½*/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras D+
starring Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd
screenplay by Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick
directed by John Pasquin
by Bill Chambers Julia Roberts's male equivalent in persecution vanity, if not box-office viability, Tim Allen has a 'Cinderfella' complex that vividly unveiled itself in the first big-screen vehicle built for the comedian-turned-sitcom star, The Santa Clause, a holiday stinker mysteriously elevated to instant-classic status after managing to outgross Speed, The Mask, Pulp Fiction, and Interview with the Vampire. That it spoke to the zeitgeist is just one of those things, ultimately beyond comprehension; why it actually sucks, that's a little easier to break down.
Allen stars as Scott Calvin, divorced father of insufferable only-child Charlie (Eric Lloyd), who can't stand the thought of spending Christmas with Tim Allen--and only in this respect is he a reasonable facsimile of a human being. When Charlie wakens Scott because he hears storybook "clatter" on the roof, Scott scurries outside, sees Santa tiptoeing across the shingles, and startles him down. As St. Nick lay there dead on Scott's lawn, with Charlie curiously untraumatized by the sight of our jolliest Christmas icon tangled up in this mortal coil, Scott snatches a business card that, by its very acknowledgement, obliges Charlie's dad to don the red suit, take the reins of eight animatronic reindeer, and become "the new Santa," for that night and for all time.
John Pasquin, Allen's regular "Home Improvement" director, helmed The Santa Clause as his feature debut and brings to it a dreary heavy-handedness more appropriate to the subject matter of, say, his telefilm Don't Touch My Daughter. So much emphasis is placed on misery in this picture--The Calvins' divorce, Charlie's psychological health, a custody battle, Scott's job security, a kidnapping--that the twisted nature of "the Santa Clause" itself is left unmonitored.
The Santa Clause is awfully morbid for a kids' movie, and not in a good way like Walter Murch's Return to Oz. Lots of "but how does Santa...?"s are addressed, some cleverly (it takes a convoy of FedEx trucks to deliver the naughty/nice checklist), most feebly (how does Santa fit through the more constrictive chimneys? With the help of really dated CGI), yet the issue of Santa's mortality is casually deflected along with Scott's Cronenbergian mutation to fit the Coca-Cola precept of Santa Claus. It feels irresponsible, as does the fact that the North Pole's head elf (David Krumholtz) is basically a Yiddish comic in the Catskills tradition. That's the small world after all, ain't it? The Victorian model where little people serve the big ones and everybody believes in Santa Claus. Last, least, we have Scott the reluctant prophet: He gets to prove that he's better than his ex-wife's new lover, a psychiatrist (Judge Reinhold!); earn the respect of his elf charges; and ride off into the Christmas night with Charlie by his side. Another home improved by Tim Allen--must be a contract clause.
Disney presents The Santa Clause on DVD in a Special Edition intended to replace their previous, sub-par release, but don't be misled by the banner. The overhauled image, now in THX-approved 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (fullscreen alternative sold separately), looks very nice, its clarity and strong shadow detail betraying every last weakness of the production's cheap design. A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix breathes life into the flying sequences and aforementioned rooftop rattle, though the workshop scenes might as well be dead-air since they're mixed with the vaguest regard for ambience.
Extras: an interminable "So You Wanna Be an Elf?" featurette hosted by Krumholtz as Bernard the Head Elf, discovering over the course of six minutes that children want "Toy Story on DVD" (ah, sweet corporate synergy) for Christmas and teaching non-professional tyke thesps how to prepare Santa's deliveries; three admittedly cute segments (totalling fifteen minutes) nonetheless poorly assembled wherein velly-scally Wolfgang Puck teaches children how to bake pizza, Christmas cookies, and cocoa (text recipes included); sneak peeks at The Santa Clause 2, The Jungle Book II, and the upcoming DVDs Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Special Edition, Lilo & Stitch, and Inspector Gadget 2; and a difficult-to-navigate "Santa's Helper" trivia game. A ROM-exclusive advent calendar and option to send Santa a letter round out the DVD upgrade of the hopeless The Santa Clause. Originally published: October 27, 2002.
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