Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Film Review: The Santa Clause

"The Santa Clause"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

How does one become Santa Claus? It seems like a pretty good gig. You work one day out of the year. You are beloved by millions of children. And people make movies about you. But, what if Santa Claus was an ordinary Joe? Your next door neighbor.

That is the concept behind Disney's "The Santa Clause" (1994). It is the story of a regular guy that one day becomes Santa Claus and must take on all the responsibility associated with it.

Watching "The Santa Clause" again I felt the movie went over a lot of material first presented in the Christmas classic, "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947). Both movies are about the idea is Santa Claus real. Both movies have adults that tell children Santa Claus is a myth. Both movies are about the power of believing in Santa Claus and the concept of never letting your inner child disappear. The difference is, one of the movies is a classic that can be appreciated any time of the year because of its warm hearted charm. The other movie stars Tim Allen.

While that may sound harsh or even snobbish to some, the problem with "The Santa Clause" is the movie lacks the imagination of a child. The audience watching this movie is not watching something magical. The movie instead focuses too much on the concept of whether Santa Claus is real and goes for comedy as Tim Allen's character goes through physical changes so he fits into society's image of how Santa Claus looks, overweight and with a white beard.

Where is the joy the Christmas season is supposed to represent? Where is the message of goodwill towards your fellow man? "The Santa Clause" seems to have more to say about the difficulty children must contend with during a divorce and the separation of father and son. We saw this before in "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993). In that movie Robin Williams dresses up as an elderly English nanny in order to see his children after a divorce. In "The Santa Clause" a man becomes Santa which strengthens the bond between father and son. Why can't fathers just be fathers and not play dress up?

Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, an advertising executive who works for a toy company. Scott and his wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) are divorced. They had one child together, a son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd). Scott and Charlie have an estranged relationship. Scott is too busy working and often doesn't have time for Charlie. Charlie, the view gets the impression, sees his dad as a bit of a screw-up.

A more reliable "father figure" in Charlie's life is his step-dad, Neil (Judge Reinhold) a psychologist, who doesn't want to fill Charlie's head with fantasies, and tells him there is no such person as Santa Claus.

This feeds into the concept adults are more "logical", they lack imagination. Adults aren't able to believe in Santa Claus because they have lost the child within them. However, why do children eventually stop believing in Santa Claus? Probably for the same reason Laura and Neil did. One Christmas they didn't get the toy they wanted. This is important to remember because it feeds into the belief, disappointments shape our lives. These adults are bitter. They didn't stop believing in Santa Claus because "they know better". They stopped believing in Santa Claus due to resentment and disappointment. Those feelings have hung around them since childhood. They still remember how old they were when they stopped believing in Santa Claus. They still remember which toy is was they didn't get. That disappointment hangs around us all of our lives. That is why Neil doesn't want Charlie to believe in Santa Claus, Not because "Santa isn't real and we shouldn't lie to children" but because adults are bitter.

This is in contrast with Scott. Scott works with toys. Scott is presented as a "silly", silly defined as someone that doesn't accept responsibility, adult. Laura often addresses him as being immature or kid-like. Scott has not lost the childhood innocence many adults often do. Scott is not presented as a bitter person.

Charlie spends Christmas Eve with Scott, who manages to arrive home late, burns their turkey dinner and accidentally kills Santa Clause. Charlie hears a noise on the roof and naturally assumes he is Santa and his sleigh. He runs by his father to tell him Santa is on the roof. When Scott also hears the noise he runs outside to check on it. There Scott sees a man standing on his roof. When Scott yells at the man to get off his roof, the person falls down. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. Unbeknownst to Scott, he now must become Santa Claus.

Tim Allen, at the time of the movie's release, was well-known as the star of the television comedy series "Home Improvement", which aired between 1991 - 1999, where he played the host of a home improvement television show, where he often did everything wrong, causing injury to himself. You will notice "The Santa Clause" reference the television show when Scott visits the North Pole and picks up a tool belt, which the elves made, and puts it near his waist.

Allen would seem like a good choice for the movie. He was a well liked personality. Children knew who he was. And there was a lot of physical comedy in the series. "The Santa Clause" was also the first feature length film Tim Allen starred in.

It is not difficult to imagine this story appealing to children. It is not difficult to imagine children laughing as Scott turns into Santa Claus and gains weight. It is not difficult to imagine some adults will like the movie because it will keep their children quite for an hour and a half. But it is difficult for me to believe most audiences won't see through this movie. It is difficult for me to believe most audiences get a feeling of Christmas cheer after watching this movie. And it is difficult for me to believe most audiences won't agree with me that the movie is more about the relationship between father and son and the divorce process than Santa Clause.

I don't want to be seen as a Scrooge who can't appreciate innocent harmless fun. How can someone not like Santa? I like Santa. Children reading this should believe in Santa. But there are much better Christmas movies to watch with better messages and give you that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Watch "Miracle on 34th Street". Watch "A Christmas Carol" (1938). Watch "The Polar Express" (2004). You still have the secular figures of Christmas but each offers a message of a bit more of humanity. Each movie tells us to believe in Santa Claus, but, not because we will get toys but because it makes us better people. Santa Claus wants us to appreciate our friends and family and those less fortunate. Isn't that a better Christmas message?

The best scenes in "The Santa Clause" are the sentimental ones. These moments come near the end of the movie. That is another problem with "The Santa Clause". It spends so much time trying to go for laughs it forgets to add heart. When the movie does try to pull on the audience's heartstrings, it succeeds. How strange a Disney movie wouldn't have more emotional moments.

"The Santa Clause" may be fun to watch for some, probably children, but it has nothing to say about Christmas. Children may like it for the comedy and seeing Santa. Others may not even see the themes I have mentioned and may see it as nothing more than a "Santa Claus movie". But it is all there. You just have to believe.