Plot: Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is a wizard of marketing toys, making him a superstar at his office, but he spends more time on his work than he does with his own son. As he is divorced and his ex-wife now has an intolerable new man in her life, Scott tends to bury himself in his work, to the extent that his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) has started to push him away. The two spend Christmas Eve together, but Scott’s domestic skills are a little off, so dinner burns and the two wind up at Denny’s, surrounded by all the other single dads and sons. But that night, Charlie hears some noise on the roof and he is certain that it is Santa, so Scott goes outside to take a look. A man who looks like Santa is indeed up there, but soon gets startled, falls off the roof, and then vanishes, leaving behind only the red suit. Charlie pushes his dad to put on the suit and he does, leading to a night that is either supernatural or some kind of wild dream. Is Scott the new Santa Claus and even if so, will it lead to constant problems for his family?
Entertainment Value: At the time this movie was released, Tim Allen was on top of the mountain, with the hottest television show, a best selling book, and with The Santa Clause, he would conquer the box office. The movie is of course sappy and pure fluff, but it does capture some holiday magic and I appreciate how the narrative brings Scott’s sanity into question. The idea of a distracted father is by no means a new one, but it is given some fresh paint here and it doesn’t feel as recycled as it should. A lot of the movie depends on your enjoyment of Tim Allen, as he is the prime focus, but he takes a softer, toned down approach here. So don’t expect barking and power tools, just a straight forward comedic performance. A good stretch of the movie is unrelated to the holidays, focusing on Scott’s transformation and how those around him see him as a lunatic, but Charlie believes. Even so, ample time is spent on the holiday cheer and the North Pole elements are a lot of fun. The scene where Allen accidentally hits on a 1200 year old elf that looks like a grade school girl is awkward, but hilarious. I think the humor here is mostly effective, but it shoots for mild laughs and never really goes for broke, which might have been interesting. But for a family aimed holiday movie, The Santa Clause is a solid effort.
As I mentioned before, Tim Allen was an entertainment juggernaut when The Santa Clause was released, with his projects being at the top of the charts in television, books, and now movies. He is able to bring his usual comedic presence to the role here, but tone down his stand up inspired moments, which I think was a wise choice. The softer style works well for this kind of material and makes those sharp moments all the funnier, since they’re better timed. His young costar Eric Lloyd is fine as far as kid performances are concerned, while David Krumholtz, Wendy Crewson, and Peter Boyle have smaller, but fun roles. But Judge Reinhold deserves extra praise for his turn as a pretentious psychologist that gives Allen a capable foil, as well as a silly villain who just wants a weenie whistle. All in all, I think The Santa Clause is a fun, harmless holiday flick for family audiences, if a little thin at times. So if you like Allen or Christmas comedies, this one is recommended.