Christmas cheer with lots of humorous accent-induced moments, (Hudgens passes as high English, but barely) and a cute kid co-star to boot. You’ll love, (or at least tolerate) the inclusion of classically cheesy Christmas narratives such as “identically-dressed children’s choir sings in the snow,” “clumsy antic-filled shopping sequence,” and “strong female lead inspires royal family that doesn’t care about the poor!” Even though lots of plot points are predictable to any chick flick connoisseur, the film upholds its enjoyability through fun but not over-the-top Christmas spirit, moments of genuine humour, and more realistic dialogue than the other films (for a wannabe Hallmark special).

While there were some major continuity errors (hello, body double whose face never got CGIed), The Princess Switch’s relatively good acting and cheesy switcheroo antics make it an instant feel-good classic. My only big complaint is a grade A cast of plot theft—the whimsical Hallmark-style romances, identical women switching places to discover their true identities, and a fictional country ending in “-avia” boast not-so-surprising similarities to Princess Diaries, The Parent Trap, and last year’s A Christmas Prince. But let’s be real—these are Netflix holiday specials, not Oscar bait. As you’ll see in this review, this is the only film that manages to pull off romantic holiday narratives that don’t incorporate some element of awful acting, questionable scripting, or overbearing political commentary and unemployment narratives...whoops, we’ll get to that later! The Princess Switch exceeds expectations in acting, narrative, and levels of Christmassy antics and actually made me laugh, so I’m happy to recommend it to anyone looking for a feel-good holiday night-in. Grab your ladies and some hot chocolate, because this is a classic Christmas girl’s night movie in the making!

The Christmas Chronicles

Lead cast: Kurt Russell, Judah Lewis, Darby Camp

Concept: While mourning their recently deceased father who adored Christmas (hello, tragic backstory), a classically cute little girl and her seemingly-delinquent teenage brother try to catch Santa on Christmas Eve. In their antics, they make friends with the ol’ man with a tum like a bowl full of jelly (whose weight is actually a recurring joke throughout the film) as they try to evade racial quota-filling Chicago police and save Christmas! Get ready for some traditional Xmas antics!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Review:

Okay, this film centers around a “Santa in 2018” narrative, so be forewarned: there are some relatively clumsy attempts at bringing Christmas lore into the 21st century. This includes desperate appeals to the Millennial and Gen Z audience in both dialogue and characterizations that ultimately make some scenes hard to watch; warning: “fake news!” makes a cameo. However, this version of the classic Christmas Eve story validates the holiday spirit of a plausible modern Saint Nick, with the existence of up-to-date North Pole tech and a multilingual Santa who supports stealing cars as long as they belong to people on the naughty list. That said, the storyline isn’t anything ridiculously new—the acting is good, but the classic “we must help Santa save Christmas on Christmas Eve by rediscovering our love for family and ability to be a decent person!” is still a bit overdone.

So why should you consider watching what appears to be the same brother-sister Christmas bonding story that gets recycled every year? Well, narrative-wise, the first thing you should know is that we don’t get any of the overdone Central-Park-skating-rink montages. There also aren’t any carolling scenes—in fact, the film pokes fun at them—and there may or may not be some cameos by familiar faces. In terms of acting, I can confirm that Kurt Russell kills as a modern version of Santa, whose sarcastic demeanor and vocal chops (just wait for the prison musical scene) make a classic story engaging and fresh. The brother and sister also avoid overly stereotypical characterizations and play well into a storyline that, while overdone, provides a modern day conceptualization of Christmas.

At times, it reads like a jolly, reindeer-filled Blair Witch Project with all the camcorder footage shots and there are some terrifying Furby-like elves that make me question whether Hollywood writers were paid a bit less on ideas this year. But a film that focuses on Santa’s Christmas run in the modern Western world, with a focus on familial love instead of romance, make The Christmas Chronicles a palate cleanser amidst the other Originals. If you’re looking for a classic story to act as a break from schmaltzy romances and don’t mind a bit of predictability and clumsy baby boomer pandering, this Santa-filled flick might just fit the bill.

The Holiday Calendar

Lead cast: Kat Graham, Quincy Brown, Ethan Peck, Ron Cephas Jones

Concept: Struggling photographer Abby inherits a magical, kitschy advent calendar that may or may not be able to tell the future. When a biracial love triangle complicates her life and a Christmas photography crisis jeopardizes her chance at romance, Abby must decide whether to keep on going her own way, or to trust the *~magic of Christmas~*!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Review:

I don’t know what’s whiter about the Christmas movie genre: the snowy setting, or the cast; but with all the recent buzz about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, it looks like Netflix listened! The Holiday Calendar boasts a mostly-black cast structured around a biracial mother and father, giving it ideological power that other Christmas movies lack. Plus the plot and characters actually succeed at being relatable, right down to the snack-fuelled Netflix binges and holiday family judgement about not knowing what’s coming in your future. A complete absence of foreign royalty and small town vs. big city Romeo and Juliet romances make this holiday flick stand out amongst the crowd.

While the diversity and characterizations of The Holiday Calendar are a breath of fresh air, the acting is pretty rough. The leads are passable, but a few of the side characters make some interesting acting choices, and the plot is your usual level of Christmas-movie predictable. And that DIALOGUE! Yikes! Get ready for some strangely drawn-out conversations in which literally nothing is being said. The scenes are structured as if the audience has completely lost their ability to decipher meaning until ordinary exchanges take twice as long as usual. Plus, the script has some seriously cringey (not cheesy, cringey) dialogue that makes me wonder if the scriptwriters have ever flirted with a real human before. The edition of a questionable depiction of a hispanic side character is the topping on the “is this subversive humour or is it racist” cake. Overall, the diversity and relatability of the film are heartwarming additions to the holiday season, and unless you can’t forgive some over-the-top scriptwriting and strange characterizations, The Holiday Calendar could be a joyful real-world addition to your holiday movie marathon this year.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Lead cast: Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige, Tahirah Sharif

Concept: Returning to everyone’s favourite millennial-aspiring couple, we see Amber and King Richard are finally ready to tie the knot and give Aldovia a new, even blander queen. With the wedding just days away and the romance of the holiday season in the air, you can imagine what this film’s major narrative arc is—a…political commentary on governmental strikes and unemployment? Oh. Okay. With building conflict based in Richard’s failing political efforts and enormous pressure to be the perfect future queen, will Amber be able to overcome her relationship worries before the wedding, and save the country’s crumbling economic state? Tune in to find out, on another episode of “Scooby Doo meets The Princess Diaries!”

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Review:

Well, that was…a lot. If you thought the first film had enough ridiculous dialogue and nonsensical plot, buckle up and get ready for a Christmastime wonderland of economic jargon forcibly shoehorned into a ridiculously slow narrative in which almost nothing happens. I know this is another of Netflix’s Hallmark-esque efforts and isn’t exactly meant to be Oscar bait, but A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is quite the ride of replaced actors, half-assed Indian accents, and telenovela-level jump cut zooms. But don’t worry, even within this royal world of bland one-colour sweaters, Amber is quick to reassure us that “Somehow in all this insanity, I’m still me!” This boring sentiment is only too true, as Amber is still completely clueless in the world of royalty, wandering around the palace like a deer in headlights despite supposedly having spent half the year in Aldovia. Speaking of bad time management, get ready for an hour and a half of last-minute wedding planning that could’ve happened literally any time throughout the year-long engagement.

Did you think the first film lacked political elements and exposition of real-world royal duties of Aldovian royalty? Don’t worry, the over-expositioned “new King” narrative comes across like an extremely preachy smear campaign against royals doing their jobs. Furthermore, the portrayal of news media in the film is once again poor enough that you might as well be watching an exposé of Meghan Markle’s paparazzi experience, despite the fact that our leading lady works in journalism herself. Also, the film continues attempts at relatability in ways that convince me more and more than the Netflix screenwriters are royals themselves and have no idea what “regular” life looks like. Amber is a successful journalist from New York—don’t attempt to tell me she’s relatable enough to wear converse to her wedding; there is only so much willful suspension of disbelief. Plus, Amber’s father is even more of a New York stereotype this film, replaced by a significantly less authentic actor and reduced to a half-baked “romantic” subplot with the equally stereotypical stern Russian royal chef. The characters in this film come across as aliens masquerading as humans who haven't quite mastered the art of human speech or thought yet.

Where this film could have improved on the original’s campy dialogue and underdeveloped characters, it instead capitalizes on disability porn, regurgitates watered-down, forcibly “relatable” narratives taken from more successful franchises, and focuses heavily on political and economic bureaucratese that undermine its holiday joy-centered premise. The only things that redeem this narrative in my eyes are the adorable romance between Princess Emily and her Christmas play co-star Tom, and the festive set dressing. So, watch A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding if you’re hell-bent on continuing the Aldovian adventure, but be forewarned—you’re going to need a lot of hot chocolate and cookies to get through this politically-fueled holiday mess of a sequel.

Alright, if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! These are just my takes on the Hallmark wannabes of this year, but watch ‘em all yourself and see how your ratings compare. Whether you’re looking to cozy up by the fire with a royal rom-com or laugh your way through bad screenwriting with your family, Netflix’s 2018 Holiday Originals have one thing going for them—they’ve got something for everyone.

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