– Summary –
Director : John Pasquin
Year Of Release : 1994
Principal Cast : Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz, Peter Boyle, Mary Gross.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: When busy toy salesman Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa Claus, he must assume the role in order to salvage the holiday season. Taking on the role of Santa, however, doesn’t quite fit in with his lifestyle, resulting in a quite humorous look at what it would be like to give it all up to make children happy on one special day each year.
What we think : Sparkling comedic fantasy, Tim Allen absolutely nails the role of the incredulous Scott Calvin, ably supported by the cast of both kids and adults alike. A mix of the magical, the dramatic, and a sprinkling of the Christmas Spirit make The Santa Clause a genuine family (and seasonal) classic.
Normally, I’m a bit of a bah humbug about Christmas movies. I find them generally mawkish, uninspiring and flaccid, filled to the brim with hollow sentimentality and the crass overcommericalised Hollywood-isation I’ve since come to abhor about all things cinematic to do with the worlds most popular holiday season. Too much red-cheeked snowflake crap, and too little actual meaning behind the “magic” of what is, as an adult, quite a stressful time of the year. For kids, though, the magic of Christmas can never be underestimated, and for those of us who’ve …uncovered…. the secret of Santa in our adult life, recapturing the most precious deception ever invented can be a little tricky. So we live it through our children, and secondly through the magic of a Hollywood lens. Often, films featuring Christmas can be trite, overly dreary celebrations of all that is unholy about one of the holiest times in the Christian calendar. The continual adherence to the marketing strategy to by more shit you don’t need, to satisfy a craving for more shit you don’t need, brought on by the fact that other people buy you shit you don’t need to fill the hole in your life by not having the shit you don’t need – it all gets a little saccharine, a little pitiful, watching slightly sane people screaming across the screen trying to make “the perfect Christmas”, a perfection they eventually realise isn’t achieved by buying… guess what…. shit you don’t need. Anyway, I’m off on a tangent already, and I’m only one paragraph in. Time to bring this beast back on track.
My point, dear reader, is that it takes a fair bit for me to not only watch, but actually enjoy, a Christmas film: mainly because I choose not to watch that many as I find them virtually unwatchable. So to stumble upon a real gem, an actually good Christmas film, is like finding the Ark of The Covenant is buried in your backyard. The Santa Clause, a film I originally approached with some trepidation (hell, to people even use the word trepidation any more outside of westerns and Little House On The Prairie?) is actually a pretty cool little seasonal flick – the syrupy Disney-ness notwithstanding, director Pasquin has managed to achieve something many thought impossible: to make a Disney Christmas film that adults can watch without wanting to stab themselves in the eye with a roasted chestnut. Tim Allen, dining out on the success of his mega-successful TV show Home Improvement, parlayed that into a leading role in this film, a role that, to date, remains one of his better choices outside of Tim The Toolman and Buzz Lightyear. I mean, have you watched that awful Shaggy Dog film he made?
Scott Calvin (Allen) is a successful sales rep making toys for a major manufacturer. He is divorced, single, and bitter about his ex-wife’s remarriage to psychologist Neil Miller (Judge Reinhold). His ex wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson) still thinks of Scott as a great father, although his jealousy over her remarriage is a continual thorn in her side. So when his son Charlie (Lloyd) comes over to spend Christmas Eve before returning to his mothers on Christmas Day, Scott accidentally causes the real Santa to fall off his roof by surprising him in action. Scott takes on the role of Santa for the night, delivering presents all around the world, before returning Charlie to his mother and causing a slight sensation around work when he starts to look like the big guy. Apparently, Scott has become the “new” Santa, part of the clause in killing the old one off. Being Santa isn’t as life affirming as Scott would like, and his increasingly bizarre behaviour triggers a custody issue with Charlie’s mother – as well as putting the entire holiday season in jeopardy.
It’s really easy to enjoy this film, thanks mainly to the wonderful performance of Tim Allen, as well as supporting cast Crewson and Reinhold. Youngster Eric Lloyd is fine as the young Charlie, although it wouldn’t be until the sequel that any actual acting ability would blossom, and even then, it’s still a bit wooden. That said, the film has enough heart and well intended love for its subject matter that most audiences will overlook a little cinematic shortcut. The story doesn’t waste time really introducing us to all these fine folks, instead we’re asked to pick things up as we go. From Scotts workplace to the sprawling workshops of the North Pole, the film is populated by benign, cliched and often generic character work, but the driving force of the principal cast keep it moving along so well you don’t have time to stop and think about it. Allen’s character is a far cry from Tim The Toolman Taylor, although glimpses shine through on occasion, but he really does get into the swing of what this film is all about: the magic of Santa and of Christmas. Chief elf Bernard, played by a wonderfully understated David Krumholtz, is the key component in the North Pole segments of the film, as he bustles newcomer Scott Calvin into becoming the Santa we all know and love. Krumholtz holds the more magical elements of the film together, as well as being suitably impish where required. His repartee with Allen is wonderful.
The production design on the film is superb in all areas, from the homey warmth of fireplace America, to the homey warmth of the North Pole, right down to the golden fitouts and cute-as-a-button elves (played by children, no less), to the bafflingly fake (but awesome) reindeer effects – The Santa Clause looks as Christmassy as you could want. While the digital effects have dated slightly in the years since, the intent behind them remains as sweet natured as it did back in 1994. It’s hard to imagine that this film is that old now, but it still manages to capture your imagination pretty well. The film isn’t light on charm, nor is it mired in the sickly sweet rosy-cheeks of sugar most films of this genre give us, instead straddling the blissful lighting of Christmas charm with relative ease. The script is peppered with great humour, and I suspect that Allen himself may have added a few snappy one-liners into a few places, such is his talent for subtle wit. On the whole, though, there’s a thoughtful charm about the film that is hard to deny. It’s a great mix of the real and the fantasy, a mix that somehow, against the odds of Hollywood, actually works well this time.
I’m not much for dwelling on seasonal fare, after all, how many film like Four Christmases can possibly be made by major studios, but The Santa Clause is a film on high rotation at our place through the month of December. My wife insists my eye-rolling response to her query about watching a Christmas Movie is merely a diversionary tactic to escape spending time with snow and Ho Ho Ho and bloody reindeer crapping all over the house, and to a point she’s probably right. So when I get past my huffy mood and actually watch The Santa Clause, I’m once more reminded just why the season of giving is so important to folks around the world. Because occasionally, just occasionally, Hollywood gets things right – this film and story is about more than just buying a whole bunch of shitty presents nobody really needs or wants, or about Grandpa getting slaughtered by your mothers “slightly” alcoholic egg-nog, but about important things like family, love, and the magic of Christmas. The Santa Clause delivers the perfect antidote to the typical Bah Humbug Christmas Movie hater – it remains one of the better seasonal films, and one worth watching more than just once a year.