Chris Columbus takes us inside The Christmas Chronicles 2 magical musical moment

If you’re not feeling the spirit of Christmas, the Christmas Chronicles 2 has just the fix for you — namely, a song titled “Spirit of Christmas.”

Yes, 71 minutes into the sequel to 2018’s delightful festive romp starring Kurt Russell as the man in the red suit himself and  Goldie Hawn as Mrs. Claus, the whole movie takes an even more magical turn (it’s possible!), when Santa bursts into song and dance accompanied by an exasperated airport attendant, played by Christmas icon herself, Darlene Love.

While traveling back to 1990 (it’s a whole thing, involving a mischievous former elf), Santa realizes he needs to crank up some Christmas spirit if he’s going to get his reindeer off the ground — it’s what makes them fly. So with the help of Love (whose character is being surrounded by angry airport dwellers whose flights have been cancelled), Santa manages to bring the cheer of the festive period to all the would-be travelers and, in doing so, gets his reindeer back on their feet. Because the scene (you can watch an exclusive, extended clip above) is just brimming with, well, the spirit of Christmas, and since you can’t spell Christmas without Chris Columbus, we just had to talked to the director and Love to get every last merry detail.

As he’s done previously for many a festive musical moment, Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) reached out to his longtime collaborator and music supervisor Steven Van Zandt (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) when he decided The Christmas Chronicles 2 would include a song and dance, just like its predecessor. Van Zandt, who was also the musical supervisor for the jailhouse number in The Christmas Chronicles, as well as the writer of Darlene Love’s “All Alone on Christmas” for Home Alone 2, was tasked with penning an original song for the Netflix sequel. “When we did the first musical number on The Christmas Chronicles, I hired Steven and the Disciples of Soul, his band, to perform a version of “Santa Claus is Back in Town” with Kurt and it went so well,” Columbus tells EW. “I just remember seeing three year olds dancing to the television on social media. It seemed to be bringing a lot of joy to these little kids — and that song was 50 years old, nobody even remembered it. So, on this one, in our effort to be bigger and because we’re painting with a much larger canvas, that meant a much larger musical number. A much larger musical number means that I’m not gonna do a musical number based on any song that already exists. I wanted Steve to write a brand new song.”

Kurt Russell wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Plus, watch the exclusive extended scene of Kurt Russell and Darlene Love performing 'The Spirit of Christmas.'

Plus, watch the exclusive extended scene of Kurt Russell and Darlene Love performing ‘The Spirit of Christmas.’

With that, Van Zandt headed to the studio and enlisted the help of friend and “All Alone on Christmas” collaborator, Love. “Steve sent me a demo with Darlene on it before she had been cast,” says Columbus of the original song “The Spirit of Christmas.” “We had started shooting Christmas Chronicles 2 and I went out to the parking lot and put on my headphones to listen to what was then a seven-and-a-half minute version of it. I was just blown away. It was like a showstopper. It combined everything great about soul music and Phil Spector. It also felt like it could be a final number of Broadway show. It was working on so many levels for me that I called Steven and said, ‘This is fantastic. I just can’t shoot the entire seven and a half. It would kind of interfere with the pacing of the film.'”

Love, too, took little convincing. Indeed, she was in as soon as she heard the song. “I love songs that have melodies,” she tells EW. “A lot of singers don’t realize when you get somebody’s song, they want you to sing their melody. They change the melody, they start riffing and going away so far from the melody that you don’t even realize where the melody is. Steven sung the song to me, and it was so great song — who wants to go away from that melody? You might do a little run here and there, but you don’t change the melody when it’s a great melody.”

The next thing to do was record the song with Russell and Love’s real vocal and bring in the Disciples of Soul again. “It went incredibly well,” says Columbus. “In the studio, there were times when Kurt was curious about what I was looking for in terms of Santa Claus’s performance. I said, ‘In the first movie, we wanted more of an Elvis’s performance. This particular musical number has to be more of Kurt Russell’s version of Santa Claus.'” Russell took that as inspiration for his vocal, but also wanted it to feel like a performance in the Music Man. “I was a little taken aback by that,” says Columbus. “But if you watch the film and you know that, there are moments where it’s kind of the Music Man meets Elvis meets Steven Van Zandt.” For Love’s part, she was equally excited to work with old friends as some new ones. “I met Kurt a few years before,” she says. “I was doing The View and he was on at the same time. We had a chance to chat and we took pictures together and that was that, but I’ve always followed Kurt and Goldie’s careers. Kurt was just great. He came in and he was ready. He was excited about doing that part of the movie.”

Kurt Russell holding a wine glass: JOSEPH LEDERER/NETFLIX © 2020

© Provided by Entertainment Weekly

Excited, but also a little hesitant, at first. “He has a slight hesitancy about performing and he asked why another musical number?'” explains Columbus. “I said, ‘Well, I think the audience would now be disappointed if there wasn’t a musical number.'” Columbus wanted it to feel like the old Marx Brothers movies, where there was always a musical interlude from Chico or Harpo. “Even as a kid I always looked forward to that and, as you know, I’m a gigantic fan of musicals, personally — I did Rent for God sake!” he says. “The music is almost as important to me as cinema. I’m like a kid in a candy store whenever I’m shooting musical numbers — I could spend the rest of my directorial career just doing them. I take it very seriously, but anyway, Kurt says, ‘Why another musical number?’ And Steve Van Zandt says ‘Why not?’ It’s just a high point for the audience.”

A high point that required a couple of weeks of rehearsals, took 9 days to shoot and is complete with a flashmob dancing perfectly in sync, a gospel choir effortlessly matching Love’s high notes, and even some breakdancing from Santa and a security guard (body doubles were used in those shots) all in front of a ’90s airport backdrop — with all the shoulder pads and enormous phones that come along with that. “It was ironic that we landed on 1990 because that’s the year I directed Home Alone,” says Columbus. “I walk onto the set and everyone is dressed like it’s 1990. It was very surreal, particularly with Darlene arguing with the woman who was upset about her plane being canceled. I was watching the monitors and I’m like, ‘This is very similar to Catherine O’Hara in Home Alone.’ It was completely subconscious.”

Luckily the mood in Chronicles airport scene is a little more festive than child-left-behind frantic, but there’s no denying it’s a high energy scene. Luckily, Santa’s red coat doesn’t stay on for much of the exuberant number, during which he’s running around trying to invoke the holiday spirit. “That Christmas coat that he had has to weigh about 50 pounds!” says Love. “When I found out how heavy it was, I thought, ‘How do you even walk in this?!’ Every time we took a break, we had these little personal fans. They made him a special one that they held up to his face. It looked like it was on a flashlight and it really gives out air. He needed it with all the hair and the coat!” The hair, or rather the beard, had to be handled with care. “Kurt grew 80 percent of that beard,” explains Columbus. “The only thing that were added were pieces by his makeup team. With intense physical activity on camera, those pieces start to break off. So we had to be careful about that.”

But the beard survived and all that hard work and attention to detail culminates in another iconic musical moment that’s sure to have three year olds (and older) out of their seats, dancing along. That begs the question, if these scenes are so stand-out and the cast talented enough to pull them off, why not go for a full-out musical for the inevitable third Chronicle? “You don’t have to twist my arm,” says Columbus. “Our goal with these movies is to not repeat ourselves, essentially. So the first movie is basically a night on the town in Chicago with Santa Claus and the two kids. The second movie opens up the world and the pathology in a much bigger way. So, if we do a third, we wouldn’t want to repeat ourselves…so maybe a musical version is the only answer!” You heard it here first.

Watch the exclusive extended scene above.

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