Reviewed by Clare Martin
Kids’ Christmas films have the enormous advantage of coming out during the time of year that families flock to the cinemas. Though they profit off parents avoiding actual interaction with their children, yuletide movies are held to a much higher standard than your run-of-the-mill flick. Yes there’s the commercial rubbish produced every year to capitalise on the holiday season (this year’s prize goes to Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey?!) but the Christmas films that stand the test of time must transport us beyond what we normally expect from escapist cinema. The seasonal movies we re-watch every year – Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, A Charlie Brown Christmas – all add their own twist to Christmas folklore. Unsurprisingly, Get Santa doesn’t quite reach the level of these classics but it has enough heart to avoid rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Santa Clause sequels.
Get Santa takes a realist approach to the holiday and injects it with magic and more gross-out humor than is necessary. The film centers on ex-con Steve (Rafe Spall) and his son Tom’s (Kit Connor) mission to bust Santa out of prison so the kids of the world don’t wake up to empty stockings. Child actors are always a gamble, but Kit Connor actually manages to be adorable and likeable without being as saccharine as Freddie Highmore at his most unsufferable. Connor’s range doesn’t go much beyond a determined pout in the face of adversity, which isn’t terrible as far as kid acting goes. Scenes featuring just Steve and Tom generally feel as stale as leftover Christmas biscuits, though there are cute father-son moments tucked away in there.
Like most holiday films, Get Santa pits the power of Christmas against the system, taking it to the extreme with Santa literally locked up in the clink. Steve’s parole officer Ruth’s (Joanna Scanlan) toad-kissing and Miss Trunchbull-esque demeanor make her an excellent villain. The potty humor, inserted haphazardly to ensure that prison scenes don’t keep this from being a family movie, starts early when Ruth unknowingly eats a fly that lands on her mince pie. It only escalates from there, culminating with Santa shooting the cops with reindeer droppings from a gun. Merry Christmas and try not to toss your cookies.
If the scenes with Steve and Tom are the pleasant but milquetoast stocking stuffers, then the prison scenes are the Red Ryder B.B. guns of the movie. Jim Broadbent shines as a compassionate, slightly dotty version of Santa and his interactions with the misunderstood criminals provide the most touching scenes of the film. Don’t be surprised if a tear comes to your eye as Santa recounts to each of the prisoners their tales of melancholy Christmases past. The most comical moments happen in prison too, in particular when Broadbent gets corn-rowed up and puts on his tough-guy act to “Straight Outta Compton”.
Get Santa is a clash of the absurdist (Steve in a fairy princess disguise, reindeer that communicate through their flatulence) and the realist (prisons, parole officers, broken homes) and the result is a film that’s a bit tonally confused but in an oddly pleasing way. That isn’t to say I enjoy films with farting reindeer, but the combination of Christmas silliness and magic with the harsh impositions of the real world feels more genuine than a pristine, snow-white holiday movie. So if your younger relatives are clamoring to go to the cinema this Christmas (or you simply can’t stand talking to them anymore), taking them to see Get Santa wouldn’t be a half-bad choice. Hey, they may just learn something about the justice system in between reindeer farts.