Attempting to bring the Christmas movie into the 1990s, Disney enlisted drug offender and raunchy stand-up Tim Allen to play Santa Claus based on the strength of his TV show Home Improvement. Funny then that The Santa Clause would indeed become a minor classic of the genre considering its iffy pedigree.
Credit that to a clever script that has Santa falling from a roof on Christmas Eve (and presumably dying in the process — be ready to explain that to the kids) and Allen’s Scott taking up his job after donning the Santa suit. Scott then has a year to prepare to take over the job full time. This mainly works out to Scott’s putting on a ton of weight and growing a Santa-style beard, all the while denying he is becoming Mr. Claus.
Eventually Scott accepts that he is becoming Kris Kringle, but of course, no one else on earth does, resulting in a series of misadventures with the cops, his estranged wife (Wendy Crewson), her new agey husband (Judge Reinhold), and his long-neglected yet hopeful son (Eric Lloyd). In the end, we’re all happy with our new Santa and a new version of how the Christmas holiday works.
To be sure, this is a kids’ movie, and in fact it’s the adult parts of the story that tend to weaken it. A divorce and child custody battle do little to endear Allen’s version of Santa to the audience — it’s his misadventures with a newfound sweet tooth, instant-growing beard, and goofy elf army that make the movie so much fun. The remaining cast (head elf David Krumholz notwithstanding) is forgettable. Even Reinhold, normally used as comic relief, practically plays the straight man. Kids won’t notice, of course.
Reissued on DVD in time for The Santa Clause 2, the extras are thin — a silly video game and a kind of making-of short featuring Krumholz and his elves. Kids old enough to enjoy the movie won’t find the bonus material worth their time.