The real hero of The Santa Clause is Charlie's mom, Laura (a.k.a. TV and movie icon Wendy Crewson)
And not because of her perfect chin-length bob
Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the '90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).
In 1994, a Christmas movie premiered that quickly came to define the holiday season, The Santa Clause — a film about a wee boy named Charlie (Eric Lloyd) who's trying to adjust to his parents' divorce. But ... there's a twist.
When spending Christmas Eve with his dad Scott (Tim Allen), Charlie watches as Santa slips off the roof and dies, leaving Scott to don Santa's suit and deliver his presents. What no one knows is that by wearing the suit, Scott has entered into a contract with the North Pole which forces him to become Santa Claus until he himself perishes. Of course, nobody believes Charlie, nobody believes Scott and Scott's estranged wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), is soon painted as the story's bad guy because she believes their claims are some strange cry for help.
As a child, I hated Laura. I hated her sweater-loving fiance, Neal (Judge Reinhold). I hated that she didn't seem to believe in the magic of the holidays and I hated that she claimed to care about Charlie while not letting him hang out with Father Christmas. Laura, with her sleek and perfect chin-length bob, represented every adult who wouldn't let kids have candy for dinner, who said, "We'll see," when they asked to buy something fun from the mall and who foiled the plans of anybody fun-loving because whatever they were about wasn't "sensible." She was like the supply teacher who stuck to the lesson plan and wouldn't let the class watch a movie. And even though she was "redeemed" by the movie's end after watching Santa in action, I resented that it took her that long. Laura was obviously not on Charlie's side and I feared that if my parents saw the movie, they'd do the same if either of them was forced to morph into Santa.
But a quarter century is a long time. And as we celebrate The Santa Clause's 25th anniversary, I've not only come to see it as a story that scares me to my very core (what fuckery traps you into being Santa forever?); I've come to see it as the story of a heroine trying her best amidst absolute madness. Laura, dear reader, is a queen.
I'm not just saying this because of her bob, because of her iconic red sweater or because Canada's own Wendy Crewson is a TV and movie icon. (I mean, hi: among the freakish number of roles she's taken on, the woman also played the First Lady in Air Force One. And if you remember that film — which I do almost daily because it was incredible — you know that she certainly wasn't some meek second fiddle to Harrison Ford's fist-toting president.) Instead, I say it because she's the only grown-up with common sense. She makes and then sticks to rules. She's not bewitched by the pressure to succumb to holiday lore, and instead makes the choice any of us would in her position: upon realizing her ex-husband truly believes that he's Santa, she clocks it as a red flag and takes the steps to ensure her only child is protected accordingly. Does Neal do the same? Yes, but his own bias against Scott makes plotting Scott's demise a higher priority than Charlie's well-being. Laura makes the tough choices and you can tell that it breaks her heart to do it.
In a story populated entirely by children, elves or Tim Allen, Laura stands firm to represent the only anchor holding her world together.- Anne T. Donahue
The thing is, The Santa Clause is a movie designed to perpetuate the glory of Christmas and the reputation of Tim Allen as a fun family guy, circa 1994. (Remember: the power of Home Improvement was once strong and unparalleled.) And it's also meant to use the holiday as a vehicle through which Scott Calvin is transformed from a career-obsessed rich person into a man who realizes how important family and selflessness are. Its message is very straightforward (see: don't be terrible), but that message also relies on the audience cheering for its male lead. And while it's a little funny to watch Tim Allen evolve into North America's idea of what Santa looks like, it's less funny when you realize that we don't see the parts of his life that led to the demise of his marriage, that led to him being so self-centred or that led to him honing a reputation as a largely absentee dad. Ultimately, we only ever see Scott through the eyes of his son. And because of that logic, Laura is framed as the villain, the fun police — or the woman who calls the actual police because she thinks her ex-husband has abducted Charlie.
The Santa Clause is the real nightmare before Christmas. And if I were Laura, after discovering that my ex-husband really was Santa Claus and I had doubted my child in a way that upset him so profoundly that he ran away from me to hang in the North Pole, I would collapse in on myself like a dying star because everything I knew was obviously a lie. (Also, imagine this conversation: "Oh, Charlie's visiting Scott? What does Scott do, again?" — "Oh, my ex-husband? He's Santa Claus." No. Goodbye.) But instead, Laura adjusts. She apologizes to Charlie for doubting him. She accepts the circumstances and tells her fiance to do the same. She, again, boasts a powerful haircut. She is the only actual adult we meet at any point throughout the movie.
And that makes her the hero. In a story populated entirely by children, elves or Tim Allen, Laura stands firm to represent the only anchor holding her world together. She is tired of nonsense. She is trying her best. She loves her son and doesn't want to see him get hurt or be disappointed. She is wearing a red sweater that is equal parts festive and sensible. She is exactly all the things I resented as a child but have now come to value as an adult. She is a holiday hero, and as a Canadian, she is our holiday hero — one who, for the record, eclipses Santa himself. Because try as he might, dude will never be able to carry off a cable knit that well.