The sticky legal question of Disney’s holiday movie boils down to the validity of the fine print on Old St. Nick’s business card. It states that if you put on the “suit,” you’re stuck with the reindeer, the cookie and milk diet, the suite at the North Pole and, of course, delivering the gifts. That’s “The Santa Clause.”
Unlike the other Santa pic, the drama doesn’t wind up in the courtroom. This is a hip, likable spin on the seasonal icon told with a deft mixture of comedy and sentimentality. The mixture should mint some fast Xmas coin and play into the New Year with upbeat returns.
The hapless hero of the piece is ad exec Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), divorced from his wife and doing the split custody holiday scene with son Charlie (Eric Lloyd). Christmas Eve, they get a Yule meal at Denny’s, a reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” eggnog and a tuck into bed.
Except this year, a clatter arises from the roof and when Scott investigates, he startles a red-suited gent who falls with a thud. That’s when he passes along his card and Scott reluctantly dons the costume and, with Charlie, climbs aboard the reindeermobile, grabs the list and goes to work.
The deed done, Comet and crew take the duo to the North Pole where the head elf explains the significant implications of the title clause. Scott reacts by pondering the implications of not believing. The next morning, he’s home and thinks it was all a dream.
The humor in the Leo Benvenuti/Steve Rudnick screenplay centers on characters’ reactions to the preposterous premise. Laura (Wendy Crewson), the ex-spouse, and her cloying new mate, head shrinker Neal Miller (Judge Reinhold), assume Scott’s tall tale is a sort of revenge scenario. Santa dad’s visitation rights are suspended. But Scott’s not lying, for once, so logic is turned on its head.
Director John Pasquin, in his feature debut, has the precarious task of rooting the tale, minimally, in movie reality. Additionally, there’s a delicate balance to effect between the gags and seasonal emotion. Then, just to complicate matters, he has an arsenal of special effects and makeup to seamlessly weave into the plot. In other words, it’s a foolhardy task.
While the tyro talent demonstrates no great flair or invention, he does get the job done. This is abetted in no small measure by Allen, who is just as personable and likable on the bigscreen as he is on the tube. Lloyd also turns out to be an engaging kid.
“The Santa Clause” also offers one of those rare instances where the gadgetry and effects don’t overwhelm the story. They remain functional and organic, handsomely complemented by Carol Spier’s production design.