Saturday, December 22, 2018

Stubs - The Santa Clause

The Santa Clause (1994) Starring: Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz. Directed by John Pasquin. Screenplay by Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick. Produced by Brian Reilly, Jeffrey Silver, Robert Newmyer Runtime: 97 minutes. USA Color Fantasy, Christmas, Comedy

Of all the holidays, Christmas is the one with the most films made about it and while there is no guarantee they will all be successes, Hollywood can’t help but make them. It should come as no surprise that there have been about 150 theatrical feature films in which Christmas is either the theme or used as a setting. This doesn’t count all of the animated Christmas TV specials, direct-to-videos, nor about 25% of the Hallmark Channel’s programming.

Santa Claus is one of the more popular characters in Christmas films, whether it be the “real” Santa or one of his impersonators. The Santa Clause takes everything you know about Santa Claus from Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and puts a twist on it.
Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is a successful executive at a toy company in the Chicago area run by Mr. Whittle (Peter Boyle). At an office Christmas party, on Christmas Eve, Scott is called out, along with another sales exec, for how much they helped the company’s bottom line. Scott seems to have everything going for him.

But we quickly learn that he is divorced and somewhat estranged from his young son Charlie (Eric Lloyd), who is being forced to spend the holiday with him. The big controversy at the moment is believing in Santa Claus. Even though Scott doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, he always convinces Charlie to believe. This is contrary to what Scott's former wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), and her new husband, Neil (Judge Reinhold), have told him. They want Charlie to grow up and stop believing in Santa.

Charlie (Eric Lloyd) is not amused when dinner ends up being at Denny's.

Charlie doesn’t want to stay with Scott and begs his mom to pick him up the next morning as soon as possible. Charlie’s fears seem to be grounded. Scott manages to burn the turkey and the two end up eating with other single fathers at Denny’s. After Scott reads him The Night Before Christmas to sleep, Charlie wakes Scott up after hearing noises on the roof.

Scott (Tim Allen) and Charlie run outside when they hear such a clatter.

Scott rushes outside and sees a man on the roof dressed as Santa. Scott startles the man, causing him to slip and fall. Charlie runs outside despite Scott telling him to stay inside. Attempting to help the man, Scott finds a card on him that states "If something should happen to me, put on my suit, the Reindeer will know what to do." Later, after the man waves good-bye, his body disappears, which is sort of creepy, if you think about it.

Charlie makes friends with the reindeer.

But there is no time for that, as Charlie climbs up the Rose Suchak Ladder that appears and discovers reindeer and a sleigh on the roof. Charlie gets in and in trying to get him out, Scott falls in. The reindeer take that as a sign to fly. To keep warm, Scott puts on the Santa suit and delivers a few gifts before the reindeer take them to the North Pole.

Scott as Santa learns to deliver presents.

He is met by the Head Elf, Bernard (David Krumholtz), who explains to Scott that because he put on the suit, he is subjected to a legal technicality known as "The Santa Clause", the fine print on the card he took off the previous Santa. This means that he has agreed to accept all of Santa's duties and responsibilities and has been given eleven months to get his affairs in order before reporting back to the North Pole on Thanksgiving.

Bernard (David Krumholtz) is the Head Elf at the North Pole.

He also encounters Judy the Elf (Paige Tamada), who serves him hot chocolate and advice, “seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing”. Calvin accepts that and will later fully embrace the idea.

Judy the Elf (Paige Tamada) brings hot chocolate to Scott.

The next morning, Scott wakes up in his own bed, causing him to believe that it was all a dream. That lasts until Charlie proudly tells his class on bring Your-Father-to-School-Day that his father is Santa. As a result, Laura, Neil, and Principal Compton (Joyce Guy) ask Scott, all of whom they believe is responsible, to tell Charlie to stop believing in Santa once and for all. Not wanting to break Charlie's heart, Scott instead convinces him to keep their trip to the North Pole to themselves, which Charlie agrees to.

Over the course of the next eleven months, strange things begin to happen to Scott. First, he begins gaining a significant amount of weight, including 45 pounds in a week, and reaching 192 pounds, which doesn’t seem all that heavy for Santa. Next, his facial hair regrows quickly even after shaving and his hair turns stark white.

Scott puts on 45 pounds despite whatever he does.

As a result, most of his clothes stop fitting, forcing him to wear sweaters and sweatpants to an important business meeting. When he orders lunch at the meeting, Scott order desserts, including a hot fudge sundae. This goes along with his overall cravings for milk and cookies.

Scott's former wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), and her new husband,
Neil (Judge Reinhold), reconsider Scott's visitation rights.

His odd behavior leads Laura and Neil to consider arranging to suspend Scott's visitation rights with Charlie. They believe that he is losing his mind. Scott eventually visits Charlie anyway, who gives Scott a snow globe that Bernard gave him earlier, which finally convinces him that he is Santa. After Scott asks Laura and Neil to leave him alone with Charlie for a minute, Bernard appears and whisks both to the North Pole to begin preparations for Christmas.

Naturally, Laura and Neil believe Scott has kidnapped Charlie and contact the police. Meanwhile, at the North Pole, Scott sets out to deliver the gifts with Charlie in tow. However, when they arrive at Laura and Neil's home, Scott is arrested.

The elves eventually send a crack team of extraction elves, called E.L.F.S., to rescue him. Scott then returns to Laura and Neil's house and manages to convince them that he is Santa by giving them presents that they wanted as children but were never given to them, which caused both of them to stop believing in Santa.

Her mind changed, Laura decides to burn the papers banning Scott's visitation rights and tells him that he can visit anytime. Bernard then appears to tell Charlie that if he shakes his snow globe at any time, his father will appear. While he’s talking to Neil, Bernard vanishes into thin air.

After a public departure, Scott travels the world to finish delivering gifts. Using the snow globe, Charlie summons Scott back home. Laura agrees to let Charlie go with Scott to finish delivering the gifts, and the two head off into the night.

Released on November 11, 1994, the film would make $189.8 million on a budget of only $22 million. Like any hit, it was followed by two sequels to make it a trilogy: The Santa Clause 2 (2002) and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006). It’s surprising that there was an eight-year gap between 1 and 2, but that was probably due to Allen’s schedule at the time. He was starring in a successful TV sitcom, Home Improvement (1991-99), as well as playing Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story series of films and related spin-offs.

Both sequels had reduced returns, both critically and where it really matters in Hollywood, at the box office. Santa Clause 2’s budget may have been nearly three times higher than the original, $65,000,000, but it also made less at the box office, only $172.8 million. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause released four years later, only made $84.5 million.

For the most part the original movie has held up pretty well but more the themes than say the special effects. While the flying reindeer might have looked good in 1994, they seem almost amateurish by today’s standards. But the special effects are not what attracts one to this movie. It’s the heart that gets tugged.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to be overcome by audiences. To begin with the humor is at times rather crude. As an example, I could really do without farting reindeer. Also, Scott’s dialogue is meant to be funny but oftentimes comes out mean-spirited, especially his constant haranguing of Neil. A little bit of yuppie Scott Calvin goes along way. He’s much more likeable once he takes on the Santa persona.

It is a little unsettling, if you stop to think about it, that we know nothing about Scott’s predecessor as Santa. One has to imagine that he, like Scott, took over the reins in similar fashion. When he disappeared, did he die or did he escape? Did the fall kill him or was it the fact that he was seen do him in? No one seems to miss or mourn him, neither the reindeers nor the elves back at the North Pole. Gone and forgotten. So not a great fate awaits Scott.

Like Scott, a little bit of Tim Allen can go a long way. A former standup comic, Allen has a limited range as an actor, something he readily admits. He once told Midwest Today Magazine, in their April–May 1996 issue, “I can only play a part if I can draw on personal experience, and that well can go dry pretty quickly.”

Judge Reinhold is another actor with limited range. His Neil is pretty much a one-note character. He’s there strictly as a foil for Scott. He represents everything that Scott is not; a well-educated intellectual who deals more in logic than emotion. His choice of attire, sweaters are somewhat cliché for therapists, seem to be easy targets for Scott’s barbs.

David Krumholtz plays Bernard the Elf, the head elf on the North Pole. He was about 16 at the time and while he had appeared on Broadway in Conversations with My Father at the age of 13, this was only his third film. He is one of the more likeable characters in the film.

Paige Tamada as Judy the Elf.

Perhaps the cutest of the characters is Judy The Elf, played by Paige Tamada, Santa’s host of sorts, who supplies him with hot chocolate, from a recipe that has taken her 1200 years to perfect. Though she plays a small role in the film, she still makes a favorable impression. While Tamada’s career was pretty short, her last appearance portraying “Girlfriend #2” in an episode of Ally McBeal (1999), she did have the good fortune not to be in either of the Santa Clause sequels.

While The Santa Clause may not be the time-honored holiday classic of say It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) or The Shop Around the Corner (1940), it is still an enjoyable film with a different twist on the Santa Claus story. Maybe it’s not an annual tradition but it is worth watching, especially if you never have before.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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