The program continues the tale that began with the 1994 film ‘The Santa Clause,’ with Scott mulling over retirement after almost three decades on the job.
The unhappiness at the core of Disney+’s The Santa Clauses, which finds Tim Allen’s Santa contemplating retirement after nearly three decades on the job, is that the Christmas spirit is no longer what it once was.
But was it ever? This is a franchise that begins with an unhappily divorced businessman murdering Santa the night before Christmas (in the 1994 film The Santa Clause). Its spun-sugar holiday charm has always been off, and with the latest addition from designer Jack Burditt, it’s taken on a somewhat sour tint.
Here’s a Santa who complains that “saying ‘Merry Christmas to everybody’ has suddenly become troublesome,” and scoffs at the notion that labeling a child as too wicked for gifts is “brat-shaming.” He’s surprised to discover that the adorable moppet who left him soy milk 20 years ago (as we’re reminded of in one of the miniseries’ rare additions of grainy bits from the 1994 film) has grown into an aimless 30something (Casey Wilson) who’s forgotten all about him.
Santa’s elves (most notably Station Eleven’s Matilda Lawler, who plays his harsh lieutenant wonderfully) have begun to float the idea that it may be time for him to move on. Santa’s own family would probably concur.
Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) feels increasingly sidelined in a thankless position where she doesn’t even have a first name. (Apparently, her name in The Santa Clause 2 does not qualify because it was her “prior name.”) No, I don’t understand it either.) His children, adolescent Cal (Austin Kane) and tween Sandra (Elizabeth Allen-Dick, Tim Allen’s real-life daughter), are increasingly immersed in virtual reality goggles that allow them to mimic the thrillingly commonplace experience of mowing lawns in Kansas.
All that remains before Santa can depart is to choose a successor. While he hasn’t found one by the end of the second chapter (the final one sent to critics of a six-part season), it should be obvious to all but the most inexperienced viewers that it’s destined to be Simon (Kal Penn) — a vaguely Bezosian type whose vaguely Amazonesque e-commerce business is desperate for whatever North Pole enchantment allows Santa to deliver toys to people’s homes faster than any cutting-edge drone.
The idea that “Santa” could become just another of those overly demanding professions that lead holiday-movie dads everywhere to neglect their families until some heartwarming third-act epiphany has some poignancy, especially when it’s mirrored by Simon’s arc as a man who sees the job as an opportunity to spend less time on Christmas Eve work calls and more time decking the halls with his extremely cute daughter (Ruplai Rudd). Penn has an instinctive cuddliness that makes him more endearing than Allen’s cranky Santa ever was.
Unfortunately, such glimmers of true heart or charm are often hidden behind bad craftsmanship. There’s a senseless groaner about “ASS — Acute Squawk Syndrome” for every half-decent joke (“I don’t enjoy wearing anything Ozzy Osbourne wore better,” Mrs. Claus says of her velvet capes). The soundtrack is made up of songs chosen for their capacity to sound similar to the Ghostbusters or Indiana Jones themes, but not so similar that they’ll cost actual money.
The undemanding plot and gleaming visuals may be enough to keep a room full of kids entertained for a half-hour at a time, and may even elicit a twinge of nostalgia in their Millennial parents. But, if the central concern of The Santa Clause is that there isn’t enough holiday magic in the world anymore, this half-hearted series seems unlikely to be the gift that will restore it.