Editor’s note: Do the Christmas classics still hold up in 2020? We take a look.
“The Santa Clause” is one of the more modern classic Christmas movies. It’s one you admire as a child because of its somewhat-realistic story about Tim Allen, your everyday man, becoming Santa Claus.
But there are just some things about the film that you realize as an adult that can change the way you watch it. And some of those realizations might make the film a little worse than how you remember it.
“The Santa Clause” came out in November 1994 — more than 26 years ago. The film earned about $19 million during its opening weekend. But the bulk of its earnings came after the fact with DVD and video releases, earning more than $144 million on total gross in the United States.
The classic film features businessman Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) who finds himself becoming Santa Claus after Santa falls off his roof, and Scott puts on the coat. Soon, Scott finds himself stuck in a custody fight for his son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd), as everyone around him is convinced he’s not Santa. So now, he not only has to deliver gifts on time, but he also has to convince everyone Santa Claus exists.
The film is packed with hilarious jokes that still hit in 2020. It’s also filled with the child wonderment of the holiday season. You feel like a kid all over again when you’re watching it. The transformation from Scott Calvin into Santa is so relatable for anyone who has been quarantined during the pandemic — weight gain, so many snacks and, yes, working from home.
But there are some other discoveries I made when I watched it on Thanksgiving. There are some brief moments where you realize how the adults in this movie aren’t great role models. Here’s a look at what makes this movie so weird as an adult.
Scott’s co-workers body shame him
Scott finds himself in a tough spot midway through the film when he starts becoming Santa Claus — literally. He starts to gain weight. He can’t fit into his clothes. His body transforms at an abnormal rate as the Santa Claus transformation begins. And there’s one moment during that transformation that really stands out in 2020 — when Scott gets lunch with his coworkers.
He walks into the office conference room in a full gray sweatsuit. His coworkers remark in such surprise that he’s gained weight, which isn’t as socially acceptable now as it was back then. It really stands out. The group orders lunch. Salads and pastas are ordered — dressing on the side, of course. Scott takes another route. He orders a salad, sure, but he also asks for cookies, ice cream, desserts and a glass of ice cold milk.
His coworkers proceed to send daggers through their eyes at Scott as he slurps down the hot fudge sundae. He finishes the glass and his coworkers look on at him in disgust for all the food — and desserts — he ate. The level of condescension in the room is palpable. And then, to top it all off, his boss tells him he’s looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy. Woof!
If this were a normal office scenario, you would be full of gall if your coworkers treated anyone this way. He’s gained a little weight. He’s going through something. But his coworkers treat him as if he’s cursing a storm and saying rude remarks to employees. He’s just eating.
It’s a truly wild moment to see in the context of 2020, when body positivity has become a major message in our culture.
Neil tries to tear a family apart
Scott spends the bulk of the film trashing Neil (Judge Reinhold), the second husband of his ex-wife Laura and Charlie’s stepfather. They’re mostly harmless jokes, calling Neil a pinhead and making fun of his sweaters. It’s the typical back-and-forth between a second husband and a first husband, especially when there’s child custody involved.
But Neil, sneakily, dials up the villainy to 100. He begins by basically telling Charlie that Santa Claus doesn’t exist without consulting Scott — a problem that Scott brings up later as a huge issue. Revealing the truth about Santa Claus is a huge issue for parents all over the world. Parents (like Scott) could take offense to another step-parent (Neil) revealing the truth about Santa Claus without consulting them (Scott) first.
Neil constantly boasts about his doctorate, always referencing himself as a doctor. He pushes his agenda to get full custody of Charlie and push Scott away throughout the film.
And then it culminates with the biggest move of the bunch, suggesting that Laura retain full custody of Charlie and Scott should lose all rights because of the Santa Claus mess.
Look, we’ll get into the Santa Claus perception thing in a second, but Neil absolutely roasts Scott in this film. He’s the true villain. Sometimes you might consider the police officers to be the villains since they’re the ones chasing Scott around town. But really, Neil is the enemy of the North Pole here. He’s trying to take Charlie away. He’s trying to destroy a family. He’s really focusing on the Santa Claus issue. If Scott were truly crazy, sure. I get it. But he’s not truly crazy — something only the viewers know and not Neil and Laura because they are adults and are blind to the Christmas magic. But he seems to really break up this family without considering how Laura — Charlie’s mother — might feel.
Neil, the underrated villain, is redeemed in the sequel because of his goofiness. But don’t let that, or his sweaters, fool you. He’s a jerk. As a child, you see Neil as a villain because he’s trying to take Charlie away from Scott. He doesn’t believe in Christmas magic and is trying to keep Scott from really embracing his inner Santa Claus. You see Neil as a villain who wants to keep Charlie away, but you don’t fully understand the complexities until you’re older.
What if Scott wasn’t Santa?
OK. Let’s be fair to Neil and Laura here for a second. The couple becomes super angry with Scott because he pushes the Santa Claus thing. It goes as far as Neil and Laura applying for sole custody, leaving Scott without Charlie during the holiday season. Nobody wants to see Santa sad for the holidays.
Throughout the film, we, as viewers, know the Santa Claus thing is real. We know Scott and Charlie went to the North Pole. We’ve seen all of the transformations play out. We’ve seen Bernard, Julie and all the elves. Scott Calvin is Santa Claus.
But Neil and Laura never saw any of this, except the physical transformation of him gaining lots of weight and taking on the physical appearance of Mr. Claus, which they think is on purpose to improve Charlie’s feelings about him. In fact, to them, Scott Calvin is pretending to be Santa Claus in order to get Charlie to like him. He colors his beard white. He wears Christmas colors. He legit has children sit on his lap at a soccer game, pretending to be the jolly old elf.
As a kid, you just understand that Laura and Neil don’t want Charlie around his father because of the Santa Claus thing. But when you look at it deeper with an understanding of how the world works, you see how odd Scott’s behavior would really be to adults who don’t know anything. Seriously. Imagine someone you know dressing up like Santa Claus throughout the year to impress their child. That would be super weird!
Above, I talked about Neil as a true villain. But when you consider it from his point of view — that his wife’s ex-husband, who has had a strained relationship with his son, starts to dress up as Santa Claus to win over his son’s heart — you start to understand why he would push for the separation.
It’s a wild thought to consider the ramifications if Scott Calvin wasn’t really Santa Claus and it was all just in his head. That would be a wild story for anyone. And it’s only one you truly see the ramifications of when you’re an adult.
The beauty of “The Santa Clause” is that the film is full of magic as a child. It’s a spectacle where you see a man turn into Santa Claus. It’s packed with scenes of the North Pole, silver-speckled elves and the wonderment of Christmas. As an adult, you see it for a little bit more. In many ways, it’s a film about adults who don’t believe in Christmas and the magic of the season. As a child, it teaches you to believe in Santa Claus — that seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing. And as an adult, it shows you the same message. Seeing the holiday season begins with believing in it. And that’s what makes “The Santa Clause” an all-time Christmas classic for the ages.
Correction: “The Santa Clause,” released in 1994, came out 26 years ago.