REVIEW: The Santa Clause
Produced by: Robert Newmyer, Brian Reilly, Jeffrey Silver
Written by: Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Karey Kirkpatrick
Edited by: Larry Bock
Cinematography by: Walt Lloyd
Music by: Michael Convertino
Starring: Tim Allen, Eric Lloyd, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, David Krumholtz, Paige Tamada, Peter Boyle, Kenny Vadas, Chris Benson
It occurred to me while watching The Santa Clause that the film, thematically, has a surprising amount in common with another holiday classic (albeit a film dealing with a far more tedious holiday than Christmas) that was released just the year prior: Groundhog Day. No, really, think about it. Both films center upon a self-centered jerk who alienates those he would otherwise get along with and even grow to love if only he would give into the spirit of the holiday. Both films also feature comedians who were incredibly popular at the time the movies were made. And both films feature some kind of inexplicable supernatural/magical device which is foisted upon them, to their comedic chagrin, throughout their daily lives until they get the lessons right and embrace it. Both films obviously differ quite a bit in terms of their respective target audiences (though there is a surprising amount of adult humor in Disney’s film that will supposedly go over the kids’ heads), but, as with most holiday films, both are also about the importance of not becoming jaded with life and use their holidays as metaphors.
To be honest, I’m not exactly certain the significance of this observation for everyone else, but it did personally set me on a train of thought about how both were also favorites that my family watched together on an annual basis as soon as their respective holidays came around (though Groundhog Day sometimes came more than once throughout the year in my household, unlike The Santa Clause). We all quoted them both and looked forward to them each year, but where they differed most, at least for me, is that The Santa Clause began to feel a lot less essential than other classics like Christmas Vacation or It’s a Wonderful Life. Looking back, I believe this was because there were domestic issues in my family that only proceeded to get worse with time. I had given this movie as a gift to my dad because I figured it was the perfect father-son movie, though, and given the central story of a father reconciling with his own son, I wouldn’t be surprised if that association just began to ring false. Years had passed before I watched the movie in full again, which was just last year, in fact. Even after all that time, though, I somehow still felt really empty about it – not so much because it was still painful, but definitely to the point of feeling so apathetic about it, I simply skipped reviewing it.
…Wow, talk about a downer way to start off the Christmas movie month, right? I mean seriously, this is a Disney family film that is now pretty much universally considered by others to be a beloved holiday classic! It was popular enough to get two (increasingly awful) sequels! The thing about The Santa Clause, though, is that it, too, actually is driven more by its fairly serious dramatic material than it is the bits of silly comedy strewn about. Magic and whimsy still permeate the film, of course, but act more as a counterbalance to the heavier stuff. Questions are raised about the mental welfare of the kid, Charlie, whose father, Scott Calvin, seems to be going through some kind of mental breakdown, leading to questions about whether Scott should have any visitation rights at all, given his increasingly outrageous behavior as he secretly transforms into Santa Claus – a role he’s inherited, by the way, thanks to a legal document that he inadvertently agreed to after the previous Santa fell off his roof and… well, died, I guess? I like to think that his body merely disappeared like a Jedi and his spirit became one with the Spirit of the Holidays. There’s also a fun montage set to a ZZ Top song in which a pair of parents spend the holidays worried sick about their son being kidnapped by an apparent lunatic. Hilarious!
Cynics who have a penchant for concocting those obnoxious, dark fan theories about things from your childhood would likely want to come up with some kind of story about how everything is still happening within Scott’s mind and how the film is secretly a metaphor for a father who is slowly going crazy and actually mentally scarring his son, who is further harmed by the later enablement of his mother and stepfather and a corrupt child welfare system that is turning a blind eye to the situation thanks to our nation’s ignorance of mental health. I’m not one of those people – I’ve had enough drama in my life, thank you – and the film clearly wants us to buy into the whole idea of Scott actually going through the process of becoming Santa Claus, and thus purportedly justifying some of his actions. The movie provides so many hints about this being real and so many explanations for how Santa and his helpers do what they do (It pretty much comes down to magic with a dash of quantum physics) and even ultimately has so many witnesses to the magic that I’m fairly certain that you can’t even argue that any of this was simply one individual’s delusion. Instead, it’s just kind of evidence of the film’s somewhat sloppy storytelling.
Again, I’m not jaded (though I certainly understand if you don’t believe me). I actually found myself able to look past the flaws and past personal associations this time and see the film for its better qualities. The sets, though undoubtedly sets, are really quite beautiful and welcoming. I really liked the idea of casting kids in the roles of eternally youthful elves, which even works thematically, as Scott is becoming closer with his own child, who is already so in tune with the spirit of Christmas, just as they are. I liked that, in spite of their concerns, the ex-wife and stepfather are never outright villainized. Michael Convertino’s score, too, is really quite beautiful. I also liked the handling of the film’s admittedly generic message, with Scott beginning the film celebrating at a company party over the successful launch of a new toy line he helped invent and growing into the role of a selfless giver, with his domestic struggles really putting a spotlight on what his own priorities should be, too. Get over your jaded, money-centered view of the holidays and give the gift of time, more than anything, to those you love. Etc. etc…
I’m not too certain it holds up under too much scrutiny, of course – for example, I have no idea why whoever was Santa during Charlie’s mother and stepfather’s childhoods was so unwilling to give them the gifts they wanted – but, you know, whatever. The film is not that complex and isn’t expecting its audience to question such matters beyond their importance to the story at hand. What do you want? A prequel to explain how neglecting a kid his Oscar Mayer wiener whistle led to that era’s Santa ultimately having his conscience eaten away by guilt and becoming a drunk and therefore falling off of Santa’s roof? You want to see how his drunken stupor led to Bernard the Elf becoming such a frustrated curmudgeon that you see here? Didn’t think so.
So… yeah, this was a pretty weird review, wasn’t it? I honestly kind of just wanted to get this movie out of the way, and given the nature of Christmas films, the message here wasn’t really going to stand out in any capacity. The film is also not especially remarkable as to ignore that and focus too much on its presentation. It’s not all that funny, though it is sometimes amusing. It’s not traumatically pessimistic, but it is frequently surprisingly frank about things like divorce and child custody for a family film, too – even one about a father learning to spend more quality time with his son. This movie isn’t necessarily ruined for me, as perhaps I had been thinking all along, but the circumstances of my own life have definitely affected how I view the film, and so this review was inevitably going to be weird and self-reflective and awkward, but the review itself was also pretty much inevitable, since this is, indeed, an annual holiday classic for many and therefore could not be ignored for too long when doing a Christmas movie themed month. The Santa Clause will likely not have any sort of stigma for most people out there, and with that in mind, I can honestly say – yes, this is a pretty decent movie with fun to be had for everyone who watches it. And now that I can finally scratch this one off my list of obligatory Christmas films to review, maybe it’ll have even less of a stigma now that it’s no longer looming in the distance, and I can move on to dreading reviewing something more dire… like the sequels…
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3 / 5