Santa Clause, The (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

This is what happens when someone takes what might have been a moderately-entertaining television Christmas special and tries to adapt it for the big screen. The Santa Clause isn't an unmitigated disaster, but it's also a whole lot less impressive than it could be. The release date -- six weeks in advance of the actual holiday -- should be reason enough for skepticism. Was this perhaps an attempt to beat John Hughes' Miracle on 34th Street to the theaters?

The previews would lead the average viewer to expect a funny romp through the misadventures of an average man trying to cope with his unexpected transformation into Santa Claus. Take away the "funny" part, and that describes roughly half of the movie. The rest deals with custody hearings, police chases, and other assorted nonsense which serves only to bog down a story that is thin to begin with.

On Christmas Eve, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) hears a noise on the roof. Suspecting a prowler, he goes outside, only to surprise Santa "in the act." Losing his balance, the big man falls off the roof and ends up dead at Scott's feet. The significance of the moment isn't lost on young Charlie Calvin (Eric Lloyd), who accuses his father of killing Santa.

Following the unfortunate turn of events, Santa's body disappears, leaving behind his suit and a calling card: "If anything happens to me, put on the suit." So, with a little prodding from Charlie, Scott complies, and finds the rest of his night spent doing Santa's yearly rounds. It isn't until he gets to the North Pole that he learns there was some small print on the card: "In putting on this suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waives any and all rights to previous identity, real or implied and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus until such time that wearer becomes unable to do so either by accident or design." In effect, Scott Calvin has become Santa Claus.

The Santa Clause is a low brow version of A Christmas Carol meets Miracle on 34th Street, a children's movie that a portion of the adult population will find tolerable. The scenes depicting Scott's metamorphosis are often clever, but they get swamped by extraneous subplots and dumb jokes. The special effects are good enough to hold the story together, but there's nothing innovative or eye-opening. A similar comment can be made about the makeup job which transforms the lanky toy designer into his corpulent alter ego.

Tim Allen is more of a personality than an actor, and it shows frequently during the course of The Santa Clause. While he may be funny in a half-hour sitcom, Allen doesn't do nearly as well without the laugh track. This film is also not blessed with a particularly effective child actor in Eric Lloyd, who whines his way unconvincingly through the role.

There's nothing offensive or mean-spirited about The Santa Clause, but that's expected from a Disney release. However, there should be more to family entertainment than these "wholesome" qualities, and this film isn't able to deliver them. Tim Allen's movie is in need of something his TV show is very familiar with: improvement.

Santa Clause, The (United States, 1994)

Director: John Pasquin
Cast: Tim Allen, Eric Lloyd, Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold, Peter Boyle, David Krumholtz
Screenplay: Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick
Cinematography: Walt Lloyd
Music: Michael Convertino
U.S. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 1994-11-11
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1