John Pasquin directs The Santa Clause, a Christmas movie that from Disney that sits just on the edge of true curiosity. This 1994 film sprouted two sequels and plunked Tim Allen and his Home Improvement trappings in the driver’s seat, but it’s really more interesting to consider from an adult perspective.
That the tale theoretically involves the death of Santa Claus is kind of remarkable, as it uncorks a rather lavish mythology under the pretext of a family comedy. It suggests a world of interchangeable Santas, taking the creed of mall Santas to the next logical level by suggesting that Father Christmas can be replaced by anyone wearing the red suit.
Allen stars as advertising executive Scott Calvin. He’s divorced from his wife Laura (Wendy Crewson). She’s dating Neal (Judge Reinhold). Scott and Laura’s son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) isn’t pleased about having to spend Christmas Eve with his father. But when Santa visits and falls off the roof, Scott dons the suit and inadvertently becomes the man himself.
This sets off a chain of events that includes a trip to the North Pole when all the Christmas presents are delivered. Scott at first denies the responsibility of being the new Saint Nick, shunning the apparent “clause” that keeps him in the suit until his expiry date. And Charlie is revived by his father’s new gig, much to the vexation of mom and her psychiatrist steady.
The foundation of The Santa Clause contends with “unorthodox” ideas of family. This is underlined by the scene in Denny’s, in which a group of fathers try and ostensibly fail to connect with their kids after burning the Christmas turkey. These family units don’t quite work the same without moms, do they?
But Scott is trying and he serves as the protector of Charlie’s mythologies, especially when Laura comes over and informs him that the boy doesn’t believe in Santa anymore. He’s been told “the truth” by Neal, who according to Scott is “not a real doctor.” Logic and evidence are to be spurned in favour of a world that cannot be seen.
Faith is often the province of Christmas movies and The Santa Clause understands that blind belief is also often the province of children. It serves to validate that faith and for good reason, as there’s something heartening about naïve faces lighting up at the appearance of the red suit and the black boots and the white beard. There is magic at Christmas, after all.
It’s funny how perspective matters in The Santa Clause. The audience sees these events through the eyes of Charlie, which keeps the proceedings light, fantastical and comedic. There are fart jokes, fat jokes, elf jokes, whatever. Everything brims with certain glee and nothing is offensive or dark or strange. The kid doesn’t even seem to get that Santa’s probably dead as a doornail.
But a shift reveals something shadowy. Consider seeing the story from Laura’s perspective. Her ex-husband has gone nuts with all the Santa stuff. His efforts to connect with Charlie have gone nuclear. He’s putting on dangerous amounts of weight, growing a beard, spending time with children in the park. And it comes to a head with an abduction on Christmas Eve. Terrifying.
The Santa Clause hints at how its events might feel from an adult perspective and that’s when the movie really gets interesting. But apart from nudging bigger questions, Pasquin’s movie is a Christmas trifle with a fascinating mythology. It’s amusing but not overly so and packs more than enough holiday spirit to go down easy.