Picks and Pans Review: The Santa Clause

updated 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

Tim Allen, Eric Lloyd, Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold

This is the most playfully amusing, inventive new cinematic Christmas fable in several decades. Title notwithstanding, this tale is not a contradiction of the classic line from A Night at the Opera, where Chico Marx tells Groucho, during a contract negotiation, "You can't fool me. There is no sanity clause." Here, thanks to writers Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick, Santa carries an emergency card that authorizes anyone who finds it to take his place should old Kris himself become incapacitated during his present-delivering rounds. The catch is that there's no escape clause—or no Claus escape—for the pinch-Santa.

Home Improvement's Allen is a divorced toy-company engineer who is reading Visit from Saint Nicholas to his young son Lloyd, 8, when they hear reindeer on the roof. That sets up a great joke: Allen finds a product of the "Rose Suchach Ladder Company" (as in "arose such a clatter") leaning against his house. Then he finds Santa on the roof and takes the emergency card after Santa collapses in the snow and disappears. Since the reindeer guide the sleigh automatically, Allen takes Lloyd and flies around the world delivering toys (although he's the surly sort of Santa who asks a skeptical girl, "So, do you want the doll or not?").

Most of the plot comes from the objections raised to Lloyd's sled-setting lifestyle by Allen's officious, humorless ex-wife, played convincingly by Crew-son, and her new husband, a patronizing psychiatrist played idly by Reinhold.

The writers and director John Pasquin stay true to the Santa myth, even if they toy with such details as the elves' identity by making them seem to be precocious children. The effects are fun, and so are such supporting actors as Mary Gross as a politically correct teacher ("We don't call them 'elves,' we call them 'small people.' ") and Peter Boyle as Allen's all-business boss. Everything is accomplished with sweetness and reverence for the institution it addresses. (PG)

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