Father Knows Best?
Little did I know when I reviewed Jingle All the Way that it is part of a trend in 90s holiday movies in which inattentive, workaholic Boomer dads go all out in attempts to win back the affections of their young, ignored sons. But while Jingle‘s Arnold has to resort to a girly endeavor like shopping in the effort to appease his spawn, The Santa Clause‘s Tim Allen and Jack Frost‘s Michael Keaton have a much cooler alternative: magic. Allen deals in white magic; Keaton’s, unfortunately, is of the darker variety.
Always read the fine print
A toy-company marketing executive, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen: Toy Story 2) is the brand of asshole father we typically find in these tales of parental guilt — Scott leaves his son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd), waiting for him on Christmas Eve, rather than miss the chance to party with his workmates. Is it any wonder the poor kid doesn’t want to spend the holiday with his dad, and asks his mom, Laura (Wendy Crewson), and her new husband, Neal (Judge Reinhold), to return for him at dawn on Christmas day?
Movies that start out like this usually don’t turn out to actually be movies — they’re more like Very Special Episodes of sitcoms in which kids mug the audience with their cuteness and hangdog faces, adults do lots of apologizing, everyone learns the True Meaning of Christmas, and we get schmaltz and good cheer shoved down our throats.
The Santa Clause, surprisingly, takes a turn for the better very quickly, however. I’m speaking relatively, of course — this is not a great film, but neither is it the horrendous waste of celluloid I was expecting it to be. In fact, it opts for pleasant Christmas fantasy instead of phony sentimentality.
After a truly unhappy and unfestive Christmas Eve, Scott and Charlie hit the sack, only to be awakened by noisy thumps up on the roof. Darned if it isn’t Santa himself, as Scott discovers when he runs outside. But — oops — Scott startles the jolly elf, who stumbles off the roof to the ground before Scott’s astounded eyes, his body melting away like Ben Kenobi’s, leaving just the familiar red suit lying in the snow. A card in a pocket tells the finder to just put the suit on — the reindeer will know what to do. Reluctantly, Scott dons the Santa suit and takes the reigns of Santa’s sleigh, mostly to avoid disappointing Charlie, who comes along for the ride.
It’s a bit of a lark for Scott, getting to take advantage of all the sorcery suddenly at his disposal — the kind that mysteriously refills his toy bag, allows him to fit down chimneys, and makes reindeer fly. And, of course, he’s bonding with his son in a way that he never has before. But when the sun rises on Christmas day and the reindeer take him not home but to the North Pole, Scott starts to worry. And then head elf Bernard (David Krumholtz: The Ice Storm) informs him that when Scott put on the red suit he accepted the Santa clause, clearly printed on the card he found in the suit, however minuscule the typeface. Tough noogies for Scott: he’s the new Santa, like it or not. He’s got eleven months to settle his affairs back in the real world — he’s due back at Santa’s HQ on Thanksgiving day. And so Scott’s troubles really begin.
Good-natured and amusing, The Santa Clause has lots of 90s touches — the elves use FedEx to deliver the naughty/nice list to Scott; Scott’s Santa has some problems with the traditional offering of milk and cookies because he’s lactose intolerant and watching his saturated fat — but on the whole, this is a fairly old-fashioned kind of movie. Miracle on 34th Street‘s theme of “Is it crazy to believe in Santa Claus?” is invoked in the skepticism Scott and Charlie face when the highly unlikely tale of their Christmas adventure gets out. And Santa’s fantastical city under the North Pole and the army of elves — adorable child actors in pointed ears — that runs it brings to mind Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the Oompa-Loompas.
And with its bittersweet ending, The Santa Clause refuses to assuage Boomer guilt regarding neglected young’uns. So there.
Snowball’s chance in hell
Be afraid. Be very afraid. If Jack Frost doesn’t prove that Hollywood is not only creatively bankrupt but actually in the hands of minions of Satan, then I don’t know what does.
Jack Frost (Michael Keaton: Jackie Brown) has a pretty good reason for not spending time with his son, another Charlie (Joseph Cross) — Jack is dead, killed in a car accident on Christmas Eve. That alone would be enough to spoil a kid on the holidays for life, but it gets worse. On the next Christmas, Charlie builds a snowman and then blows into a harmonica Jack had given him. Jack, a musician — his band was the reason he slighted his son while he was alive — had told Charlie that all he had to do was play the harmonica, and Jack would come running. And so, a year after Jack’s death, the harmonica summons the spirit of Jack from the afterlife and sticks him in the body of the snowman.
You wouldn’t think that something as innocuous as a snowman would be frightening, would you? But then, that’s what Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters thought about the Sta-Puft marshmallow man, didn’t he? Jack Frost‘s CGI snowman is so indescribably creepy that you’d think Charlie’d be having nightmares for the rest of his natural life. But no — instead, we get lots of father-son bonding. Dad helps junior take on the school bully in an ongoing snowball war. Dad helps junior perfect his hockey slapshot techniques.
Charlie’s mom, Gabby (Kelly Preston: Jerry Maguire), naturally thinks her child is crazy, standing out in the yard talking to a snowman. And the whole town thinks the hockey coach (Henry Rollins) is insane, rambling on about snowmen leaping out at him — as indeed Jack did when no one else was around. One guess as to whether or not Charlie and the coach will be vindicated.
In fact, Jack Frost is so painfully contrived and predictable, you don’t even have to have seen this movie to have seen this movie. This retelling of Frosty the Snowman is so unspeakably hideous that the four people given screenplay credit (and if the producers will admit to that many, then there are probably even more) deserve to be haunted by their own hellishly reanimated snowbeasts.
The Santa Clause
viewed at home on a small screen