Christmas Means a Little More
The most we can hope for is another serving of Dickensian “Christmas Carol spirit” brotherhood, family, generosity, that sort of thing.
But, as it turns out, that’s not what Scott has in mind either. Instead, he believes that what these dour old Scrooges really need is toys. Thus, he produces a bag of gift-wrapped presents, and a spirit of childlike glee falls over the grownups as they unwrap Rock-em Sock-em Robots, Holly Hobby, Toss-Across, and other vintage playthings from their lost youth.
To be sure, nostalgia, not materialism per se, is the point of this scene (which is actually one of the movie’s better moments). Yet, like those MasterCard ads that, while admitting that “there are some things that money can’t buy,” still manage to suggest that even these things are somehow among the many benefits of using MasterCard, The Santa Clause 2 is strangely reticent about the idea that Christmas is ultimately about anything other than presents from the red-suited guy.
In fact, the film actually suggests that if Santa Claus isn’t able to deliver presents, it will mean no Christmas. Didn’t Dr. Seuss teach us all a long time ago that even if you stop the presents, you don’t stop Christmas? Whatever happened to “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”?
The original 1994 hit The Santa Clause was a secularized Christmas myth celebrating the Broken Family rather than the Holy Family. For those for whom it isn’t a holiday staple, the story centers on a divorced dad, Scott Calvin, who literally becomes Santa Claus after the previous office-holder dies in a fall from Scott’s roof, obliging him and his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) to take over the reindeer and sleigh and complete Santa’s rounds. The story ends with Scott up at the North Pole and Charlie living with Scott’s ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson, The 6th Day) and her nerdy new husband Neil (Judge Reinhold).
The sequel picks up eight years later as Scott (or Santa) discovers that he has a couple of problems. First, his son Charlie, now a teenager, has wound up on the “Naughty” list for what initially looks like high-school hooliganism but turns out to be practically a form of high-minded civil disobedience. Of course this comes at the busiest time of the year for Scott (“It’s every parent’s dilemma how to balance work and family.”).
Second, somehow in the last eight years no one’s ever clued in Santa to the all-important final “clause” in his contract, the “Mrs. Clause,” which stipulates that within eight years of donning the suit he must find a wife or his roof-hopping days are over. In fact, the de-Santafication process has already begun, and before too long Scott’s looking less and less like Santa and more and more like Tim Allen which, as it happens, is definitely a plus when you’re Christmas-shopping for a wife.
All this leaves me wondering whatever happened to the wife of the last guy to wear the red suit the one who died in Scott’s front yard. Did she just fade away along with her husband, like an Indian widow being burned on her husband’s pyre? Or could she be sequestered somewhere up at the North Pole, a retirement center for Santa widows perhaps, with a modest pension and onsite elf-care?
If so, what about one of these Santa widows as a possible prospect for Scott? Granted, they might turn out to be a little elderly, but on the plus side they know the territory and Scott wouldn’t face the issue of having to convince them that he’s really Santa Claus and not a nut-job. Besides, Santa-Scott’s old before his time, and why should a fat white-bearded guy expect his wife to be a supermodel?
These questions are not explored. Instead, Scott leaves the North Pole and heads back to his old stomping grounds to straighten out matters with his son and do some serious dating in a very short time. These two missions conveniently converge as it turns out that Scott’s cold-as-ice principal is played by gorgeous Elizabeth Mitchell (Frequency), whose forbidding exterior shouldn’t prove much of an obstacle to a guy who isn’t bothered by locked doors or burglar alarms. Meanwhile, the North Pole workshop is left in the hands of a synthetic Bizarro-Santa duplicate who’s merely goofily inadequate at first but inevitably works his way up to launching a bid to hijack Christmas.
The ensuing story, though formulaic, is happily free of the grumpy attitude and snippy post-marital strife that marred so much of the first film. The theme of normalizing divorce and remarriage, a major element in the first film, is less egregious here; and the script, though not as witty this time around, bounces along acceptably, throwing in amusing references to Tim Allen’s other recurring star role, Buzz Lightyear (“You are a sad, strange little man”), Christmas classic The March of the Wooden Soldiers, and even John Ford’s Stagecoach. Of course the special effects are better, and the North Pole has an appropriate storybook quality.
No More St. Nicholas
It’s not saying much, but The Santa Clause 2 is an improvement upon the original, not to mention a raft of other recent misconceived Christmas movies, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Family Man, Jack Frost, and Jingle All the Way. And, with a G rating, it’s kid-friendlier than the PG original. But it’s still not very good.
Besides Santa Claus, this movie introduces us to other iconic figures such as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Sandman. Father Time is an elderly patrician figure who looks about like you’d expect, but Mother Nature (who complains of being “pre-El Niño”) looks like she’s working some kind of funky Aztec earth-goddess thing.
Incidentally, although Scott makes a comment following an abortive date about “not booking a church just yet,” when the big day finally comes, it’s not a church wedding, but is officiated by Mother Nature (“By the power vested in me by me”). With that, the de-Christianization of Saint Nicholas is complete.
Finally, a note about product placement. A number of critics have commented upon the movie’s egregious brandishing of the McDonald’s logo, but the product placement noticed by the kids in the screening I attended was a poster on a child’s bedroom wall featuring Disney TV heroine Kim Possible. Can a movie be far behind?
2002, Walt Disney. Directed by Michael Lembeck. Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz, Spencer Breslin, Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold.
US Conference of Catholic Bishops: A-I, General Patronage
Minor hooliganism (graffiti writing); mild menace; remarriage after divorce.
Overall Recommendability: C- (Your Call)
Artistic & Entertainment Value: 2 1/2 stars (out of four) – Between mediocre and well made
Moral and Spiritual Value: Problematic
Appropriate Audience: Kids & up
For more information on this movie's ratings, visit the Decent Films Guide at the link below.
Steven D. Greydanus does film criticism for a variety of media. He is the webmaster of the Decent Films Guide website.
(c) 2002 Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved. Used by permission.