The line between science fiction and fantasy blurs sometimes, especially during the most magical time of the year. Is It's a Wonderful Life a fantasy movie because of the existence of angels? Is A Christmas Carol science fiction because of its view of the afterlife? All these magical realism Christmas stories may exist in between, but one Christmas franchise put so much thought into its worldbuilding, including cloning, time travel, and jetpacks, it can only be classified as science fiction.
For most, The Santa Clause is a movie about Scott Calvin, a hard-hearted toy executive who puts in the bare minimum with his son Charlie while dealing with his ex-wife and her new man. However, on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus falls off his roof and dies. When Scott puts on his suit, he becomes the new Santa. Over the course of the film, he fights against the transformation, but succumbs to the Christmas spirit in the end.
If you can believe it, the first is actually the worst of the three Santa Clause movies. It's a plot that wouldn't stick out among Disney Channel Original Movies, with the highlight being the badass Effective Liberating Flight Squad (E.L.F.S), a covert SWAT team of elves (played by small children) who break Scott out of prison with laser tinsel.
The highlight of the trilogy is without a doubt the sequel, shot and set a full eight years after the first one. The complete cast returns, with Eric Lloyd playing a teenaged delinquent Charlie, acting out because he can't tell everyone his dad is literally Santa. The plot is still full of cool inventions and little cultural aspects of the North Pole (tinsel football!) but takes a firm rom-com bent — Scott must find a wife before Christmas Eve or cease to be Santa forever.
What follows is Tim Allen trying his best to be a romantic lead, going on a comedic blind date with a blond Molly Shannon who sings a Christmas Shania Twain song. The film is carried by the other lead, Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell who plays Charlie's Scrooge-like high school principal. Through some well-used magic and a montage of hardened teachers playing with their childhood toys, he charms her and eventually makes her his Mrs. Claus.
An overlooked aspect of The Santa Clause 2 is the Council of Legendary Figures, a conglomerate featuring Mother Nature, Father Time, Cupid, the Easter Bunny, Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy, who isn't thrilled with his effeminate name. It's a trope later explored by Rise of the Guardians, but it makes for many great themed one liners, like Mother Nature quipping "Don't mess with me. I'm pre-El-Niño."
While Scott is on his Love Quest, Head Elf Bernard and Deputy Head Elf Curtis use a toy replication machine to create a frankly terrifying Toy Santa, who quickly becomes an evil clone. Suddenly, the rules are taken literally, all the children are getting coal, and Toy Santa becomes a tyrannical despot with a secret police of gigantic toy soldiers. It's a subplot straight out of a Christmas special of Star Trek, and perfectly balances the romantic storyline.
The third story moves the science fiction angle up to the A story, adding in the wild card chaos agent of Jack Frost, played with gleeful terror by Martin Short. Frost, jealous of Santa, tricks him into enacting the Escape Clause. This undoes all the events of the first two movies and transports everything to a parallel universe where Frost became Santa and opened The North Pole as a tourist destination.
Introducing time travel into a franchise's big final film is a tried-and-true method. Endgame did it, but so did the fourth Shrek movie and the massively underrated third Cinderella film. It's a great way to literally bring things back to their beginnings while underlining how characters have grown. The subplot in The Santa Clause 3 is great too, with Scott having to pretend The North Pole is Canada for his in-laws, played by a gruff Alan Arkin and a timelessly effervescent Ann-Margret.
If you just saw the first Santa Clause film and left disappointed, it might be time to revisit a franchise that grew and evolved over 12 years, but still used science fiction tools to tell a thrilling family action-adventure story. .
The Santa Clause trilogy is now streaming on Disney+.