Film Critics 2002

November 4 2002

Santa Finally Ties the Knot: A Conversation with Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, and  Michael Lembeck
A feature story by Blake French

Eight years ago, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) inadvertently killed Santa Claus. Ever since, he’s worn the bright red suit himself, delivering countless toys and goodies to children all over the world on one special night a year. This Christmas, however, things aren’t going as smoothly for Santa because he still hasn’t fulfilled a major part of his contract? the part about a Mrs. Claus.

Walt Disney Pictures has finally released The Santa Clause 2, eight years after the original film’s box-office triumph, unusual since sequels to successful children’s films are normally made as quickly as possible. According to Tim Allen, SC2 took so long to make because it began with the worst of intents: simply to make money.

‘It was so evident to me,’ Allen says, ‘I said, I don’t want to do this just to make money, because it’s such a sweet story to begin with, let’s not muck it up. Disney was struggling. They were desperate?and when you’re desperate, you tend to do desperate things, and I didn’t want to be a part of that.’

Tim Allen forced his insight into the script, and, thanks to the success of the first film, Disney considered his ideas. ‘They came back with a script that made sense to me given the limitations I had thrown on myself,’ Allen explains. ‘I didn’t want to be in the suit so much, and I wanted the kid to be in trouble so I’d have to deal with that trouble. I wanted that seriousness so I’d have to parent him.’

Disney, however, found Allen’s requests too risky. ‘Disney didn’t like it,’ Allen says. ‘The story was too big, too broad, and too dangerous. There were so many elements they were afraid of. It’s a Disney mentality; they’re very protective of their image.’

Five drafts into the screenplay, Disney began to compromise, but Allen still recognized the studio’s primary objective was profits. ‘Eventually, I just said, ‘Look, I think we’re making two different movies here. You want to make a movie like Scooby-Doo, more of a vehicle to sell products.’ I said, ‘Let’s not wreck the first one, let’s just say no.”

Before the flame flickered out completely, however, Allen took one more run at Disney, and finally came to a compromise. ‘I fought this so [the movie] does not sell stuff? they allowed Charlie to do something naughty. I wanted him to be mad, acting out so I’d have to parent him? to get children to understand that, if anything, you can discuss these things with your parents.’

Michael Lembeck, making his feature film directorial debut with SC2, also wanted more from the movie than the next Scooby-Doo. ‘One of the most important things for me when I came on board was the emotional content of the film,’ he says. ‘You put enough buzzers and bells up there and you get the illusion of entertainment, but in fact you’re not involving the audience in a dramatic experience. I wanted real, genuine, emotional content.’

Allen agrees. ‘I enjoy movies, but I also enjoy movies that just aren’t amusement park rides. I’ve seen a lot of big action films, and I don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t know the purpose.’

Lembeck says SC2 resembles much more than a silly amusement park ride. ‘There are huge themes? faith, belief, love,’ he continues. ‘We have an opportunity in this movie to explore people’s faith. Santa is so kind, represents so much goodness, yet he’s still a father and has to balance family and work. There’s not an adult in the theater who can’t relate to that.’

Co-star Elizabeth Mitchell also recognizes the similarities between love, faith, and the spirit of Christmas. ‘Believing in someone else is really part of it, that somebody else is actually going to be there for you,’ she says. ‘Christmas morning, I never remember the gifts I’m given; I remember my family. I know coming downstairs I’m going to see everybody I love and that we’re all going to be surrounding each other.’

Despite their enthusiasm for the emotional aspects of Christmas, both Mitchell and Allen recognize the movie’s need to explore the holiday in a secular fashion. ‘For people to enjoy [the movie] across the board, it needs to be about a mythical creature,’ says Mitchell. ‘There are so many different religions, I think in something like this, the idea of faith and love are things that go with every religion.’

Allen wraps things up nicely. With a bow, even.

‘In this business, you can mention anything but Christ,’ Allen explains. ‘It’s amazing how delicate that is. We had a Home Improvement episode once where I was making a manger on my roof. They would let me launch the baby Jesus across into Wilson’s yard, but they wouldn’t let me mention the fact that we were doing that. It’s way too dangerous for this movie to mention what Christmas actually represents.’