THE SANTA CLAUSE, 1994
Starring Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz and Peter Boyle
When Santa Claus gets knocked out in a freak accident after being startled on the rooftop of a house, it looks like Christmas is ruined. But fortunately, the jolly, gift-giver passes the torch to ad executive Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), who finishes the job of bestowing holiday cheer on all. When he finally reaches on the North Pole, however, Scott learns that he can't give up the job -- he's become the next Santa Claus. Scott returns home, only to find himself slowly changing into the pudgy, white-haired old man so beloved of children... and to find that everyone around him considers him utterly and completely mad
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This is a rare film in many sorts. Not only do they pretty much knock off Santa clause, but the film takes place over the period of 2 Christmas eves and the year in between. A full circle so to speak. Usually someone learns their “Christmas Lesson” in one season, but not this go around. But even more so, this film captures a feeling of the Christmas spirit that many films of this day and age miss so blindly. It’s about believing in hope and optimism and standing by those beliefs no matter what. And best of all, it’s about Santa and little kids fighting off the non-believers. And one of the age old formulas for a great film – the story that forges a bond between father and son.
The Story: This is one of those great films that comes along with some original characters that fall into the column under their great archetypes. They’re not flat 2 dimensional characters who “care, hope and believe” just because the plot requires them to. These characters just so happen to have real relationships with one another, and yet being grounded in a “real” world pits them against them against one another. Yes, I realize that it’s a fantasy movie about Santa Claus being a magical job title, but it’s really a story about a young boy dealing with the divorce of his parents and the loss of optimism when he finds out there is no Santa Clause. For Charlie, it’s a tough world because he’s getting hit with that reality left and right and it’s just bringing this little kid down. One of the primary mentality behind Christmas is the joy of small children. Suddenly his dad, whom he’s out of touch with, becomes Santa Clause and not only does he have something to believe in, but he has to stand by his father when everyone else thinks they’re going crazy. It really is an imaginative story about believing in fantasy and enjoying the spirit of Christmas while bonding with that person that you really lost touch with.
Acting: Tim Allen is a great job as a sarcastic and somewhat rude ex-husband who’s struggling to desperately reconnect with his son before it’s too late. All the while trying to stay on top of his job. Eric Lloyd was cute as Charlie, but obviously not an Oscar winning performance from such a young boy. But he works perfectly for the stubborn role that calls for a level of cuteness that doesn’t make you annoyed by him. Judge Reinhold is specifically interesting as the “real world shrink” trying to manage the crazy fantastical – but never campy – happenings around him. Wendy Crewson is a great ex-wife trying to be civil to her husband while still holding a knife to him over treating their son correctly. But the best part, to me at least, is David Krumholtz as Bernard. First off, it’s ironically comedic because you can’t get any more Jewish than a name like Krumholtz, but there’s a charisma that he brings to the head elf trying to deal with all of the “realistic people” who are stuck in their non-believing ways.
Directing: John Pasquin has captured a feeling of Christmas on film like no other. From the shot design, to the character arcs – the plot = the whole sha-bang. There’s a well told balance of adult material and child like material that appeals to all of us. No one character is two dimensional and because of this, all the characters appeal to both adults and small children. In short – he’s created characters that we can grow up with and still look back upon and not feel like we’ve lost touch with that part of us.
Cinematography: When it comes to holiday genre movies such as this, the lighting is everything. If you can’t capture that sepia tone mixed with Christmas lights and black darks mixed with low-lit snow, you’re going to lose a lot of the emotional connection with the Christmas season that many of us associate with it. I mean the time period between Thanksgiving and the end of December is a festival of lights regardless of whichever holiday you celebrate. And that’s what’s great in this film, is that some how Walt Lloyd, the film’s DP, is able to capture this perfectly regardless of the part of the year the film is taking place.
Production Design: Every thing is brand new and shiny, but still has that antique Christmas feeling to it. So yes, everything has a fresh feel to it, but it’s not super shiny and scrubbed clean so much that it breaks the realistic setting the film is set within.
Editing: The film runs a little over an hour and a half which is perfect for a Christmas film. Mainly because people like a lot of variety on Christmas viewings. Something they can watch on Christmas eve and either can head back home after it’s done or get right on to the next film. I’m pretty sure most self imposed movie marathons take place on Christmas eve. But the pacing is in this story where you never feel like you’re really screwed out of great moments or important plot details. Even when it’s not Christmas time in the film you’re still hooked and it moves forward at such great timing that you’ll never find yourself watching the clock.
Score: I mean, yeah, it’s got some of the great classic Christmas songs littered within it so of course it’s going to hit home. But also, there’s a weird toss in of ZZ Top and the like. But it works with the scenes and for comedic effect so you really still feel Christmasy with those types of songs playing.
Special Effects: Old school 90’s effects. I mean it. I mean, yeah, the CGI is used sparingly, and that’s great. The green screen stuff is perfect with a few small exceptions of underlit subjects against a night sky background being hard to pick out. The only flaw comes out when you can spot some of the dummies used…more specifically in the last scene floating up to the sleigh in the sky – but whatever. You won’t find yourself scoffing at it.
In closing: This is a great film that I love to watch around the holidays. There’s a sentimentality to it that just isn’t found in holiday films these days. Above that, there’s a great story, great performances and great themes. The film is shot in a way that gets you comfy on Christmas eve and there’s a certain legitimacy that the film holds even when reaching for more of the fantastical moments, and that’s what will make you love it even more.