A Hallmark Christmas Fan Watches Netflix’s Holiday Movies

Posted December 5, 2018 9:12 p.m. EST

There are two reasons I still pay for cable: 1. NY1 (local news, Jamie Stelter and Pat Kiernan). 2. Hallmark Christmas movies. I am not someone these movies should appeal to. I will usually take horror movies over rom-coms. I don’t dream about planning the perfect wedding. And I’ve never said, “It’s the season of miracles,” without a strong dose of sarcasm.

Still, when I go home to Oregon at Thanksgiving every year, cuddling up on the couch with my mom and my brother, watching these movies is the best kind of comfort. They bring us together to get teary over happy endings (me, often; my brother on rare occasions), as well as incredulous (me) over how characters who are supposed to be journalists are portrayed.

Though I usually stick with Hallmark movies, this year I strayed from my main squeeze and headed to Netflix to see how its holiday fare compared.

Fair warning: No one watches these movies for the acting or the plots, which are usually pretty bad. You are watching them for Christmas spirit.

To judge by several Netflix offerings, the streaming service is aiming solidly at a younger, more diverse audience than Hallmark. The Netflix stars are more youthful and the films are solidly secular, while Hallmark movies sometimes have a strong religious message. Like their Hallmark counterparts, the Netflix movies are lovely to look at, with lots of snowscapes and great interiors. They follow themes that will be too familiar from Hallmark Christmas films. It would be impossible not to; there are a zillion Hallmark films.

Here’s a look at the new Netflix movies, and the Hallmark films they remind me of:

‘The Holiday Calendar’

This sweet film turns a favorite holiday-film theme (big-city gal returns to her hometown) around a bit. Abby (Kat Graham) is a photographer at a studio in her hometown. Her best friend, Josh (Quincy Brown), returns from traveling the world and blogging about it. Abby’s Gramps gives her a magical Advent calendar. Can you guess the rest? The movie was sweet, but not too. And just sentimental enough. Best of all, Abby didn’t really give up anything and still ended up happy. It was a win-win. The cast is mostly made up of actors of color, which is a nice change from Hallmark films, which are usually very, very white.

Hallmark companion film: In “A Shoe Addict’s Christmas,” magic shoes take Noelle (Candace Cameron Bure) back to the past to try to undo her mistakes. Also starring Jean Smart, in a very unfortunate Christmas get-up.

‘Christmas Inheritance’

Most reminiscent of Hallmark’s films, “Christmas Inheritance” plays on a familiar theme. Spoiled city gal Ellen (Eliza Taylor), known as the Party Heiress, tries to prove herself. This time by heading to a little town to deliver a box of Christmas letters to her father’s business partner. But when she gets there, the business partner has disappeared. As she waits for him to return, she’s schooled in small-town life and gets close to a small-town hottie, Jake (Jake Lacy). You know where this film is going from the minute Jake steps out of his car. But Taylor and Lacy are both pretty charming and you root for them. Andie MacDowell, as Jake’s aunt, adds a little star power to this gem.

Hallmark companion film: “Christmas in Love.” A big-city executive goes undercover and visits a town where his family owns a bakery. He’s looking to automate but is given life lessons by the townspeople and, of course, falls in love.

‘The Christmas Chronicles’

This stars Kurt Russell as a red-leather-coat-wearing Santa Claus. Perhaps because it involves a brother-sister duo and takes place mostly in Chicago, the movie reminded me of 1987’s “Adventures in Babysitting,” another tale set in the Windy City on a night when everything goes wrong. “The Christmas Chronicles,” which moves quickly through a series of misadventures, is quite enjoyable, though the hippest of St. Nicks engages in a fair bit of fat-shaming conventional visions of Santa, and that’s not so enjoyable. For Russell, it’s a family affair. Oliver Hudson, his stepson, has a role and so does someone else close to him.

Hallmark companion film: Maybe “The Santa Incident,” in which Santa’s sleigh gets shot down, stranding him in a small town. But “The Christmas Chronicles” is less like a Hallmark movie and more like big-screen fare such as “Home Alone.”

‘The Princess Switch’

Netflix had so much luck with “A Christmas Prince” last year, it was inevitable that it would travel the royal way again. As the title “The Princess Switch” suggests, this is a trading-places movie. Vanessa Hudgens, of “High School Musical” fame, plays two parts: bakeshop owner, Stacy, who reluctantly travels to the fictional kingdom of Belgravia for a baking contest; and her doppelgänger, a reluctantly engaged princess, Lady Margaret of Montenaro, also a fictional country. (There must be someone at Netflix whose only job is to make up countries).

Stacy and Lady Margaret swap places and, with shades of Harry and Meghan, high jinks and romance ensue. There’s a prince (Sam Palladio), who looks and moves a bit like Benedict Cumberbatch, and a wedding. This one was hard to love because Hudgens was never not acting. The accent she affects sounds about as real as mine would.

Hallmark companion film: “A Princess for Christmas,” about Jules (Katie McGrath), who is raising her orphaned niece and nephew. Their father was a royal whose family had shunned his wife but now wants to meet the children. So Jules takes them to their small European kingdom for Christmas. There she meets their grandfather, played by Roger Moore, and their uncle, played by Sam Heughan, pre-"Outlander.” There’s lots of snow, some bad behavior and a romance.

‘A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding’

This is a sequel to last year’s enjoyable hit movie. (I’m already expecting a third, perhaps with royal offspring.) Total fantasy, but easy to relax into. When Prince Richard (Ben Lamb) went to New York to ask New York commoner and “journalist” Amber (Rose McIver) to marry him in the first movie, I let out a high-pitched squeal, a noise I’d never heard myself make. The sequel starts a little slow, but gains traction and likability as it unfolds.

This film doesn’t stand alone, however. At the beginning, the former prince, now king, is under stress and really kind of a grump; you probably won’t like him unless you’ve seen the first movie. Now his country is in financial crisis, he’s too busy for his bride and he’s frustrated that she’s not toeing the line. Amber is a more adept journalist than she seemed to be in movie No. 1 (which is not saying much), and of course she proves herself a very fine partner to his royal highness.

The couple are joined in their adventures by the king’s adorable sister, Princess Emily (Honor Kneafsey); Count Simon (Theo Devaney), who tried to steal the crown in the first movie; and Emily’s dad (John Guerrasio, who aims for endearing but solidly hits annoying). There’s lots of tension, stress, some financial high jinks, and yes, a lovely wedding.

Hallmark companion film: “Crown for Christmas,” about a poor hotel maid, played by Danica McKellar, who is fired just before Christmas. She takes a job as governess for the daughter of the young and handsome king (played by Rupert Penry-Jones) of a small fictional European country. As in “A Christmas Prince,” the two main characters bond over the love of a child.

‘Christmas Wedding Planner’

This is by far the worst Christmas movie, maybe the worst movie, I have ever seen. It’s 86 minutes of dreck. One of the charming things about holiday fare is that usually there’s not much actual PDA. Chaste kisses are about all you get, and they usually come at the very end. But this awful movie takes that a little too far, expecting us to buy that the leads will marry after having kissed twice. I don’t think they even held hands.

Hallmark companion film: Almost anything you pick would be better than this. But especially worth watching is “The Nine Lives of Christmas,” being rebroadcast Thursday. Two cat owners fall for each other. It sounds lame, but I promise, it’s not. Despite all this “research,” I will still be watching more than a few Hallmark films. It’s a family thing. My brother even has a T-shirt that says “I’d rather be watching a Hallmark Christmas movie,” and he truly would. But I’ll add some Netflix movies to my rotation, especially if there’s a third installment of “A Christmas Prince.”