I can barely believe I've enjoyed watching this film on three different Decembers. I have no great affinity for Christmas nor for Tim Allen; the film's FX are barely adequate; & it has an absurd story that for adults of the family takes a big dose of suspension of disbelief.
But no matter how one tries to fault it, fact is it's entertaining as all get-out, & if most Tim Allen movies were this amusing I'd turn into his fan, but of what I've seen only Galaxy Quest (1999) is as big a charmer as The Santa Clause (1994).
Scrooge-like Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa, inducing a metamorphosis of his own body, until he has turned into the new Santa. Tim Allen brings a complex layering of horror & comedy as he slowly turns into a fat man whose big white beard grows back about as fast as he can shave it off.
His capacity to fit in with the "real" world diminishes professionally & personally, & this is not assumed to be something a random guy would find instantly delightful. The acceptance of his inevitable destiny is by no means instantaneous, but slowly the appeal of the hidden realm of magic seeps into his entire being.
The pure humor of his being helped through the transformation by elves (chief helper elf Bernard played by David Krumholtz will surprise viewers who only know the actor from the tv series Numbers), & the much more serio-comic impact it all has on his relationship with his son (Eric Lloyd), make this much more than the usual holiday piffle.
The sequel Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause (2002) does come near it in effectiveness, with vastly improved FX without too much lost for adults to enjoy it too. Certainly it was vastly better than Tim Allen's third holiday outing, Christmas with the Kranks, (2004) which just plain stank.
The original was good enough to watch even without the excuse of babysitting. Santa Clause 2 is effective enough, & it was even kind of a good idea to delve deeper into this new life as Santa, as it's strange & complex for Scott to be Santa without totally losing his parallel responsibilities to be a good father, without freaking out the ex-wife (Wendy Crewson) & step-father (Judge Reinhold, largely delighted to have Santa in the family).
A couple years have passed & the new Santa has proven himself tremendously good at the job, even if a little loose with the rules of his magical domain. In the elfin world of magic certain rules must be obeyed, & time is running out for Santa to find a Mrs. Claus, as he's not allowed to be the ruler of Christmas all alone.
He sets out for his mortal life outside the North Pole's hidden dimension, with the clock winding down on his Santa powers. If he can't find a wife in a matter of days, that's it for his new life at the Pole.
In his absence, elfin inventor Curtis (Spencer Breslin) has run a toy Santa through an enlargement machine & turned the toy into a sort of a robot Santa which, apart from the plastic face, is able to fool most of the elves, so that no one knows of Santa's absence.
Alas, the big toy Santa turns tyrannical, follows the Santa rules far too rigidly, & slowly evolves into a full blown dictator supported by the toy soldiers he ran through the enlargement machine.
The elves are now prison laborers, mining for coal which is to be the only presents for the children of the world, all of whom the faux Santa has judged naughty after checking his list twice.
All this is unbeknownst to the real Santa who has slimmed down & ditched the beard, going into full dating mode. Plus, as a largely absent father, he discovers his son has become troubled & rebellious. So there are real family issues to deal with; romance to spin with his son's school principal (Elizabeth Mitchell); many interesting issues in need of resolution, sufficient complexity for adults, while never leaving the kiddies in the dust. And the working-class Tooth Fairy (Art LeFleur) is a hoot.
Like the first film it manages to be twee without its holiday sentimentality getting too awfully mawkish. There's plenty of sweetness, but we're also aware that it is a world full of sadness, tragedy, & disappointment, which very badly needs magic.
The climax will be the return of Santa to the Pole & his FX-driven battle with his plastic-face dictator twin, pretty much a just-for-the-kids conclusion but with enough real laughs for all ages. The young unpracticed reindeer Chet is a sweetie, even if the animatronic is way obviously fake. Aisha Taylor as Mother Nature, pretty much God who marries the Clauses "by the power invested in, well, me," is a subtle touch that'll make the pagans in the audience perk up with a grin.
If you're stuck with a bunch of kids who're all gung-ho for christmas & a couple adults in the room who don't want to be bored by a kiddy program, this sequel is good enough for everyone, while that first Santa Clause will probably & deservedly be dragged out annually as family classic. That's not to say it's quite the equal of the most engaging holiday film ever for the whole family ever, A Christmas Story (1983) remaining the bigger winner, but it's nice to have more than one for the season.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl