NOTE: This review was written under a previous rating system. Some of the older reviews may express opinions and judgment calls that are not in line with our current standards.1994
Walt Disney Pictures
for a few crude moments
Oh, controversy, controversy. Is it a sin to deprive children of their faith in Santa Claus, or is he actually an incarnation of the devil? Right now I don’t think either of those are probably the right answer, but you know there are a lot of intelligent, well-meaning Christians who hold one extreme or the other; and because the Bible doesn’t give us a particularly clear case for either of them, you really want to be sensitive to both. Now, how do you review a movie about Santa Claus honestly, from your own perspective, and still cater to two groups of people who have completely irreconcilable opinions about the subject? It’s a tricky question. A very tricky question—unless there’s enough bad stuff in the movie to get it a Not Worth Watching with or without the whole Santa issue.
I admit, the story’s actually pretty original. Young Charlie Calvin is an exceptional case. For him, the question whether Santa is a magical being or just your dad sneaking extra presents under the tree while you’re asleep, is a non-issue anymore, because for him Santa is Dad, and—most importantly—Dad is Santa.
Of course, Dad had to accidentally kill Santa to make all this happen. At this point it doesn’t matter that the guy who just fell off Scott Calvin’s roof was Santa Claus. We can just ignore that little detail right now and focus on the fact that his death is supposed to be comical.
One of the things that makes this film so original is the fact that Scott didn’t start out as a roly-poly, jovial kind of guy. In fact, you’ll seldom see a movie with more constant sarcasm, name-calling and mockery from the protagonist, and for that we can all be grateful. Again, something that is naturally considered a bad thing somehow ends up being thrown into the script as if it were comic relief.
There are a couple of instances of cavalier damnation language in this film, which is undesirable, of course. But you know, biblically, taking the Lord’s name in vain is a much, much bigger deal (remember the phrase, “the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain”?)*, and The Santa Clause does it eight times every time someone watches it.
Now, turning into Santa Claus does seem to make Scott Calvin a less generally offensive person, though the transformation was pretty gradual on both accounts, and not quite complete in the category of offensive sexual content. His very first speech in the movie draws attention to the fact that, at the company Christmas party, “our families aren’t here right now, which is probably why Johnson’s secretary is sitting in his lap”—Johnson wearing a red Santa suit, and his secretary wearing a twelve-inch skirt and high heels. And surrendering to the whole Santa thing doesn’t keep Scott from commenting on the appeal of yet another woman in a twelve-inch skirt and high heels; it just keeps his advances from being favorably received. The transitional period between the two sees Scott arguing with his made-for-Santa pajamas by shouting, “I don’t even wear pajamas. Normally I sleep naked—buck naked!” As I said, though, there is some kind of improvement, insofar as ZZ Top’s end-of-the-movie “Gimme All Your Lovin’” is an improvement on Scott’s beginning-of-the-movie jokes about his ex-mother-in-law’s phone number being 1-800-SPANK-ME.
Now, do you really want to get into the message of The Santa Clause? Okay, here it is: children are superior to and smarter than their parents—than adults in general, actually. And you still don’t have to address the Santa issue for this to be a problem.
It’s not just an occasional rolling of the eyes at what Dad said or did, or Charlie believing his dad was Santa Claus before he did, although those things are in there, too. It’s writing it into the script that Charlie gets to disobey and defy his father throughout the movie, and be considered justified in doing it every single time, because his dad just doesn’t get it. It’s giving the eight-year-old little boy superior insight and better analogies than his psychiatrist step-father; giving the step-father a smug and condescending air one minute, and having him storm off like a little kid the next minute, when he can’t have his way. The school children have more smarts than their ditzy teacher. In fact, the average adult in The Santa Clause is equal to or less than the reindeer for brains; and they get less respect from the audience, or the children in the movie.
The elves are given the appearance of children, which will stick a lot better in viewers’ minds than the claim that these “kids” are actually thousands of years old. They, of course are superior to everybody—because even Charlie, with his “you’ll-figure-it-out-soon-enough”s and his “I-told-you”s and his “How-could-I-have-done-this-without-you-Charlie?”-“You-couldn’t”s, has his moments when even his best efforts aren’t quite enough to get the grown-ups to do what he wants (although “You listen!” and “How come everything I want to do is stupid?” both worked pretty well). The elves have the intelligence, the technology and the “attitude” to combat the step-father’s smugness, the mother’s scatter-brained skepticism, Scott’s crassness, and the entire police force.
See, here’s the thing: Charlie’s conviction that his dad was Santa Claus, and Scott’s suddenly (and involuntarily) taking on the appearance of Santa, got visiting rights suspended. So he really wasn’t supposed to be seeing Charlie at all, let alone sneaking him out of the house, into the sleigh and on to the North Pole. We call that kidnapping. They call it kidnapping, too, but we’re supposed to think it’s a good thing. Bad mom and step-father. Good Santa. Bad cops. And if it wasn’t bad enough to show the police arresting every department-store Santa they come across, or to portray them as coffee-and-doughnut gluttons, we let the elves come in and tie them up for some more of that perverted comic relief so they can bust Scott out of jail—because it wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa.
Yes, we’re actually going to start talking about the Santa Claus issue now, but I still don’t have to wonder aloud whether or not Santa’s a good idea, ordinarily speaking, because this isn’t your ordinary Santa. Why, flying reindeer are old-hat. Reindeer that get around via dematerialization and teleportation are what the man in red uses in the ‘90’s. And, of course, he’s not just one man any more—he’s just one man at a time. Contrary to what we may have believed, Santa is evidently not immortal (though he’s still omniscient here); there’s apparently not enough magic about his person to prevent fatal accidents; but there is enough power to take over Scott Calvin’s body, just by virtue of his putting on the suit. And, also contrary to what we believe, in The Santa Clause “Children hold the spirit of Christmas in their hearts,” and—by refusing to take on the title role—one man can “be responsible for killing the spirit of Christmas.”
It’s not just the question of magic in this movie (although we could have some interesting discussions about it). The problem with the Santa in this movie is that he is Christmas—not just a nifty accessory to tack onto it, or a symbol of the jollity and giving of Christmas, but the very essence of it. By falling subject to the Clause, he became subject to a higher power, and a higher responsibility. The power: unidentified, and unidentifiable—a completely impersonal force. The responsibility: to provide material gifts and Something to believe in for millions of children around the world, at the expense of his relationship with his own child. At the end of the movie, Scott realizes that he has been called to something greater than spending time with the son God gave him, and Charlie, sobbing, hugs him and says—not, “I love you, Dad,” but “I love you, Santa Claus.”
Your position may be that Santa is a good and proper tradition to preserve and perpetuate in your family, and I’m not going to try to use this review to persuade you that he is not. But I would like to persuade you of this, if I can: The Santa Clause is not worth your family’s attention. Kris Kringle may be well within our Christian liberties, but lust, blasphemy, kidnapping, godlessness and filial rebellion are not. Wherever you may be in the gray area between worship-him and off-with-his-head, this Santa movie review is equally applicable for everybody—The Santa Clause is far from being worth watching.