Greg Tyler

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Christmas 2013: The Santa Clause

Part of the series Christmas 2013

After Santa takes a tumble from Scott Calvin's house, it falls upon our luckless hero to fill his boots (and trousers, and shirt).

Christmas spirit

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ I was given a VHS of The Santa Clause when I was a kid and, simply because it was the only Christmas film in the house, it became a bit of a tradition to watch it in December. As I grew up I stopped bothering, but I continue to think of this as a seminal Christmas film.

Ultimately it really is very, very festive. It's really happy and, despite approaching some touchy subjects, retains a lovely sense of humour. Even at the start, as the scene is set that Scott's relationship with his son is a mess, there are adorable jokes. It's this consistency that makes the film so suitable: it doesn't lose itself, even when being poignant.

From a flatter point of view: there's snow, elves, presents, happy families, carols, the whole business. I find it interesting that Jingle All The Way has pretty much the same plot, but with a lot of the Christmas taken out.

Ho-ho-who's in it?

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There must have been some Hollywood executive who, on paper, thought the casting of Tim Allen as Santa was going to be a greatly regrettable mistake. However, he really pulls off the role. Of course, as with any Tim Allen work these days, it's hard not to hear Buzz Lightyear delivering the lines but, when this first came around in '94 he would've been known as the voice of Tim Taylor from Home Improvement. He's great though. His best work beyond Toy Story 3.

Now, let's talk elves. They're all played by children and some are really great. First up is Bernard, played by David Krumholtz. You may know David from Numb3rs, or 10 Things I Hate About You, or Serenity, or Superbad, or Harold & Kumar. But you wouldn't have known this 15 year-old Krumholtz as The Santa Clause in some ways marks the start of his career. Then honourable mentions to Judy (Bernard's second), Quintin (A lovely homage to the Bond franchise's Q) and the leader of E.L.F.S (the rather shoe-horned acronym for Elite Liberating Flight Squad). None of them have gone on to much since, but perhaps it's best that we remember them for the great roles they played in this classic!

Poster for The Santa Clause

Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) and his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd); pre-transformation.

Family fun

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The Santa Clause tackles some very serious family issues, as the characters are based around an unhappy divorce which leads to a dispute over visitation rights. It holds together, though, because all the arguing is done in a very light-hearted accessible manner, punctuated by fantastic one-liners from Scott Calvin.

I watched this with a group of pals and we all sided with Scott who, despite being grumpy, was very witty and cutting. He also gets a little poignant speech explaining what family values mean to him, which is adorable. It amuses me though, that Wikipedia's editors don't agree. The lead is dryly described as "a cynical, ordinary man who becomes Santa Claus over the course of 11 months" whilst his wife's annoying, boring new partner gets the rather kind "a gentle, well-meaning, yet critical psychiatrist".

As a kid, I wanted to be the Charlie (the son). As I grow up, I want to be more like Scott. He's a bit grumpy, a bit mad, but as soon as he sees what Santa means to people, he commits 100% to the role. If I'm ever put in that situation, I only hope I can be as keen.

Jingle Bells

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ Plenty of good Christmas songs in here, including some choral work, solo pieces and even that one time Alvin and the Chipmunks covered "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town". Ultimately, a very suitable selection.

If the music is too much for you in the festive season, there are still a few fantastic musical cues: Scott eating piles of food to the Jeopardy theme tune, a heartbeat playing Jingle Bells, and a slow-motion walk by the elves to ZZ Top's "Give Me All Your Lovin'".

Overall

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Before this evening, I couldn't work out if this film was any good or just fond memories; I now conclude that, yes, this film is rather excellent. I grinned the whole way through, and laughed for most of it too. We had a room of people of different senses of humour, nationalities and backgrounds, some who'd seen the film before, and some who hadn't. We unanimously concluded that this was the Christmas classic we all wanted to see.

There was a bit of a division over what we thought of the CGI in The Santa Clause. I think the issue is that the film tries to overstep the mark a bit for the era. This was the same year as The Lion King, but also as Speed.

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