Released four years after Home Alone, the 10-year-old version of me was perhaps a bit too world-weary for John Pasquin’s Disney produced The Santa Clause. Over the years, the family comedy has lived in the second tier of Christmas classics [though it was popular enough to spawn two awful looking sequels] and I’ve never been compelled to revisit the film. Despite that, The Santa Clause has many moments and a narrative that have remembered some 20 years later. This broad nature of the film make it a pretty breezy entertainment, even if it is rightfully second tier.
The Santa Clause brings together two essential 90s film subgenres: the slightly cynical family Christmas comedy with the bad father learns his that his family is more important than his job film [though with a strange twist]. Everyman comedy Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, an executive at a successful toy company. One Christmas Eve, Scott is in charge of his young son Charlie [Eric Lloyd] while his wife and her new husband are attending a party. Coincidentally, after reassuring Charlie that Santa is real, the jolly man in the red suit shows up on the roof. Suspecting a burglar [perhaps after watching Home Alone], Scott startles the man, causing an accident and yadda, yadda, yadda, Scott puts on the suit and thusly becomes subject to “the Santa clause.”
On his first night of duties, Scott/New Santa fumbles through his deliveries, offering one-liners about his clean shave and being lactose intolerant. When he and Charlie are taken to the North Pole at the end of the night, the smarm shifts to wide-eyed disbelief which ultimately feeds back into the smarm. The bulk of the film, somewhat surprisingly for those who don’t remember, comes the year between Christmases, with Scott’s full transition into Santa and all the unintended side effects.
Charlie’s step-father, Dr. Neil Miller [Judge Reinhold], is the de facto villain of the film because of his lack of humor and imagination. The inclusion of this character is strangely the film’s downfall—not because the film doesn’t need a villain but because his worldview breaks the internal logic of the film. A man slowly morphing into Santa like it's a David Cronenberg body horror film? Yeah, OK, I can be with that. But a man who doesn’t believe in Santa in a world where Santa clearly exists? That’s a bridge too far.
That might seem like a strange nitpick, but it is mind boggling when you actually think about it. If Santa exists as he does in The Santa Clause how would non-believers explain away all the random presents left under the tree on Christmas? Even if Santa was selective and didn’t deliver to the non-believers, wouldn’t the stories from the millions of folks with physical, identifiable proof that does exist be a huge media story or at least spread by word-of-mouth? Instead, we get dozens of dumb jokes where smart people chuckle or roll their eyes about Santa obviously not existing. This actively takes away from actual decent jokes involving “elves with attitude” and farting reindeer.
But if you’re watching The Santa Clause, you probably aren’t thinking about it all so seriously. So, your ultimate enjoyment of the film will be metered by your thoughts on the comedic stylings of star Tim Allen. Scott is sarcastic, pompous, never serious, and Allen is all over the place, zipping quips at a quick pace. Toy Story films aside, I don’t know if anyone would consider Allen as a legitimate movie star, but he is mostly solid here. If anything, Allen has a strange confidence that plays perfectly for the character, so while I wouldn’t typically consider myself a fan, he is easy and compelling to watch.
Once he has finally admitted his Santa duties, the Allen persona greatly softens and leads to some nice moments. As I mentioned before, The Santa Clause sort of lives in the space of family comedies like Liar Liar where a father, through magical means, learns to love. Here, though, Scott starts off as a pretty good dad, especially in comparison to his ex’s new husband, but as he dives more seriously into his job as Santa, the world around him sees him as dangerous. This gives the film its second act tension, though it is a little strange that they didn’t provide a more well-rounded change for the dad character. Instead, Scott loses his rough edges and hip cynicism to open his mind even more. As the world has gone mad for not believing in Santa, Scott is the only one who can teach his son that the world is still filled with wonder. The logic may be off, but the message remains.