Tim Allen has had an interesting career. The vehicle that earned him early fame, of course, was the hit television show Home Improvement. It was part of the American Broadcasting Company’s (ABC) classic Thank God Its Friday (TGIF) line-up that was ratings gold during the 1990s. He has also been a large part of a number of projects that have spanned many decades now, namely the Toy Story franchise. Along the way, he has dealt with some personal issues, including once being arrested for drunk driving, and even possession of drugs at a younger age. When thinking of people who draw in huge box office numbers, his name is typically not at the top of that list. In addition to the issues previously mention, he has been a vocal Trump supporter, which is usually poison for any actor in Hollywood. Given this information, it probably is unsurprising that he was not asked to voice his iconic Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story series in next year’s Lightyear. Instead, they turned to Chris Evans. At any right, we are going to turn to a slightly lesser known, but still quite successful trilogy films in which Allen starred, known as The Santa Clause. Today’s entry will be the first, which premiered in 1994.
In The Santa Clause, Tim Allen plays the workaholic Scott Calvin, who is running late on Christmas Eve to meet up with his young son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd). When he gets home, his ex-wife, Laura Miller (Wendy Crewson), is there waiting with her current husband, psychiatrist Dr. Neal Miller (Judge Reinhold). As they leave Charlie with his father, it is with the admonition that there is no Santa Claus, the Millers believing Charlie too old to believe in such nonsense. Scott takes exception, and after arguing with Laura and Neal, tries to give Charlie as good a Christmas as a single father can muster. Unfortunately, his attempt at cooking a traditional meal ends disastrously, and they spend a pitiful evening in Denny’s with the rest of the single dads who failed their Christmas meals. That night, Scott is awakened to a disturbance. When he finds nothing inside, he steps out the front door and notices a man dressed as Santa on his roof. Scott’s angry shouts startle Old St. Nick, and he falls to his death, landing at Scott’s feet. In trying to find some identification, he finds a business card instructing the reader that in light of such an event, to put on the suit and the reindeer will do the rest. When he gets to the roof, he finds Charlie there as well, and together they complete Santa’s annual mission of delivering toys around the world. The sleigh is then taken to the North Pole, and the elves finally notice what has gone wrong. The elf who explains the situation to Scott is Bernard (David Krumholtz), the head elf. He draws Scott’s attention to the fine print on the business card Scott found. It contains a seemingly magically binding contract that whoever puts on the suit in the event of Santa’s demise is now obligated to be the new Kris Kringle. Charlie is delighted, thinking he now has something about his dad to like. Scott, however, does not wish to fulfill the role. When he wakes up the next morning in his own bed and pajamas, he is able to roughly dismiss it as a bad dream. However, Charlie’s excitement bubbles over, thus proving the reality of the previous night and annoying Laura for filling their son’s head with fairytales when she comes to pick him up. Undaunted, later that year Charlie brings Scott to school for one of those educational days you only see in movies, with parents being asked to explain their jobs to the class. Charlie says his dad is Santa Claus, but Scott insists that he is only a toy salesman. There is growing concern, not just from Laura and Neal, but now Charlie’s school, that Scott is intentionally misleading his son. To make matters worse, Scott begins to put on weight at an alarming rate, which he cannot shed no matter how much exercising he undertakes. Additionally, his hair turns white and his beard grows back as soon as he shaves it. Thinking Scott delusional, Laura and Neal move to have visitation rights with Charlie revoked. At the hearing, Bernard is able to whisk Charlie and Scott away to the North Pole in preparation for delivering presents. Unfortunately, this prompts a city-wide manhunt for anyone dressed as Santa, and Scott is arrested when he arrives at Laura and Neal’s house. Fortunately for Scott, he has an army of loyal elves who free him and allow him to continue on his mission. Charlie is once more gladdened, but Scott tells his son that he must stay with his mom and step-dad. Seeing that they had made a mistake, they destroy the papers revoking Scott’s visitation rights and allow him to fly off to continue delivering gifts around the world.
It is somewhat lucky that the original St. Nick in The Santa Clause died at a house of somebody with the initials “S.C.” It saves the North Pole on extra monogramming, if nothing else. Because this film gives every conceivable nickname for Santa Claus, let me take this opportunity to talk a little about the original saint that, if we are being completely honest, bears so little resemblance to the jolly dude in the red suit as to be virtually unrecognizable. Thus, how did we get from a bishop in fourth century Turkey (then part of the eastern portion of the Roman Empire) to the guy with the presents and reindeer who supposedly breaks into millions of homes around the world on December 24th? Well, it is kind of complicated, and I am not going to get into a ton of detail. Basically, stories abounded of St. Nicholas being particularly giving to children, and the Catholic Church considers him the patron of children. His feast day is December 6th, and that has traditionally been a day to give small gifts to young ones. However, that darn Martin Luther had to go and start a whole Protestant Reformation, and over the years the traditions from the Church that they decided to keep about St. Nicholas’ feast day got transferred to actual Christmas. I mean, God forbid we venerate someone from Turkey! Here, in the United States, because we live in a country founded by Protestants, we Catholics have simply gone along with this practice. Along the way, St. Nicholas transformed into the character we know today as Santa Claus, picking up along the way the home in the North Pole and the flying reindeer.
Like with Laura and Neal in The Santa Claus, many serious Catholics struggle with how they will approach the idea of the seemingly god-like mythical figure St. Nick has become. There is a debate over whether or not to allow their children to believe at all in such a person. On one side, you have those who view it as one of those inescapable aspects of the season out of which their young ones will eventually grow. On the other side are those who, like keeping Christ in Christmas, want to focus on the coming of Jesus into the world, an event without which none of this (including this blog) would exist. This task, though, is made all the more difficult by Santa’s ubiquitous nature. You can deny his existence all you want, but when his face is plastered all over everything Christmas, even the most hardened might begin to think reindeer can fly. And therein is the problem. Santa has replaced Jesus at the center of Christmas, which is what our increasingly atheist society wants so that it can keep the joy of the season without having to appear to be taking part in a Christian holiday. What Christmas is really about is hope. There is a poignant scene when Laura and Neal explain how they lost their belief in Santa, each the result of not getting a present they particularly longed for at a tender age. Setting aside the materialism for the moment, it is so hard to experience disappointment in this manner, especially at an early stage of life. There are many examples of people, young and old, who have lost their Faith because they felt like God did not answer a prayer. What might help is if more of us would remember the ultimate gift God gave us all by sending His only Son into the world for us. There truly is no Christmas without it, and that is worth celebrating.
Once again, with this discussion of The Santa Clause, I have made a comedy sound much more serious than it intends. They have some fun with the traditions surrounding the Santa Claus legends with which we have all become familiar. It is a film I would recommend for all audiences, even if there is no mention of Faith. Granted, divorce does play a large role in the plot, but everyone learns to love each other, and that is a gift in itself.