As a child reared in the 90s, The Santa Clause was the penultimate magical Christmas movie of my childhood. I was nine years old when this modern classic was released in theaters, and I think I watched it every year of my youth from then on. We watched Home Improvement on the regular, so pre-cocaine Tim Allen was already a family living room staple for myself and my peers. And even though I was well past my own belief in Santa, this movie rekindled that childlike sense of wonder and made me want to believe again. With all of this tinsel-draped nostalgia, I thought it was time to watch this movie for the first time with my four-year-old. We settled in in front of the Christmas tree with some cookies ready to enjoy some holiday magic… only to feel my eyes widening in growing horror over and over again.
Y’all. This movie has not aged well.
So let me take you on a magical holiday journey of why The Santa Clause is actually The Worst.
We open on a close-up of Santa handing out random gifts at a company Christmas party. It’s Christmas Eve and the 90s hair and shoulder-pad game is strong. (Sidebar: who is having their company Christmas party ON the night of Christmas Eve? Don’t these people have families? Friends? Obligations with people they don’t care about?) Tim Allen is apparently the World’s Greatest Toymaker because he invented a baby doll that changes its own diapers. He makes some casual jokes about flagrant intra-office infidelity and then peaces-out to spend Christmas Eve with his kid. He spends his drive home lying to his ex-wife about why he’s going to be unforgivably late to see his one and only child.
When he finally arrives at home, the “edgy,” early-90s, divorced-couple-who-hate-each-other tension erupts. Tim Allen is immediately and without preamble spiteful toward his ex-wife, (who looks exactly like Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction), indifferent toward his son, and rude and dismissive to her new (reasonable, stable) husband. (#teamneil)
He spends a few minutes deflecting real emotions with snarky humor and then is shocked to discover that a twenty-pound turkey takes five hours to roast. Dads-are-incompetent hijinks ensue.
Tim Allen is profoundly inconvenienced to be reading his child a bedtime story on Christmas Eve. He just can’t even with this kid, asking sweet, childlike questions and trying to connect with his father. (It’s really no wonder this child ends up becoming a criminal by the second movie.)
Soon after drifting off to sleep, Charlie is awakened by a “clatter.” Something (or someone!) is on the roof. At first, his dad doesn’t believe him, but he soon realizes that they are about to be the victims of a home invasion and rushes outside in his underwear. Tim Allen then proceeds to startle Santa into sliding off the roof and shattering his plump body on the snow-covered sidewalk. Charlie runs outside and exclaims with horror, “You killed him!” (First accurate emotional response of the movie.)
Let’s pause here to acknowledge that this “zany moment” is actually a case of manslaughter witnessed by a seven-year-old child. It’s lucky that Charlie’s stepdad is a therapist. Tim Allen handles the fact that a man is dead at his feet by quipping and denying blame and offering to “give him a ride back to the mall.” CAN SOMEBODY CALL AN AMBULANCE PLEASE.
The dead body disappears, (WTF), and Charlie and his dad suddenly realize there is a sleigh and a parcel of reindeer on the roof. Tim Allen states, “I’ll bring the Santa-suit up there and let the police deal with it.” STOP TAMPERING WITH A CRIME SCENE TIM. And why do you need to climb onto the roof before you call the police?? I have so many questions. All trauma forgotten, Charlie climbs onto the ice and snow-covered roof and is excited to pet an animatronic reindeer. He even manages to get his dad into the sleigh with him. (Sure. This all checks out.)
They then spend the rest of Christmas Eve being transmogrified down chimneys, being cruel to small children, getting chased by dogs, and being threatened by homeowners with firearms. (This story would have gone very differently if Tim Allen was a black man, IJS.)
Eventually, Charlie and Tim end up at the North Pole, where Tim yells at the first elf he sees and chases him away. In what is supposed to be a magical moment, the music swells and the sleigh is dramatically lowered into a wonderland of elves and toys and whimsy. All of the elves look up at Tim Allen and smile knowingly with a twinkle in their eyes, seemingly nonplussed that their boss/ruler for perhaps hundreds of years has met an untimely demise.
This is the first moment that the elves learn that Santa has been tragically murdered, and they just smirk and do a cartwheel. They welcome Santa’s murderer into the North Pole with open arms and treat him like an idiot for not being fully aware of his new responsibilities as Santa Clause. (This is all very Game of Thrones, isn’t it? Kill a man to gain his powers and followers. Rated PG.)
Enter Bernard the Elf, master of a million pre-teen sexual awakenings.
Bernard might be the only person who actually knows what the actual F is going on around here. He’s an asshole to Tim Allen immediately (#deserved) and yells at him about contracts and clauses and the OFFICIAL BUSINESS of the Santa-murder transaction. KEEP UP TIM ALLEN. Bernard tells Tim to get his affairs in order and report back to the NP in eleven months.
Tim Allen is then escorted to his Christmas fantasy suite by a little girl elf who he immediately hits on. Her response? “Thanks, but I’m seeing somebody in wrapping.” OH THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF CHILDREN SURE IS QUIPPY ISN’T IT TIM ALLEN. Are there police at the North Pole?? If so, SOMEBODY CALL THEM. There is also apparently a voyeuristic puppet show occurring in the bedroom at all times? (Who is operating these puppets? Why are they watching Tim Allen undress?? #thepeopleneedanswers)
Tim Allen wakes up back in his own bed on Christmas morning, wearing the red satin pajamas that were given to him at the North Pole by the thousand-year-old sexy child elf. Charlie has already opened all of his presents before his dad even got out of bed (what kind of anarchy is this??) and Mia Wallace (bangs = FLAWLESS) arrives to pick him up five minutes later. Snark is exchanged. There’s a running joke about Neil’s sweaters. (Poor Neil. He just enjoys 90s-appropriate knitwear.) Charlie leaves. Christmas apparently continues without further incident.
For those keeping score:
- Crappy father: CHECK
- Murderer: CHECK
- Possible child predator: CHECK
Tim Allen gets grey hair (like an ordinary middle-aged human.)
He gains some weight (again, like an ordinary middle-aged human.)
Tim Allen is repeatedly fat-shamed by his boss, co-workers, and physician.
Random children start sitting on his lap on the regular. (RED FLAG. RED FLAG)
Tim Allen starts street-harassing women and grading their moral value based on perceived F-ability. (REDFLAGREDFLAGREDFLAGGG)
Santa Clause starts to slowly take over his body and mind, like a parasite.
Charlie is delighted.
But Tim Allen tells his son to put a lid on it and keep “the Santa thing” THEIR LITTLE SECRET. (Nope, nope, NOPE NOPE NOPE. Not cool Tim Allen. Stop acting like a predator.)
Mia Wallace and Shrink-Dad are justifiably concerned. They want young Charlie to keep a handle on reality. They believe that Tim Allen is losing his mind. They worry that Tim is an incompetent father. (Say what you will, but THEY’RE NOT WRONG.) They take reasonable legal action and take away Tim Allen’s visitation rights.
When Christmas Eve comes around again, Tim Allen STRAIGHT UP KIDNAPS HIS KID AND TAKES HIM OUT OF THE COUNTRY. Mia Wallace is horrified and immediately calls the police. (OH GOOD, LAW ENFORCEMENT DOES EXIST IN THIS BANANAS UNIVERSE.)
Mia Wallace and Shrink-Dad are devastated that Charlie has been taken by his mentally-unstable father on Christmas Eve. They sit by the phone, heartbroken, terrified, and surrounded by police as they wait with hearts in their throats to hear if Charlie is OK and if he’s ever coming back to them.
-PAUSE FOR LIGHTHEARTED ZZ TOP MUSICAL MONTAGE-
When Tim Allen in his sleigh arrives back at Mia & the Shrink’s house to deliver presents, he’s immediately arrested. FINALLY A REASONABLE RESPONSE TO CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR. Does Charlie stick around to comfort and reassure his heartsick mother? Naw. Instead, he utilizes a flying elf squad to bust his dad out of jail.
The elves are successful in their hijinx-y jailbreak, (again, TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY IF THOSE ELVES WERE BROWN), and Santa-Tim returns to his ex’s house to surrender their kidnapped child. He also gives his ex and Neil some dusty old lame-ass gifts and all is miraculously forgiven. Apparently Christmas magic wipes everyone’s memory (and criminal record) and now they’re all one big happy family.
Cool cool cool. This all totally checks out.
*This post was inspired by the brilliant Lindy West’s spicy-take on Love Actually that we literally read out loud as a Christmas tradition every year. Thanks for being you Lindy.*