`Santa' sequel had to be done just right

Tim Allen insisted on a script that made sense

October 31, 2002|By Phil Kloer | Phil Kloer,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Asked why his new Christmas movie, The Santa Clause 2, is opening the day after Halloween, Tim Allen takes the question like a man. And starts counting on his fingers.

"Honestly? It's six words," he quickly decides. "Harry-Potter-Lord-of-the-Rings."

"We were going to come out at Thanksgiving, which is when the last one did," he continues. But then Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets staked out Nov. 15 as its opening date, and The Two Towers, the second installment of Lord of the Rings, parked its bulk on Dec. 18, and Walt Disney Pictures suddenly decided it'd better move their Christmas movie earlier to keep from getting creamed.

"We're as big a movie as those guys," Allen says, and you can almost hear his old stand-up comedy routine's mucho macho grunting - "Arh! Arh! Arh!" - "but we need to establish who we are first."

Establishing The Santa Clause 2 shouldn't be all that difficult, seeing how the 1994 original took in $145 million at the U.S. box office. And that doesn't take into account how the movie (about an ordinary dad who's forced to become Santa) has become a seasonal perennial on video or DVD for many families with youngsters.

A sequel should have been a no-brainer, except that, according to Allen, the various ideas and scripts floating around were just that: no-brainers.

"It's troublesome to do a sequel just to make money. They wanted stuff that made no sense," he says on a recent swing through Atlanta to promote the movie. "I don't buy this," he told Disney executives about early scripts. "How stupid are people? How patronizing can you be?"

One idea, he says, was to give Santa an evil twin brother, which he characterizes as a fine idea for a soap opera or a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

Actually, there is an evil Santa, of sorts, in SC2, just not a twin. Allen's character, Scott Calvin (aka Santa), has to leave the North Pole and go back home to deal with his son, now a teen getting into trouble (at a G-rated Disney level, that is). Oh, and while he's away, Scott has to get married (to "Mrs. Clause"). So he uses his North Pole toy machine to manufacture a stand-in Santa, who turns out to be a bit of a control freak.

"It's a simple movie, a Christmas movie," Allen says. "There's nobody getting killed. All [Disney] can do is mishandle it."

Allen, 49, is a strange choice to become, as he puts it with mixed feelings, "the Tom Cruise of kids' movies." His film career highlights include the original Santa Clause and looping the voice of Buzz Lightyear in both Toy Story movies, while his attempts at movies for grown-ups have included Big Trouble, Who Is Cletis Tout? and Joe Somebody, i.e., a string of box-office turkeys.

"I'm more comfortable in an adult situation," he admits. "But I know how to do this. If that's what my soldier's job is, to go take the hill and don't use any swear words and don't use any guns and hand out candy, then I'll do it really well."

Home Improvement was at the peak of its popularity in 1994 when Disney and Allen teamed up for the original Santa Clause. It took eight years to get the sequel made, but he's already talking about making it a trilogy, with SC3 focusing on what Santa does the rest of the year.

And, someday soon, he will return to stand-up, he says. He's been writing and dropping in unannounced to try out material at comedy clubs, but he's left all the old stuff behind.

"I still do the same kind of observational stuff, but it's like the revolution's over. That Iron John [stuff] went away. I had that `Men are pigs! Arh! Arh! Arh!' And now I don't have that.

"There's a point where you gotta grow up."

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