With the recent release of Willow (2022), Zootopia+ (2022), and a glut of Marvel and Star Wars series, few are clamoring for another Disney+ show. And, with the recent release of the two-episode premiere of The Santa Clauses (2022), it seems like that hesitation is well-placed.
The six-episode series acts as the fourth installment of the Santa Clause franchise, plunging the audience back into the life of Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), the once-reluctant St. Nick that has since settled into his yuletide throne.
The show picks up almost thirty years into Calvin’s tenure, as he begins to periodically lose his Christmas magic. As he finds himself losing the ability to float down the chimney with ease or take flight on his sleigh, the veteran toymaker considers retiring with Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) and their children Cal and Sandra (Austin Kane and Elizabeth Allen-Dick). The meat of the show takes place as Calvin and his elfin legion try to find a suitable replacement. Needless to say, the new guy has big boots to fill.
Fans of the Santa Clause movies will be delighted to know that the series stays relatively true to its roots; in this show, the nostalgia runs thicker than eggnog. Despite the decade separating this series from the franchise’s last film, the set design is just as bright and festive as it was in 1994, and beloved characters seem to not have aged a day.
Unfortunately, audiences won’t be getting much else. The Santa Clauses seems happy to remind the audience of the magic of its predecessors, but less interested in contributing much of its own. It relies heavily on flashbacks—two within the first episode alone—that distract from the growth of the series’ main plot. References to, and cameos of, past characters are similarly pervasive.
Too often, the series is content to answer questions like “What happened to the little girl from the first movie?” or “What’s Charlie up to these days?” instead of spending its time on developing the story or its central characters, the Calvins. The harm of this, however, is somewhat lessened given the story’s mini-series format as the extra space allows for a certain degree of clemency for missteps.
The decision to create the fourth installment of the Santa Clause franchise as a limited series, rather than a feature-length film, was a risky one—especially given the increasingly cramped streaming landscape. But it offers interesting possibilities. Facets of the storyline that normally wouldn’t be allowed much space, like Mrs. Claus’s realization that she abandoned her identity in service of her husband’s, are given more room to grow. If the series continues allotting time to its more tangential—nevertheless interesting—arcs, the richness of the story would likely make up for the show’s other shortcomings, the most heinous of which is the show’s strange right-wing tilt.
Perhaps the least enjoyable minutes of The Santa Clauses are spent on clumsy political commentary. Audiences will cringe as they hear Allen’s Santa grumbling about how “it’s apparently problematic to say ‘Merry Christmas’ now” and roll their eyes at the failed bit about “brat-shaming” naughty kids. It seems obvious that a children’s movie is the last place for not-so-subtle jabs about cancel culture, yet somehow they made it into the final cut. Moments like these aren’t just unfunny; they’re polarizing. Evidently, The Santa Clauses failed to learn Thanksgiving’s most important lesson: do not talk politics over the holidays.
Whether this odd shift is driven by Allen—who’s been strident about his conservative views throughout his career—or executive producer Jack Burditt—who worked with Allen on the contentious sitcom Last Man Standing (2011)—the right-wing appeals feel painfully out of place.
But that’s not to say the show will only be enjoyable if you’re an avid watcher of Fox News; there are some genuinely funny moments throughout. Between the droll depictions of marital bickering and the series’ extraordinary commitment to Christmas-based puns, it’s clear that the franchise’s characteristic blend of adult-facing deadpan and saccharine tackiness is alive and well. Although there are times when the camp can be overpowering—a bizarre rendition of “Elves Just Wanna Have Fun” comes immediately to mind—The Santa Clauses is a good place for those of us in need of a good Christmas “ho ho ho.”
Even as heavy-handed politics and overstated nostalgia bog the show down, the series’ true-to-style humor and finer storylines make this holiday spectacle something of a mixed stocking. Remaining episodes will reveal whether The Santa Clauses will rise above its worst instincts and become, as one elf so eloquently puts it, “santastic.”