If you’ve spent the last 28 years wondering about the logistics of Santa Claus falling off of a man’s roof and that man suddenly becoming Santa Claus, Disney+ is here to finally bring you some peace, some answers and a little bit of Christmas joy.
“The Santa Clauses” essentially serves as the fourth movie in the Disney franchise, a delightful six-episode series that catches up with the Calvin-Claus family 28 years after Scott (Tim Allen) first put on the suit and reluctantly became the big guy. While Santa is beloved by all the elves at the North Pole, his magic is beginning to fade. He’s losing weight, and Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) is struggling with her lack of a first name or personality. Their son Cal (Austin Kane) plays VR games of regular domestic life, and daughter Sandra’s (Elizabeth Allen-Dick) only real friends are animals. When head elf Betty (Matilda Lawler) suggests that Santa could retire, it becomes Scott’s obsession. He could actually spend Christmas with his family! He could buy a boat, maybe! The whole family soon gets excited about the idea, and the hunt for the new Santa begins, starting with Peyton Manning.
Of course, the whole Santa replacement thing doesn’t go as planned, forcing Scott and his family back to the North Pole to clean up some messes and learn something about the meaning of Christmas, but that won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s seen a “Santa Clause” movie. It’s a very familiar tale at this point, which is one of the downsides to the series. It feels almost too familiar, like we’ve definitely learned these lessons about Christmas before. Some of those familiar moments are deliberate callbacks, but combined with the occasional lazy bit of storytelling, it begins to feel like a movie we’ve already seen.
It’s actually the moments where the show comes up with something fresh that feel the most nostalgic, like when it takes a deep dive into the history of Santa Claus, or when we realize the show is actually a story about an aging man coming to terms with the way the world has changed. Santa’s used to doing things the way he’s always done them, and he’s struggling with concepts like disruptive children simply having ADHD, or changing ideas about the word “naughty.”
He’s dismissive of the fact that fewer people care about Christmas, even gripes at one point about no longer being able to say, “Merry Christmas to all!” At first, it feels like Tim Allen’s attempt to revive “Last Man Standing” as “Last Santa Standing,” but eventually it becomes clear that the show is not condemning the world for changing; it’s merely saying that Santa has to change along with it. The grumpy old man is still the hero, but he’s a hero who has to learn a few things along the way, as all heroes should.
The series also gives Scott’s family plenty of time to shine, led by Mitchell as a Mrs. Claus trying to remain appropriately cheerful while also dreaming of having a real identity again. Eric Lloyd only briefly returns as Scott’s son Charlie, but Cal and Sandra more than make up for his absence as kids who grew up in the North Pole. Cal is not the brightest, but he’s very sweet, and Tim Allen’s real-life daughter is so good as moody, animal-loving teen Sandra that you might mistake her for a seasoned actress.
David Krumholtz makes a delightful appearance as Bernard, former head elf, with a quick and simple explanation for having aged. The other elves are all new, but Matilda Lawler and Isabella Bennett stand out as head elf Betty and right hand elf Edie, and they lead a delightful group of ancient elves masquerading as adorable children who care about nothing other than working. Santa keeps trying to give the elves a vacation, but they’re just not interested.
Kal Penn also plays a major role in the series as Simon Choksi, a tech guy with dreams of being the next Jeff Bezos. He’s just trying to reclaim Christmas for him and his daughter Grace (Rupali Redd) after the death of Grace’s mother, and he unexpectedly ends up as one of the candidates to replace Scott as Santa. Simon’s role is necessary but muddy, never really finding the balance between doting father and Bezos wannabe and never going far enough in any direction. This is less Penn’s fault and more the fault of a desire to not want to make him a true antithesis to Scott. We’ve seen what happens when a true anti-Santa takes over the North Pole thanks to “The Santa Clause 2” and “The Santa Clause 3,” so maybe a drone-loving antihero is exactly what this show needed.
It’s unclear whether “The Santa Clauses” is meant to continue or simply exist as a six-episode miniseries, but it could go either way. There are clearly more stories to tell in this version of the North Pole, but if this is where the whole franchise ends, it’s a really nice way to go. Most of the morbid questions about Santa succession have been answered, the North Pole is left in good hands, and Bernard the Elf is safe and sound.
If a second season would simply feature another incorrect Santa threatening all of Christmas, then we probably don’t need it, but there might just be room in this world for a pleasant workplace comedy about elves.
The first two episodes of “The Santa Clauses” are now streaming on Disney+, with new episodes released weekly on Wednesday.