On The Santa Clause

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen The Santa Clause, as it was very popular like Mrs. Doubtfire, at the time of it’s release. Much like Mrs. Doubtfire,this heartfelt holiday film is wrought with some serious problems in it’s storytelling. Sure, it is an original story, and Scott Calvin (S.C.) is equally original as a character, but that doesn’t detract from other questionable content. According to the Purity and Precision review:

Now, do you really want to get into the message of The Santa Clause? Okay, here it is: children are superior to and smarter than their parents—than adults in general, actually. And you still don’t have to address the Santa issue for this to be a problem.

It’s not just an occasional rolling of the eyes at what Dad said or did, or Charlie believing his dad was Santa Claus before he did, although those things are in there, too. It’s writing it into the script that Charlie gets to disobey and defy his father throughout the movie, and be considered justified in doing it every single time, because his dad just doesn’t get it. It’s giving the eight-year-old little boy superior insight and better analogies than his psychiatrist step-father; giving the step-father a smug and condescending air one minute, and having him storm off like a little kid the next minute, when he can’t have his way. The school children have more smarts than their ditzy teacher. In fact, the average adult in The Santa Clause is equal to or less than the reindeer for brains; and they get less respect from the audience, or the children in the movie.

The elves are given the appearance of children, which will stick a lot better in viewers’ minds than the claim that these “kids” are actually thousands of years old. They, of course are superior to everybody—because even Charlie, with his “you’ll-figure-it-out-soon-enough”s and his “I-told-you”s and his “How-could-I-have-done-this-without-you-Charlie?”-“You-couldn’t”s, has his moments when even his best efforts aren’t quite enough to get the grown-ups to do what he wants (although “You listen!” and “How come everything I want to do is stupid?” both worked pretty well). The elves have the intelligence, the technology and the “attitude” to combat the step-father’s smugness, the mother’s scatter-brained skepticism, Scott’s crassness, and the entire police force.

See, here’s the thing: Charlie’s conviction that his dad was Santa Claus, and Scott’s suddenly (and involuntarily) taking on the appearance of Santa, got visiting rights suspended. So he really wasn’t supposed to be seeing Charlie at all, let alone sneaking him out of the house, into the sleigh and on to the North Pole. We call that kidnapping. They call it kidnapping, too, but we’re supposed to think it’s a good thing. Bad mom and step-father. Good Santa. Bad cops. And if it wasn’t bad enough to show the police arresting every department-store Santa they come across, or to portray them as coffee-and-doughnut gluttons, we let the elves come in and tie them up for some more of that perverted comic relief so they can bust Scott out of jail—because it wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa.

Yes, we’re actually going to start talking about the Santa Claus issue now, but I still don’t have to wonder aloud whether or not Santa’s a good idea, ordinarily speaking, because this isn’t your ordinary Santa. Why, flying reindeer are old-hat. Reindeer that get around via dematerialization and teleportation are what the man in red uses in the ‘90’s. And, of course, he’s not just one man any more—he’s just one man at a time. Contrary to what we may have believed, Santa is evidently not immortal (though he’s still omniscient here); there’s apparently not enough magic about his person to prevent fatal accidents; but there is enough power to take over Scott Calvin’s body, just by virtue of his putting on the suit. And, also contrary to what we believe, in The Santa Clause “Children hold the spirit of Christmas in their hearts,” and—by refusing to take on the title role—one man can “be responsible for killing the spirit of Christmas.”

It’s not just the question of magic in this movie (although we could have some interesting discussions about it). The problem with the Santa in this movie is that he is Christmas—not just a nifty accessory to tack onto it, or a symbol of the jollity and giving of Christmas, but the very essence of it. By falling subject to the Clause, he became subject to a higher power, and a higher responsibility. The power: unidentified, and unidentifiable—a completely impersonal force. The responsibility: to provide material gifts and Something to believe in for millions of children around the world, at the expense of his relationship with his own child. At the end of the movie, Scott realizes that he has been called to something greater than spending time with the son God gave him, and Charlie, sobbing, hugs him and says—not, “I love you, Dad,” but “I love you, Santa Claus.”

Additionally, according to the Finding Christ in Cinema article, “Take Up Your Santa Suit and Follow Me“:

Scott Calvin doesn’t want to put on the Santa suit. Some strange intruder has just fallen from his roof and has left a red velvet Santa suit in his wake. Again, Scott does not want to put on that suit, but he ultimately decides to put it on because he loves his son Charlie. This is the beginning of selfish Scott’s transformation into the unselfish Santa Claus.

No one notices any changes in Scott at first, but people become suspicious when Scott’s physical appearance starts to change. His hair turns white, his belly pokes out over his pants, and his sweet tooth is about as big as a snow globe. Those are the outward changes that people notice immediately, but there are also inward changes that take place. Such inward changes include caring for the actual happiness of the children for whom he makes his toys instead of only caring for the money the company makes.

But these changes are unfortunately seen as dangerous by Scott’s ex-wife Laura and her new husband Neil. They see these changes in Scott as damaging to Charlie’s development, and they appeal to the judge to revoke Scott’s visitation rights. The judge grants the request, and Scott loses the son who he loves so much and for whom he even put on the Santa suit in the first place.

And he could have his son back if he would only give up the whole Santa jive. Like Job, if he would just denounce the mission of Santa and take off the suit, he could have Charlie back. But Scott cannot relinquish his mission as Santa Claus because he’s already been transformed into the new creation at this point in the story. So even though he can no longer do so with his son, he continues the mission because he knows that it has to be done and that he is the one to do it. He sets his pride aside and continues on. He has gone from selfish Scott to unselfish Santa.

This is a near-perfect image of what the Christian life should be like. That new life starts when we put on Christ like a new set of clothes. Sure, we cannot and do not fill out these new clothes in the beginning, but we eventually grow into them. This growing process will most likely seem dangerous to some – so much so that we may lose the kinship of family and the camaraderie of friends – but we press on because we have been changed to no longer value the pretense of the old life over the rightness of the new life.

In the end, Scott is finally reunited to Charlie (as Laura’s gift to Scott is burning the custody papers). The same can be said for us when, once we have embraced the missional life and are maybe even still living out that missional life, that which we lose along the way will be returned and even more so. And while we could draw the allusion to Job, it more appropriately points to the theme of Resurrection, and that it good news.

Finally, according to the Phactual article, “19 Fun Facts About Tim Allen’s ‘The Santa Clause’“:

With its heartwarming tale of a cynical executive becoming a loving father and father Christmas, The Santa Clause was a massive holiday hit in 1994. With the intervening decades, its legacy has only grown, upgrading the Disney comedy to a Christmas classic. Revisit the magic and test your Santa Clause knowledge with the fun facts below.

  1. The Santa Clause was the first film in an ongoing collaboration. Director John Pasquin first worked with Tim Allen, when the former helmed the pilot of the latter’s sitcom Home Improvement. After this movie, Pasquin directed such Allen vehicles as Jungle 2 Jungle, Joe Somebody and the television series Last Man Standing.
  2. November of 1994 was a high point for Tim Allen. In the same week The Santa Clause was #1 at the box office, Home Improvement was America’s #1 rated TV show, and Allen’s book, Don’t Stand To Close to the Naked Man, was #1 on the New York Times best-sellers list.
  3. There’s a nod to Home Improvement in Santa’s workshop. Milling about, Allen picks up a tool belt, holds it to his waist for a moment, reminding audiences of his tool-obsessed TV character Tim Taylor. Then shakes his head before setting it back down. His future onscreen bride repeats the gag in the sequel.
  4. Home Improvement’s Jimmy Labriola has a brief cameo. On the series, he was Tim’s pal Benny Baroni. In The Santa Clause he pops up as a truck driver. He’d later appear in Allen’s Joe Somebody as a bookie.
  5. Allen earned two MTV Movie Award nods for this role. The TV star scored a nod for Best Breakthrough Performance and Best Comedic Performance. He lost the first to Kirsten Dunst (Interview with a Vampire) and the second to Jim Carrey (Dumb & Dumber).
  6. The director had a cameo. Pasquin is billed as Santa #6.
  7. The role Scott Calvin/Santa Claus was originally written for Bill Murray, probably because of his memorable turn as holiday humbugger turned Christmas icon in Scrooged.
  8. Chevy Chase was offered the lead role. But scheduling conflicts urged producers to consider Tim Allen.
  9. There’s a Mickey hidden in the moon, when Scott and his son ride the sleigh through the sky. Hiding silhouettes of Mickey’s iconic head has been a long-held practice in Disney production, even in its parks.
  10. 1-800-Spank-Me was more than a gag. It’s doubtful Disney realized it, but this phone number mentioned in the movie connected to a real phone sex line. This caused a minor scandal when The Santa Clause hit home video in 1997. The line has subsequently been cut from future releases, including DVD.
  11. Ontario stood in for Illinois and the North Pole. Though The Santa Clause is set in the fictional town of Lakeside, Illinois, the film was shot in Oakville, a suburb outside of Toronto. The production also made use of the Toronto Zoo and its reindeer.
  12. The Santa Clause spawned two sequels. After the critical and box office success of the 1994 film, The Santa Clause2 hit in 2002, and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause came in 2006.
  13. Peter Boyle appeared in each of the three films. Playing Mr. Whittle and Father Time, Boyle was one of only five lead actors who appeared in the entire trilogy. The others are Tim Allen (naturally), Eric Lloyd, Judge Reinhold, and Wendy Crewson.
  14. David Krumholtz had to sit out The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. The film’s production conflicted with the shooting schedule for his TV crime-drama Numb3rs.
  15. The Santa Clause 2 was the most expensive in the franchise. With a budget of $65 million, the sequel cost nearly three times what the first film did to make it. Filmmakers scaled back considerably with the third film. At $12 million, it was the least expensive of the trilogy.
  16. The Santa Clause was the most popular of the three. Not only did the first film pull in more at the box office than its predecessors, but it also earned the warmest reviews.
  17. A different director was brought in for Santa Clause 2 & 3. Pasquin moved on, and long-time TV director Michael Lembeck stepped up, making his feature directorial debut.
  18. Tim Allen went on to become part of another, even bigger Disney comedy-adventure trilogy. 1995 saw the debut of Toy Story, and animated film that had the comedian lend his voice to a spaceman toy known as Buzz Lightyear. He reprised the role in 1999’s Toy Story 2 and 2010’s Toy Story 3.
  19. Toy Santa and Buzz share a catchphrase. They bothdeclare, “You are a sad strange little man.”

Of course, probably the most memorable thing I can account for was wondering who that hot elf, Bernard, was turning out to be David Krumholtz.


According to the Variety review:

The sticky legal question of Disney’s holiday movie boils down to the validity of the fine print on Old St. Nick’s business card. It states that if you put on the “suit,” you’re stuck with the reindeer, the cookie and milk diet, the suite at the North Pole and, of course, delivering the gifts. That’s “The Santa Clause.”

Unlike the other Santa pic, the drama doesn’t wind up in the courtroom. This is a hip, likable spin on the seasonal icon told with a deft mixture of comedy and sentimentality. The mixture should mint some fast Xmas coin and play into the New Year with upbeat returns.

The hapless hero of the piece is ad exec Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), divorced from his wife and doing the split custody holiday scene with son Charlie (Eric Lloyd). Christmas Eve, they get a Yule meal at Denny’s, a reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” eggnog and a tuck into bed.

Except this year, a clatter arises from the roof and when Scott investigates, he startles a red-suited gent who falls with a thud. That’s when he passes along his card and Scott reluctantly dons the costume and, with Charlie, climbs aboard the reindeermobile, grabs the list and goes to work.

The deed done, Comet and crew take the duo to the North Pole where the head elf explains the significant implications of the title clause. Scott reacts by pondering the implications of not believing. The next morning, he’s home and thinks it was all a dream.

The humor in the Leo Benvenuti/Steve Rudnick screenplay centers on characters’ reactions to the preposterous premise. Laura (Wendy Crewson), the ex-spouse, and her cloying new mate, head shrinker Neal Miller (Judge Reinhold), assume Scott’s tall tale is a sort of revenge scenario. Santa dad’s visitation rights are suspended. But Scott’s not lying, for once, so logic is turned on its head.

Director John Pasquin, in his feature debut, has the precarious task of rooting the tale, minimally, in movie reality. Additionally, there’s a delicate balance to effect between the gags and seasonal emotion. Then, just to complicate matters, he has an arsenal of special effects and makeup to seamlessly weave into the plot. In other words, it’s a foolhardy task.

While the tyro talent demonstrates no great flair or invention, he does get the job done. This is abetted in no small measure by Allen, who is just as personable and likable on the bigscreen as he is on the tube. Lloyd also turns out to be an engaging kid.

“The Santa Clause” also offers one of those rare instances where the gadgetry and effects don’t overwhelm the story. They remain functional and organic, handsomely complemented by Carol Spier’s production design.


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