Monday, December 25, 2017

The Santa Clause

Of course, Tim Allen plays a toymaker in a movie in which he is forced to become the new Santa. What other job could he have? Allen plays a toy creator named Scott Clavin, and this is one of the funniest of his performances. He has as much biting sarcasm as you would want from him, at a time when he was a king of comedy. His show Home Improvement was still on the air (and there are a few Home Improvement Easter Eggs spread throughout the movie), Toy Story was released the previous year, and the first sequel three years after that. Unfortunately, as soon as the new century came, he struggled a bit more, and perhaps not many things have demonstrated this better than the two less-than-successful sequels, none of which I have seen and likely never will.

In The Santa Clause, Scott is a divorced man who is going to spend Christmas Eve with his son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd). Scott frequently bickers with his ex-wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), even if Charlie overhears it. (Like Mrs. Doubtfire the year before it, this movie handles divorced parents and their children mostly well.) Scott is also antagonistic towards his ex-wife's new partner, Neil (Judge Reinhold) and especially his job. "He's not a doctor," he angrily complains, "he's a psychiatrist." It's fair to say that he doesn't communicate with Charlie as well as Neil does, either, and perhaps he's jealous. Scott is not entirely prepared for Charlie's visit, as he burns the turkey so crispy, not even the Griswalds would eat it. Scott does the best he can, taking Charlie out to eat an Denny's ("an American institution"). He checks the other boxes (sort of) that are required -- he reads to Charlie The Night Before Christmas, tucks him in, and heads to bed, not before he has to answer a few more probing questions from his inquisitive son about the archaic language used in the famous story.

From here, things turn upside down for Scott and Charlie. Charlie hears a loud clatter, just as in the story, on their roof and is convinced it's Santa. Scott is more concerned that it's a burglar, and he rushes outside in only his jacket, boots, and underwear to find a man dressed as Santa on his roof. "Hey, you!"is all he can yell out before the mysterious figure slips and falls off his roof. It appears that Scott Calvin has killed Santa Claus. Charlie is not impressed. Cheer up, Charlie; there are actual reindeer on your roof.

If you can believe that Santa exists, falls off a guy's roof, disappears into thin air, and gives his job to some schmuck who caused him to fall, you can surely believe that said schmuck will put on the suit and do his best to dutifully be the substitute Santa just to get his son to stop whining. So he puts on the suit and the reindeer and toy bag basically do most of the work for him. He squeezes down the chimneys and either has to escape security alarms and angry dogs or curious young children wondering why Santa is so thin and grouchy. Still, he does it. "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!" he shouts, before adding, "When I wake up, I'm getting a CAT scan!"

But the reindeer don't take him home. Where do they take him? To the North Pole, of course, where a cantankerous head elf named Bernard, played by David Krumholtz, explains to him how the rest of his life will be devoted to being Santa Claus, because of the Santa Clause, the part of the contract that basically says if you kill the existing Santa, you yourself take over. Scott protests, but as the year goes on, he has no choice. Charlie tells all his friends and family about how his dad is Santa, and Scott starts to slowly (and then rather quickly) transform into the big, jolly man, with his hair turning white and his weight rising. At first he starts to look like Chuck Norris, and then he very much starts to resemble Santa Claus. Charlie believes every last detail, but it's easy to see how every other adult would be disturbed at what they're seeing from a father and his son. (It could even be a horror film.)

This was a Disney film that wasn't afraid to use adult language occasionally (Scott audibly complains that he's "freezing his nuts off" outside trying to deal with the dead Santa situation). In another scene, Scott says to Laura that Neil's number where they can be reached is 1-800-SPANK-ME. The problem, though, was that parents started complaining that their children would call the number and be directed to messages promoting "hot, wild fun" for $2.50-$4.99 a minute. The scene is not included on home video release or when it plays on the Disney Channel.

If there's one universal truth to being an American child, it's that it is a bit disillusioning when one realizes that there is no Santa. Many of the adult characters in The Santa Clause share their own personal anecdotes of when they realized that Santa wasn't real. For Neil, it was when he didn't receive his Oscar Mayer Wiener Whistle. (For me, it was when Santa didn't complete the crossword puzzle I made for him when I was about nine, or nineteen--I can't remember.) At any rate, The Santa Clause has aged surprisingly well (except for the part when Scott, as he's almost full-Santa, catcalls a woman walking down the street.) That awkward, awful moment aside, this movie, a movie in which there actually is a Santa Claus, is a delightful film. I think I liked it as much, or perhaps even more, watching it as an adult.

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