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How The Santa Clause Went From '90s One-Off To Perennial Trilogy

Many families don't consider the holidays complete until they've watched the misadventures of Tim Allen's tenure as jolly old St. Nicholas. In the 1994 Disney comedy "The Santa Clause," Allen's Scott Calvin becomes the world's newest Santa, due to a clause in a magical contract the father unknowingly agrees to when he puts on the former Santa's red coat.

It was Allen's first-ever movie role, made at a time when he was a fast-rising Hollywood commodity, and it was followed by 2002's "The Santa Clause 2" (in which Calvin has to find a Mrs. Claus if he wants to remain Santa) and 2006's "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" (in which the pressures of Calvin's family life lead him to butt heads with a rival eying the Claus mantle). The trilogy of holiday merriment would turn Allen's first film role into one of a handful of characters that has since come to define his career, as synonymous with his name as Buzz Lightyear or Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor.

Nearly two decades after last portraying Jolly Old Saint Nick, Allen returned for the 2022 Disney+ series "The Santa Clauses," which sees Santa considering retirement. But as frequently as some audiences have revisited Allen's take on Santa, they might not be aware of what it took to bring this annual vision to life — first as a film, and then as a flagship Disney franchise. Hop aboard as we travel to the North Pole and take a peek into Santa's workshop.

It took Tim Allen five hours to become Santa every day

When Scott Calvin becomes Santa, his body physically changes. Uncontrollably, Calvin grows a long, white beard and gains a significant amount of weight. When the transformation is complete — right down to his rosy cheeks — he's the spitting image of a traditional Santa to American audiences.

You wouldn't know it from the cheery demeanor Santa gives off,  but in real life, Tim Allen's process of becoming Santa wasn't as easy as that of Scott Calvin. The transformation required an inordinate amount of special costuming, wigs, and makeup — daily. "There is no way to get around how uncomfortable it is," Allen reflected in a 2017 episode of "20/20," noting that the entire ensemble took about three and a half hours to put on and an hour and a half to take off.

Even the scenes when Calvin wasn't fully Santa presented their own sets of complications. The point in the character's journey when he's first becoming Santa-like may not have necessitated a complete Santa wardrobe, but it still had its challenges. "That particular fat suit's very painful," Allen told E! in 1994, talking about Calvin's halfway-to-Santa look. "It's not a comfortable installation process or de-installation process. It took two guys to put that on me. The first time they put it on me, I actually collapsed. I fell on the floor in my trailer."

Tim Allen had to stay in character around some child actors

In the "Santa Clause" films, hundreds of elves inhabit Santa's workshop, and they're all portrayed by children, pretending to be hundreds of years old. Being surrounded by so many kids led to an unexpected hurdle for Allen.

The actor recalled in a 2014 video on the YouTube channel of "The Tonight Show" that he doesn't particularly like kids, yet was constantly surrounded by them on the set of the "Clause" films. As a result, he was forced to maintain a Method approach. "I looked into the mirror, and I was Santa Claus to these children," Allen remembered, "because they're not smart enough to know they're in a movie, even though there's boom [microphones] and make-up and money involved, so I had to hold onto the idea that I was Santa Claus."

In the kids' eyes, they'd hit the jackpot. Their "job" allowed them to hang out with Santa all day, every day. 

Allen entertained the kids' incessant queries between takes, but his comedic roots frequently manifested themselves in the answers. "My favorite question was, 'What do the elves eat?' So I said, 'reindeer.' Then one of the kids said, 'Well, that's funny. Why do you like milk and cookies?' I said, 'It takes the edge off of jack and coke.' The kids loved me."

Allen and the director are longtime collaborators

The original "Clause" was helmed by a first-time director and starred a first-time lead actor; at the time, audience members knew Allen from his starring role as Tim Taylor on the ABC sitcom "Home Improvement" (which had launched 3 years prior) but "The Santa Clause" was Allen's feature film debut, even before voicing Buzz Lightyear in "Toy Story."

Allen read the script for "The Santa Clause" and sent it to John Pasquin, who frequently directed episodes of "Home Improvement." As Pasquin recalled in 2018 on the podcast "Grunt Work," he initially passed on it, having only ever directed television. Pasquin finally relented at the insistence of his wife, actress JoBeth Williams, who told him, "This is going to be a classic. You'd be crazy if you didn't do it." Pasquin reflected, "Tim was instrumental in that because he was comfortable working with me." Pasquin and Allen's experience working with one another helped ease each other's nerves as they both made their first film.

Pasquin and Allen continued collaborating long after "The Santa Clause" wrapped production. Pasquin directed more episodes of "Home Improvement" into 1999, eventually totaling 39 for the series. He also directed the Allen-starring "Jungle 2 Jungle" in 1997, as well as 73 episodes of Allen's sitcom "Last Man Standing" across 2011-2018.

Tim Allen's comedy served as an energy booster on set

One of the most valued virtues one can have on a movie set is patience. Making a movie is a repetitive process of shooting the same scenes over and over, waiting long stretches of time between each take while everything gets reset. In the doldrums of long days on set while filming the "Santa Clause" movies, Allen kept his co-stars laughing and gave them the energy they needed to get through the day.

David Krumholtz, who played Bernard the elf, told E! in 1994 during promotion for the first film, "We'd be all just dead tired, just ready to go home ... but he started coming up with some comedic monologue about some really stupid thing. I don't even remember because I was so delirious at the time, and we would just crack up. Then after we'd cracked up, we were ready to work. We were ready to go and finish it and do the best we could, and he really brought that to us."

This habit seems to have been consistent across the entire series. In 2022 when Elizabeth Mitchell, who started playing Carol in "The Santa Clause 2," reflected on making the sequel to Entertainment Weekly, what stuck out more than anything was Tim Allen making everyone laugh. "I went home at night really with my stomach hurting, almost like I had done a really strong laugh workout," Mitchell said.

The director of The Santa Clause 2 never wanted to make another movie again

As was the case with first-time director Pasquin helming the original "Clause" before him, "The Santa Clause 2" was Michael Lembeck's first time directing a feature film. His previous directing experience had been entirely in television, including 67 episodes of "Major Dad" and 24 episodes of "Friends," among others.

Lembeck enjoyed making "The Santa Clause 2" so much that he almost didn't want to direct another movie for fear of jinxing the process or tarnishing his perception of moviemaking. In a press interview while promoting "The Santa Clause 2," Lembeck shared that he confided in his wife, "I don't know that it's ever going to be this good again. I don't think I should make another movie. This was such a joy to do. It so much reflects exactly what I wanted to create on screen. How can I top this? How can I do something that's gonna feel like this again?" Lembeck continued, "I don't know if that's first-movie-itis ... or if I'm still buzzing from the joy that it was, but there's some truth to that."

Lembeck somewhat found the answer in his own questions, as he went on to direct "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause." He continued directing both feature and television projects in the years since, including 2010's "Tooth Fairy" — unrelated to the "Santa Clause" franchise, but interestingly involving another legendary childhood figure — and 97 episodes of Freeform's "Baby Daddy."

The cast of The Santa Clause 2 took field trips

With movies like the "Santa Clause" trilogy, which project such an enthusiastically cheery tone, one can't help but wonder if the behind-the-scenes experience went as happily. But former child actor Spencer Breslin, who played Curtis in the second and third films in the series, has fond memories of making the sequels.

In an Ask Me Anything on Reddit in 2014, Breslin wrote that he and his colleagues would "have cast field trips after work sometimes. 'Spider-Man' and 'Attack of the Clones' were both released while we were shooting, so a huge group of us saw those. We'd also hop around the different restaurants in the area of Vancouver where we were staying."

In addition to the "Santa Clause" sequels, Breslin co-starred with Tim Allen in two other movies, "The Shaggy Dog" and "Zoom," around the same time. Breslin wrote that Allen "is the man" and "one of the most genuinely funny/hyper intelligent people I've ever met." Fun fact: Breslin's younger sister, Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin, appeared briefly in "The Santa Clause 3" as a pupil in Carol's classroom.

Martin Short likens Jack Frost to an iconic Betty White character

While "The Santa Clause" and "The Santa Clause 2" both have their fair share of conflicts within the story, neither of them has an actual villain. That changes in "The Santa Clause 3," as Martin Short brings to life Jack Frost, an adversary of Santa's jealous that the world reveres Santa at Christmastime instead of him.

Until about the final third of the movie, the audience is privy to Jack Frost's deceptions, but other characters remain uninformed of his true nature. Instead, Frost is overtly smiley, as Short portrays him with a boisterous breeziness.

In a 2020 interview with GQ, Short reflected on the villain and compared him to a retro sitcom character. "Jack Frost was truly evil," Short remarked, noting how Jack "would mask it through charm, but sometimes his true self would flare up. We all know people who mask evil comments with a smile and charm. I remember on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show,' Betty White was brilliant at that. She played a character, Sue Ann Nivens. She was always saying horrible things to Mary, but under a real sweet smile."

Elizabeth Mitchell was a test audience for comedians on set

Carol is pregnant in "The Santa Clause 3" and Elizabeth Mitchell, who portrayed the character, had just recently given birth to her son in real life. On set, Allen and castmates like Short and Alan Arkin discovered that Mitchell was the best test audience they could possibly ask for when it came to trying out new material.

In a 2019 interview on "ET Live," Mitchell shared, "I had just had my son, and all the comedians for 'Santa Clause 3' were there. Tim and all the comedians used to come and try out their stuff on me because I was so sleep-deprived that I would only laugh when it was really funny." If she laughed, they had a good joke on their hands. Mitchell continued, "Normally I'm a pretty easy audience, but in that particular case, yeah. So that was a joy."

Tim Allen thinks The Santa Clause 3 overshot the runway

Despite frequently being mentioned alongside its predecessors, some feel "The Santa Clause 3" doesn't stand as equal in quality to the first two films. Tim Allen seems to agree.

In a 2022 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Allen remarked, "I thought we overshot the runway on number three." Part of the clunkiness of the third film, Allen suggested, might be because "we became infected by our own success." He continued, "the story kind of just got bigger and bigger. And the fact that Marty Short and I never did a scene together that was funny, I'm still going, 'huh.' That's the funniest human being I've ever been around, other than me, and we never got a shot to do a real big scene together."

While Short has a prominent role with ample screentime, Allen's observations make sense when viewed through the lens of comedy. Jack Frost is a worthy villainous foil for Santa, but the script perhaps doesn't utilize Short's talents in a way that highlights the actor's ability as a performer, his finesse as a comedian, or the potential chemistry he could have had with Allen, if given the chance. 

Bernard isn't in The Santa Clause 3, but he was supposed to be

After being Santa's head elf in the first two films, Bernard is noticeably absent in "The Santa Clause 3." Curtis, formerly next in command behind Bernard, mentions in a throw-away comment that he's head elf now, but otherwise Bernard's absence isn't explained. It turns out that in an early draft of the third movie, Bernard was in the story, with actor David Krumholtz set to return. Many audience members assumed that Krumholtz's prior commitment to filming the drama series "Numb3rs" kept him from reprising the character, but that's only partially true.

In 2021, Krumholtz explained to Vulture what happened. "Bernard was in the third movie. They sent me the script, I had a pretty significant role," Krumholtz said. "We did work out the schedule, which was going to be hellish on me, but I was going to make it work. And it was all set to go. But I would say that the character got devalued a little bit and I couldn't in good conscience do it." 

Despite not having enough confidence in the script to justify navigating a hectic schedule back then, Krumholtz did finally return as Bernard for the 2022 series "The Santa Clauses," with the show's trailers proudly boasting footage of Santa's former head honcho.

Tim Allen only wanted to return for The Santa Clauses with the right story

Sixteen years after audiences last saw Scott, Carol, and the Calvin gang, "The Santa Clauses" made its 2022 bow on Disney+ as a six-episode series, once again starring Allen and Mitchell. Given the reboot-centric streaming era — when everything from "The Lord of the Rings" to "iCarly" and "How I Met Your Mother" to "A Christmas Story" is being revived as studios seek to deepen the portfolio of their newly launched streaming platforms — Allen told the Hollywood Reporter he braced himself for conversations of another installment of the "Santa Clause" franchise in some form.

Allen elaborated to THR, saying that he told Disney, "'If you have another story, let's get together with some writers,' and they ended up getting Jack Burditt, who penned 'Last Man Standing.' I know his mind, and he's one of the most voracious writers I've ever been around."

Once writer Burditt had something Allen felt served the legacy of the story — after revising earlier versions that didn't click with Allen — things moved forward. "We were able to answer the question of why Santa fell off the roof," Allen continued. "It started there. Why was that the beginning of the movie? It allowed us to go back to the very beginning. What happened to that guy? It opened up a door that was wonderful, and it set the stage."