Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Santa Clause (1994)

Disney's THE SANTA CLAUSE (2013) has been around for nearly two decades now, but somehow I'd never caught up with it before tonight. It proved to be an enjoyable spin on the Santa story.

THE SANTA CLAUSE called to mind the more recent ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011), as each movie presents a creative and original take on the "Santa succession" and North Pole operations.

Tim Allen, who's also voiced Buzz Lightyear in Disney's TOY STORY franchise, plays Scott Calvin, a divorced businessman who shares custody of little Charlie (Eric Lloyd) with his ex-wife (Wendy Crewson).

Charlie spends Christmas Eve with Scott and awakens his dad with the news that there's "a clatter" on the roof straight out of 'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

Scott goes outside and is stunned to see a man dressed as Santa on his roof, and he's even more shocked when the man slips off the roof and ends up lying unmoving in the snow. Scott searches for ID and finds a business card in the man's pocket saying that if anything happens to him, the person reading the card should put on his suit and the reindeer will know what to do. Sure enough, a ladder suddenly appears leading up to the rooftop, where Santa's reindeer await. Meanwhile Santa's body vanishes, leaving only the suit behind.

Charlie convinces his dad to put on the suit and the two of them are in for a wild ride, as they learn Santa's magical secrets, wrapping up with a stop at the North Pole. Scott wakes up the next morning and thinks it was all a dream...but what is he doing in red pajamas?

Over the course of the next year Scott's body and personality gradually change, as he truly becomes Santa. Unfortunately everyone around him thinks he's cracking up -- shades of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) -- and his joint custody of Charlie is jeopardized.

Although the plot may sound a bit brutal, what with Santa falling off the roof and a custody battle, it's actually a gentle tale filled with chuckles and heart. Some of the scenes where Scott deals with the shock of his new experiences are genuinely funny, particularly his relationship with the bossy Comet. And as Scott grows into being Santa, not just physically but emotionally, the film is nicely heartwarming, encapsulated in a lovely scene where he visits a little girl for the second year in a row.

The two most prominent elves are Bernard (David Krumholtz) and Judy (Paige Tamada).  The elves are adults but are portrayed by children, which works surprisingly well; among other things, this leads to a funny moment where the 1200-year-old Judy tells Scott she's "seeing someone in wrapping." The best payoff is when a squad of "elves with attitude" must break Santa out of jail.

The movie leaves behind some questions, such as why Santa died -- Comet provides Scott with a rope to help make sure he doesn't fall off a roof when carrying out Santa duties! -- and why Scott was chosen, or indeed if he was deliberately chosen or it was random chance. I also felt the sudden change of heart by the ex-wife near the end could have been more clearly explained. However, these are minor quibbles in a fast-paced 97-minute film which makes very enjoyable Christmas viewing.

The movie was directed by John Pasquin.

A sequel eight years later brought back many of the cast members, with little Charlie now a teenager. A third film followed in 2006.

Parental advisory: This film is rated PG. It's about as mild a PG film as one can find.

THE SANTA CLAUSE is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VHS.


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