The Santa Clause


The Santa Clause
You’d better not cry…

(1994) Family (Disney) Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz, Larry Brandenburg, Mary Gross, Paige Tamada, Peter Boyle, Judith Scott, Jayne Eastwood, Melissa King, Bradley Wentworth, Steve Vinovich. Directed by John Pasquin

 

Belief is a powerful thing. There are those among us who must have the evidence of the senses to believe in something – seeing is believing, after all. It also must be said that one of the most lovely thing about children is their ability to believe whole-heartedly in something without evidence – their innocence augments their faith.

Scott Calvin (Allen) is an executive at a toy company. He is divorced and a bit estranged from his son Charlie (Lloyd). His ex-wife Laura (Crewson) has since re-married to a psychiatrist named Dr. Neil Miler (Reinhold) who is a pretty decent fellow.

Charlie is staying over at Scott’s house for Christmas Eve, with the intention of sending him back to his mom’s for the big day itself. Charlie is beginning to have doubts about the existence of Santa Clause whom Scott tries to re-assure him is real but Scott really doesn’t believe himself so the attempt falls flat. Later that night, they are awakened by a commotion on the roof. When they go out to investigate, Scott startles a man dressed in red on his roof, who then falls to the ground and apparently breaks his neck. The man disappears mysteriously, but when Scott investigates he finds a business card in the pocket of the suit which says that someone needs to put on the suit and that the reindeer would then know what to do.

In order to please Charlie, Scott puts on the suit and ascends to the roof where to his astonishment find eight reindeer and a sleigh. The two of them get into the sleigh and start delivering toys from house to house, with Scott making a rather poor Santa although he is able to magically fit down chimneys or for homes without fireplaces, dryer vents and radiator vents.

The last stop is the North Pole where Scott is greeted by a rather officious elf named Bernard (Krumholtz) who informs Scott that by donning the suit he has activated the Santa Clause which requires him to become Santa. He has until Thanksgiving of the following year to wrap up his affairs, after which he’ll become Santa full time. Charlie is given a snow globe as a gift. The two go to sleep in the North Pole but wake up back at Scott’s house. Scott assumes it was just a crazy dream.

Strange things begin to happen to Scott. He begins to develop an insatiable desire for cookies and hot chocolate and begins to put on an embarrassing amount of weight. He starts growing a long beard which no matter how he tries to shave it off re-appears instantly. His hair turns white. He has an uncanny knack of knowing who is naughty and nice. Kids, unconsciously knowing he’s Santa begin giving him lists of gifts they want.

Neil and Laura, seeing the extent of Scott’s Santa obsession and of Charlie’s increasing insistence that his father is the Santa Claus, become concerned with Charlie’s well-being and seek to terminate Scott’s visitation rights. The petition turns out to be successful and Scott, now determined to be a better father, is devastated.

The events create doubt in Scott that he is the true Santa Clause but while visiting Charlie on Thanksgiving, Charlie’s pleas and faith reawaken the magic and Bernard with Charlie’s help whisk Scott away to the North Pole. Charlie, wanting to be with his father, goes along. Laura and Neil are certain that Charlie has been kidnapped against his will and a police investigation is launched, led by Detective Nunzio (Brandenburg). When Scott tries to deliver presents to Neil’s house on Christmas Eve, Scott is arrested. Can Christmas be saved?

At the time this film was made, Allen was best known for his “Home Improvement” hit series which was then in its third year. The movie increased his star power and led to his casting as Buzz Lightyear shortly thereafter. Two additional Santa Clause movies were also made in the succeeding years.

The movie is inventive and charming and a bit sticky sweet in places. It harkens back to the heyday of Disney live action family movies such as The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Three Lives of Tomasina. The blend of magic and physics makes this entertaining for adults as well as kids and the movie never forgets that while its target audience is children that their parents are going to have to be entertained as well.

Allen is at his best here and would have a solid career in family films for the Mouse House following this. He brings the right mix of cynicism and warm-heartedness to the role and the transformation of Scott as a career-oriented man to a devoted father is believable. The chemistry between him and Lloyd as his son Charlie seems genuine.

While the North Pole operation isn’t as impressive as shown in later films like The Polar Express and Fred Claus it was nifty at the time it was released and still is grand enough to get oohs and aahs from the younger set.

There are no villains in this movie – Neil and Laura act out of genuine concern for Charlie and that’s kind of refreshing. Some Scrooge-like critics grumbled about the custody issues bogging down the plot but quite frankly I disagree. The movie is about the difficulties created by Scott becoming Santa and in that sense the reaction of other adults to Scott’s transformation seems logical and believable to me. Even though there is a certain magic in the North Pole scenes, Scott’s coping with his physical transformation are for me the best scenes in the movie.

This is certainly not the best Christmas movie ever made but it has become a minor holiday classic. It is clever, good fun and essentially harmless. It could have used a little more edge and Santa breaking his neck early on might scar the more sensitive kids for life but other than that this is charming holiday viewing and definitely a movie I don’t mind seeing again and again.

WHY RENT THIS: Clever and heartwarming in places, a worthy addition to Disney’s live action family film tradition. Allen proves he has big screen star power here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little sticky-sweet in places. Somewhat dated at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few moments of crude humor but not so crude that you wouldn’t want your kids to watch.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was originally written with Bill Murray in mind, but he passed. Fellow SNL alumni Chevy Chase was also offered the part but had to decline due to scheduling conflicts. Disney had a strict policy of not hiring ex-cons, but an exception was made in his case for the “Home Improvement” television show which was produced by Disney’s Touchstone arm and Allen went on to make movies not only in the Santa Clause franchise but several other family films as well the Toy Story series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The special edition DVD includes a feature hosted by Wolfgang Puck as he shows you how to make some of Santa’s favorite snacks, and there’s is also an interactive game called “Santa’s Helper.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $189.8M on a $22M production budget; the movie was a franchise-establishing blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill concludes!

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Despicable Me


Despicable Me

Gru doesn't quite get the concept of mooning his audience.

(Universal) Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Julie Andrews, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Mindy Kaling, Danny McBride, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Pierre Coffin. Directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin

It’s tough being a world-class villain. Not only do your grand schemes of world domination need to be extravagantly profitable, you always have to fight off some wet-behind-the-ears supervillain who wants to earn a reputation at your expense.

Gru (Carell) is as despicable as they come. He will make a child a balloon animal only to pop it; he’ll use his freeze ray on patrons in front of him in the line at Starbucks, and he’ll steal the Times Square Jumbotron to watch football games on. Unfortunately, there’s a new kid in town, a kid called Vector (Segel) and he’s outdone Gru by stealing the Great Pyramid at Giza.

This heats up Gru’s competitive juices to the boiling point, so he feels a need to one-up his new competition and his answer is elegant in its simplicity – Gru plans to steal the moon. Aided by his vaguely Twinkie-like Minions and his curmudgeonly scientific aide-de-camp Dr. Nefario (Brand, sounding nothing like Aldous Snow), all he needs is a shrink ray and a rocket. The shrink ray he can get – it’s the rocket that’s a problem.

Like any enterprising businessman, Gru goes to the bank to get a loan from the bank, but he can’t exactly walk into the nearest Citibank with a business plan that involves stealing a celestial body. Luckily for Gru, there’s always the Bank of Evil (in one of the film’s cleverest jokes, the front of the bank is emblazoned with “Formerly Lehman Brothers”). Unfortunately, Mr. Perkins (Arnett), the humorless blob of a bank president, is not willing to part with the money. You see, most of Gru’s grand schemes have, while successful, not been terribly profitable. However, if Gru can show the bank the shrink ray, they’ll give him the cash.

Easier said than done. The shrink ray is being tested by a Southeast Asian weapons laboratory, but Gru being nefarious and direct, steals the device by sawing a hole in the roof, sending a minion to manually operate a giant claw to pick up the ray gun and jet away. Hunky dory until Vector shows up to cut a hole in his roof.

Gru needs to retrieve the shrink ray from his archnemesis but infiltrating his modern, heavily defended lair proves to be impossible. However, Gru hits upon the scheme of sending in three orphans – Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Fisher) – to infiltrate the lair under the guise of selling Vector some cookies (cookies are Vector’s Achilles heel). Gru adopts the young tykes, but finds them to be major distractions, highly irritating and somewhat annoying. Can he rein in his young accomplices to carry out his diabolical plot, or will he succumb to the charms of the little girls?

These days computer animated features are a dime a dozen and audiences are demanding more sophistication and better stories. While Pixar continually delivers, the other animated studios are less consistent. This is Universal’s first computer-animated feature and the first in their partnership with Illumination Entertainment (who also have Hop and Flanimals on deck for 2011). So how did they do?

Well, there’s definitely a learning curve. Some of the movie works, but other places not so much. In checking out other reviews, I was amazed that most critics found the last half hour to be the best part of the movie; quite frankly, I was more impressed with the first part, when Gru is acting very much like the missing member of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. As the movie progresses, Gru gets more father-like and softer, losing much of the edge that made him notable early on.

Still, Carell does a good job with the character, vaguely channeling the Soup Nazi. The evil Gru is interesting, but it’s the Minions who steal the show. Certain to become pop culture fixtures for the younger set (in the same way Oompa Loompas did a generation ago), they’re cute and speak in funny voices, with a Looney Tunes-like tendency to do spectacular harm to one another. Don’t be surprised if they show up on a Saturday morning cartoon show in the near future.

The movie gets disappointing towards the end. It’s standard animated feature fare of the heart of a bad guy being melted by adorable little girls. That’s the type of thing Disney was doing 70 years ago. By the time the movie ends, Gru is bestowing good night kisses on his Minions. I can’t see a reason to see a sequel to this; Gru’s too soft, too ordinary. The more despicable Gru is, the better the movie is.

REASONS TO GO: The minions are awesome and Carell makes Gru memorable. There are some moments that are laugh-out-loud funny.

REASONS TO STAY: Typical animated feature fare; definitely skewed towards a younger crowd.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie has a PG rating due to rude humor but in my book, it’s perfectly fine for children of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The soda cup that the Carnival Barker is drinking from is based on the ones used at Walt Disney World, which has no midway games.

HOME OR THEATER: This is one of those rare instances where a movie is actually enhanced by 3D; unless you have a big screen 3D television, I would suggest a trip to the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs