Now on Amazon Prime, Candy Cane Lane is a new Christmas story in which a family must work together by tangle with various critters and creeps inspired by the classic carol The 12 Days of Christmas – French hens, geese a-laying, lords a-leaping, etc – in order to collect the song’s “five gold rings” and break a curse imposed by a vengeful elf.
Eddie Murphy stars as Chris Carver, a Christmas-loving family man who loves to decorate the house, and lives on a “candy cane lane” – one of those streets where every house in the entire neighborhood gets in the spirit and competes to make the biggest, brightest, most festive decorative extravaganzas. His main concern is a friendly rivalry with Bruce (Ken Marino) across the street, whose tacky masterpieces make him the long-running champion. In his Christmas cheer he’s a little blind to the needs of his wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross) and three children, particularly his two older teens who are struggling with high school anxieties like academic struggles and college prep.
Things suddenly change for Chris when he loses his job, just days before Christmas, causing him to shift his focus to the contest’s large cash prize.
With a new no-holds-barred attitude, Chris and his youngest daughter discover a mysterious Christmas popup store full of amazing decorations, and a Victorian miniature town of Lilliputian buildings and figurines. The store’s perky proprietor Pepper (Jillian Bell) sells Chris on a gargantuan centerpiece that virtually guarantees a win, but he doesn’t read the fine print before signing the contract.
Somewhat in the spirit of It’s a Wonderful Life, the film has a fantastical element that becomes its narrative crux. If Chris doesn’t complete Pepper’s challenge of defeating all the swans-a-swimming and maids-a-milking to find the golden rings (it was all there on the receipt he signed), he’ll become a new addition to Pepper’s collection of figurines, who, we learn, are alive and willing to aid him in the quest, having all been similarly duped (figureheaded by the trio of Nick Offerman, Chris Redd, and Robin Thede).
With the help of the porcelain dolls, who offer much of the film’s comedic levity, the whole family bands together to break the curse and learn the meaning of Christmas. It’s full of laughs and an overall great time with a mostly adventurous tone once it gets going.
Behind the camera, the film reteams Murphy with Reginald Hudlin, who directed the star in Boomerang. Hudlin is known for his 90s heyday of hit music videos and movie favorites like House Party, The Great White Hype, and The Ladies Man, and less so for a huge volume of producing and TV work. But in recent years he has been returning to film direction, including last year’s incredible documentary Sidney, and working with the late Chadwick Boseman in Marshall.
Amazon gave the film a wide theatrical premiere, giving folks a one-night-only chance to see it on the big screen before arriving on Prime. In his introduction to the screening, Hudlin expressed his excitement at sharing the kind of Christmas movie he’s always wanted to make. The PG rated film is a bit of a departure from the director’s more adult-oriented filmography, but it’s an enjoyable family film and demonstrates his dexterity as a storyteller.
Like The Christmas Chronicles (Netflix) and Spirited (Apple TV+), Candy Cane Lane is a live action Christmas movie made for a streaming platform, and like those films, it has big name talent attached and makes for a fun time, but the small-screen origins may limit its audience (clearly something that Amazon considered, and to their credit tried to address with a limited theatrical event). My feeling is that it’s probably the best movie of this particular grouping, though it remains to be seen if it has perennial staying power of a holiday staple. While I don’t think it’s the next Elf, it is the best movie of its kind in quite a while, and its focus on an African-American family is both welcome and much needed in a cinematic sea of “White Christmas”.
Oh, and I lit up like a Christmas tree when I saw who plays Santa Claus.