Santa Clause 2 (review)

Twice as Nice

The army of elves in this particular alterna-North Pole is portrayed by an army of children, and Santa Clause 2 opens on that army’s march toward Christmas, as hoards and hoards of kids– er, elves slave away, pounding out toys and dollies and all manner of swag to be distributed to all the good little (human) kiddies in just a matter of weeks. Already, two minutes into the film, I was plotting out my take on it: some kind of snide commentary on child labor, perhaps, because sarcasm is my default setting and Christmas movies usually are so sickly sweet that they demand a cynical response.

But I just can’t do it, because by three minutes into the film I was so caught up in its genuine, unsentimental Christmas magic that I forgot to be snide and sarcastic and cynical. Santa Clause 2 is just that wonderful. Oh, it’s nice to be reminded how much fun Christmas is.
It’s been eight years since 1994’s The Santa Clause, and so it’s been eight years since Tim Allen’s divorced dad Scott Calvin first put on the Santa suit and became the Big Guy himself, with the spread at the North Pole and the magic reindeer and the army of childlike elves and the whole shebang. But Scott’s now-teenaged son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd: Batman and Robin, returning from the first film), has been getting into trouble down south, and head elf Bernard (the also returning David Krumholtz: Sidewalks of New York, the film’s voice of sarcasm), informs Santa of another clause in his contract that must be fulfilled before Christmas Eve: he’s gotta find a wife. (The Mrs. Clause was one of the alternative titles bandied about for the film, and it would have been a better one.) Scott loves being Santa, and he loves his son, so a trip back home is called for.

It’s hardly a surprise that Scott’s troubles will get mixed up with Charlie’s in the person of Charlie’s pretty but Grinchy principal, Carol Newman (Elizabeth Mitchell: Nurse Betty), and that Scott will manage to fix everything nicely — he is Santa, after all, and comes with his own magic tricks. It’s always a surprise to me, though it shouldn’t be by now, how charming and thoroughly down-to-Earth Allen (Big Trouble) is. He grounds Santa’s enchantment in authenticity — his Santa isn’t just about the magic but about the sheer joy of making people happy, and there’s one terrific scene at the staff party at Carol’s school so full of that kind of Christmas spirit that it actually brought tears to my eyes. Scott’s is truly a Santa to believe in.

For all the soft and cuddly things happening down south, the North Pole becomes a hotbed of humor mischievous and just a wee bit dark. The season’s work must continue in Scott’s absence, of course, and his replacement, a toy-robot Santa with a mind of his own, goes on what could only be called a despotic rampage, seizing control and keeping the movie from ever going off the deep mawkish end. And whaddaya know? Allen, in a plastic mask, imbues the evil Santa with as much depraved enthusiasm as he gives the nice Santa the jolly kind. You can believe in Bad Santa, too — he’s too realistically petty not to be believed — and you can laugh at him, too.

It’s bigger, it’s warmer, it’s funnier, it’s meaner, it’s everything better than the original, which was highly entertaining in its own right. Christmas has come early this year.

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