[31 October 2002]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
The most original idea in 1994’s The Santa Clause was its premise: killing off Santa. This bizarre gambit left unhappily single (and perfectly initialed) dad Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) with the burden/gift of replacing Jolly St. Nick, which allowed him to impress his child and feel “needed” following the breakup of his marriage. As he learned that being Santa is a hugely daunting task during a certain season, no matter that the abundant vacation time, Scott’s alternate moments of awkwardness and derring-do made for some sweet comedy that has made the film something of a holiday rental favorite.
Now comes Michael Lembeck’s 8-years-in-the-making sequel, The Santa Clause 2, where the best idea is not its premise—that Santa must be married by Christmas Eve of a certain year, this one, or the automatic “de-santification process” will rob him of his powers and children everywhere of their favorite holiday forever. Instead, the best idea this time out is the offshoot of that plot-starter, which is the creation of a second, emphatically plastic Santa (also played by Allen, under much ruddy-cheeked goop), concocted by Scott’s book-smartest elf, Curtis (Spencer Breslin), so that Scott can head off to the burbs to find a mate before deadline, leaving behind the imitation, so the other elves won’t feel nervous.
Before he heads south, Scott calls together the Council of Legendary Figures, who mostly offer cute remarks and complaints about their own gigs. Solo girl Mother Nature (Aisha Tyler) is easily the toughest and most charismatic of her group, warning the boys off teasing her, because she’s “pre-El Niño” (though she generally seems quite pleased with “the power vested in me, by me”). She is, however, surrounded by whiners and slowpokes—Father Time (Peter Boyle); the Tooth Fairy (Art LaFleur), who wants more than anything to change his name; Cupid (Kevin Pollak); and barely cognizant Sandman (Michael Dorn, better known as Worf, Star Trek‘s Last Angry Black Man)—who make Scott look positively energetic for coming up with that harebrained sham Santa plan.
Still, everyone else seems all right with it, at least at first. The elves, for a few hundred, are easily placated: though Fake Santa is frighteningly shiny and stiff, the elves all say okay and go back to tap-tapping on their doll houses and choo-choos. Santa 2, on the other hand, catches on fast. Initially timid, being virtually non-minded and newly manufactured and all, Santa 2 soon reads the handbook and resolves that none of the multi-culti elves are following the rules and all of the kids expecting gifts have been more naughty than nice. And so, he proclaims, everyone will get coal in their stockings. To enforce his decision, Fascist Santa—complete with military uniform and epaulets—makes use of the very toy-making machine that made him, and creates an army of clunky, smiley-faced, 8-foot wooden soldiers.
Back in burbsville (and this is the film’s most fatal flaw, its cutting between the North Pole and the Old Neighborhood—as Scott’s trajectory is far less amusing and far more perfunctory than Fascist Santa’s), Scott is losing his Santa-ness, which means that instead of growing a belly and whiskers, as he did the first time around, he’s losing same. He drops in on troubled son Charlie (Eric Lloyd), who’s been tagging school walls with pro-Christmas graffiti (and so has ended up on the Naughty List, much to dad’s chagrin and embarrassment), and his humdrum mom Laura (Wendy Crewson) and Bill Cosby-sweatered stepdad Neil (Judge Reinhold). They try to be helpful, setting up Calvin with a woman who “likes Christmas” (Molly Shannon in a Santa sweater and full of ghastly, strained vivacity, the kind she’s already overdone on SNL).
Less noisy but no less pathetic, Laura and Neil make what seems to be a sincere effort to discuss Charlie’s “issues” by trundling home with bags full of McDonalds provisions: sitting in their domestic paradise of a kitchen, stuffing fries in their mouths, the clueless twosome offer their opinions. At this point, you’re probably wondering why Scott gives a darn about any of ‘em. They deserve coal in their stockings.
Still, he persists in looking for the ideal Mrs. Claus to fulfill the second clause. And so he finds her (as you know he must, this being a seasonal franchise picture), in that most unlikely-likely place, right in front of his nose. Charlie’s very own principal, Carol Newman (Elizabeth Mitchell), turns out to be the imminent rosy-faced mama figure, despite and because of her preliminary uptightness and grousing about Charlie’s tagging activities. Of course, she’s a forlorn little girl inside, lonely and afraid, having lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas and feeling all sexually repressed—until Scott whips out some snow and mistletoe. Then, she’s a wildcat. (Just kidding.)
Given that it’s a generically family/holiday film, The Santa Clause 2 has nothing new to say about anything, and looks back extra-fondly on the days when women’s most admirable ambitions involved giving up their personalities and lives for the men they loved, especially men who wield weird and wonderful magic and control a labor force of, maybe, looks like, hundreds (the film’s $65 million cost is hard to spot on the screen, where everything—from the animatronic reindeers to the pointy-eared elves to the North Pole set—looks cut-rate). You might hope for a split second that Carol comes to her senses and runs off with the dashing Mother Nature, but no such luck. Though she does ask whether she’ll still be able to be a principal if she marries Scott (oh yes, the elves all nod and beam, we have a school, though they don’t), everyone knows Carol is doomed to be a grey-haired, ever-aproned version of Wendy with the Lost Boys, teaching the elves to stay just the same as they are. The non-Fascist Santa likes it that way.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/santa-clause-2/