In the early 1990s, the Walt Disney Company used its Hollywood Pictures production banner to take a chance on a first-time movie star trying to transition from TV, a TV director looking for his first feature film credit, and two comedians who’d been working to become screenwriters. The result was one of the most enduringly popular Christmas movies of all time, but making The Santa Clause wasn’t as simple as getting the go-ahead from the House of Mouse. From deleted subplots to a very different original opening to a Santa suit so bad it almost made Tim Allen start a fight, here are 14 facts about the making of The Santa Clause for its 25th anniversary.
1. The Santa Clause wasn’t the movie's original title.
Though it didn’t make it to movie theaters until the holiday season of 1994, the story of The Santa Clause actually begins all the way back in 1989, with the comedy duo of Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick. Though they were earning livings as touring comics, Benvenuti and Rudnick were growing weary of life on the road and began trying to stretch their knack for writing short comedy scenes into something a little more substantial. It was Rudnick who came into the duo’s office one day with the hook that would become The Santa Clause.
“I said ‘Leo, I had a thought last night,’” Rudnick recalled. “’What if you killed Santa Claus and you had to be Santa Claus? Is there a movie in that?’”
Though they had no experience in featuring filmmaking at that point, Rudnick and Benvenuti set to work on expanding the initial concept into a screenplay, which they began shopping around under the original title of Such a Clatter.
2. The revision process on The Santa Clause was long.
As they began shopping around their script, which eventually earned its final title of The Santa Clause, Rudnick and Benvenuti found an interested party in Outlaw Productions, a relatively new company looking to expand its offerings. Outlaw executives saw tremendous promise in the screenplay, and optioned the film for $10,000. They also saw a lot of issues that needed addressing, and a major rewrite process began.
“They gave us a list of notes. We thought notes were like a checklist, so we went through the screenplay and we put in every note they gave us,” Rudnick recalled.
“And the script was horrible,” Benvenuti added.
Eventually, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Walt Disney Company division Hollywood Pictures partnered with Outlaw on the film, and the casting of Tim Allen created nearly a yearlong delay as he went off to shoot the new season of Home Improvement. That meant more time for rewrites, this time to further cement the film as a family Christmas comedy in the Disney vein. To achieve this, Allen invited Benvenuti and Rudnick on tour with him, and Katzenberg drafted screenwriter Janet Brownell to add more emotion to the story.
Eventually, they arrived at a shooting script, four years after Benvenuti and Rudnick’s initial concept. Among the key additions to the film during the revision process: Scott Calvin’s son Charlie, which helped add to The Santa Clause’s emerging family dynamic.
3. Tom Hanks and Tom Selleck were considered to play Scott Calvin in The Santa Clause.
As The Santa Clause was beginning to look for talent, Tim Allen was a stand-up comedian who’d only recently made the transition to acting with his hit TV series Home Improvement, which was itself heavily based on his stand-up act. Aware that they had a hit on their hands with the Disney-produced series, executives began looking for a vehicle that would allow Allen to make the leap to the big screen at a time when TV stars didn’t have an easy time doing that. Allen, also eager to see if he could also be a movie star, came across The Santa Clause and was struck by it as a special story. He called Katzenberg to express interest, and Katzenberg came to see the project as the perfect debut feature film for Allen.
Though there was some skepticism as to whether Allen could make the film a success on the basis of his TV fame, producers ultimately agreed that he was the right choice, but not before looking at other options. Among the other actors considered for the role of Scott Calvin were Tom Selleck and Allen’s future Toy Story co-star, Tom Hanks.
4. Santa met a darker demise in the original script for The Santa Clause.
The first draft of the film that would become The Santa Clause was built on the hook of what would happen if a person killed Santa and then had to take his job. That’s a dark premise, and it turns out that before Jeffrey Katzenberg and The Walt Disney Company got their hands on the script, the story was even darker. In the final film, Santa dies because he slips and falls off Scott Calvin’s roof after Scott startles him, but in earlier drafts he fell off the roof not because he was startled, but because Scott shot him with a shotgun.
“Actually I winged him in the original script,” Allen recalled. “He fell and broke his neck.”
Katzenberg, nervous about opening a movie with such a gruesome catalyst, advised a different approach.
5. John Pasquin was hesitant about directing The Santa Clause.
With Allen in place as the film’s star, the producers of The Santa Clause set about looking for a director to helm the project. Names like Ron Howard and Steve Rash were thrown around as contenders, but John Pasquin’s name kept coming up as a possibility despite his lack of feature film experience. Pasquin had plenty of experience working with Allen, having directed the pilot and the first season of Home Improvement, and while Allen was eager to team up with him for The Santa Clause, Pasquin initially turned the project down.
“I had been working on Home Improvement, dealing with kids, for a year and a half,” Pasquin said. “I had thought that I would like to do a more grown-up piece of material.”
Allen persisted in his desire to see Pasquin in the director’s chair, but it was the director’s wife, actress JoBeth Williams, who may have been the deciding vote. After reading the script, Williams told her husband it was “going to be a classic,” and encouraged him to sign on.
6. Many stars were considered to play Laura and Neal in The Santa Clause.
With Allen set to star and Pasquin in the director’s chair, The Santa Clause production set about finding a supporting cast for the film. Pasquin was particularly interested in surrounding his unproven movie star with seasoned professionals, in the hope that they would elevate Allen’s screen acting game. That meant some serious talent had to be secured to play Scott Calvin’s ex-wife Laura, and her new husband Neal.
For Laura, Pasquin needed an actress that could go toe-to-toe with Allen, and he and casting director Renee Rousselot considered everyone from Patricia Clarkson to Patricia Heaton to Kate Burton. Canadian actress Wendy Crewson ultimately won the role.
For Neal, the production needed a comedic foil for Allen who could play straight against Allen’s comedy while also getting a little silly. Pasquin and Rousselot considered Jeff Daniels, Bradley Whitford, and Stanley Tucci before choosing Judge Reinhold, best known for 1980s hits like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Beverly Hills Cop.
7. John Pasquin made the decision to cast the children as elves in The Santa Clause.
One of the most intriguing storytelling decisions in The Santa Clause, and one that sets it apart from certain other big-screen visions of The North Pole, was the idea that Santa’s elves looked eternally youthful and were centuries-old beings with the faces of children. That was Pasquin’s idea, one which helped to inform other key design decisions in the film.
“Here’s a chance to surround this guy who has no connection with children in his life, he’s a father who is separated from his kid, and here’s a chance to surround him with children,” Pasquin explained.
Of course, the decision was not without its drawbacks. The children couldn’t work the same hours as the adults in the cast, and because many of them were quite young, some of them were convinced that Tim Allen actually was Santa, and were eager to touch him while he was in uncomfortable makeup and a fat suit. Allen, according to Wendy Crewson, also occasionally had to be separated from the young actors because he’d get carried away with his kidding around, and the material would sometimes be a little too adult-oriented.
8. The Santa Clause was filmed in the spring, which made snow a problem.
Though The Santa Clause takes place largely in December in the Midwest, the film was shot in the late spring and early summer of 1994 in Toronto, which at the time was enjoying some particularly warm weather. That meant the crew had to work hard, especially in exterior shots, to make the film look wintry.
According to co-producer William W. Wilson III, creating the film’s winter look meant testing several different types of artificial snow, including paper-based and potato-based products and even marble dust. The crew was so determined to cover as much of the landscape in “snow” as they could that they also resorted to snow blankets, one of which can be seen slipping free of its place on the roof in the shot where Santa slips and falls.
9. The Santa Clause's makeup process was grueling.
One of the great technical challenges of making The Santa Clause was coming up with a believable way to make Tim Allen look like Kris Kringle while still looking recognizably like Tim Allen the TV star. This was achieved through a series of facial prosthetics, including pieces for Allen’s chin, cheeks, and forehead, which would plump out his face while preserving key features. There was also the beard, the white hair, and the fat suit, which Allen often had to wear for long shooting days in a non-air-conditioned warehouse in the middle of a Toronto heat wave.
At the peak of his Santa transformation, Allen was spending four hours in the makeup chair each morning, and two hours in the chair each evening in order to remove all of that makeup. The smothering quality of the makeup, combined with the heat and the long shooting days, meant that Allen ultimately developed rather severe heat blisters on the back of his neck, to the point that a dermatologist warned him not to get back in the suit. Allen soldiered on, but it did create certain tension on the set.
10. The Santa Clause’s treadmill scene nearly led to a fight.
Many days on The Santa Clause were difficult for Allen, but one day in particular almost led to a physical confrontation between him and Pasquin. For the scene in which Scott Calvin visits his doctor and takes a treadmill stress test, Allen had to be fitted with a fake chest and belly that would realistically jiggle as he ran. According to Allen, the piece weighed nearly 50 pounds, and was far from comfortable.
“It looked real, but it was glued to my shoulders, and as it moved it was just ripping skin,” he recalled.
To make matters worse, the scene was shot at the end of a long shooting day, and it was well after midnight when Allen was told he had one more shot to do. According to Pasquin, Allen would spend his time between takes swearing and yelling that he had to get off the set.
11. A whole Charlie subplot was cut from The Santa Clause.
When shooting was completed on The Santa Clause, Pasquin and his team began working throughout the rest of the summer and fall of 1994 to make the film’s November release date. As visual effects shots were being finished, executives also put an assembly cut of the film together to begin test screening it for both Disney executives and test audiences. As those screenings progressed, one key issue emerged: The movie was too long. It was such a prevalent note that then-Disney head Michael Eisner himself summed it up by saying “Cut out every scene that Tim Allen is not in.”
In the original cut of The Santa Clause, a significant chunk of the two-hour runtime was devoted to Scott’s son Charlie, who spent the year in between Christmases struggling with his own belief in his father even as the people around him didn’t believe. As Pasquin set about cutting down the film to a more manageable 90 minutes, he realized Charlie’s scenes, including some in which he’s bullied for his belief in Santa, had to go. The result was a film that focused even more on Allen as the clear star, and came in at a more manageable length for a family comedy.
12. Santa’s coat caused audio problems for The Santa Clause.
As if the tremendous physical discomfort of his Santa makeup and fat suit weren’t trouble enough on the set of The Santa Clause, Allen has also had to deal with problems caused by his wardrobe. He later recalled that the velvet Santa Claus coat that was made for him in the film was so elaborate that it was actually covered with tiny bells, which made noise when he walked around the set. This created so many audio issues that many of his Santa scenes had to be redubbed later.
“I ADRed most of that film because people [said], ‘What’s all that ringing?’ And it was me walking,” Allen said.
13. Eric Lloyd had to wear fake teeth in The Santa Clause.
Eric Lloyd didn’t have to dress up in a Santa suit in order to play his role as Charlie Calvin, but he did face another slightly inconvenient prosthetics issue on The Santa Clause set. Early on in production, Lloyd’s two front bottom teeth fell out while he was at a hockey game with his family, leaving producers in a tough position while the young actor’s orthodontist engineered a set of false teeth for him.
“The montage sequence where they're getting [Scott Calvin] ready for his first Christmas, there's a scene where we're dancing down the hallway. That scene had to get pushed up in production because I had knocked my teeth out the night before,” Lloyd said.
Once the false teeth were ready, Lloyd wore them for the rest of the production.
14. The Santa Clause originally contained a number for a real sex line.
Though numerous rewrites made The Santa Clause into a family-friendly holiday comedy that’s still beloved by kids, it was also still a Tim Allen movie, and featured a few off-color jokes thrown in here and there that adults would get while their children wouldn’t. It turns out that one such joke hit a little too close to certain homes, though—so close that Disney ended up removing from it from home video releases of the film in the late 1990s.
In the deleted moment (which you can see above), when Laura drops Charlie off at Scott’s house for Christmas, she also gives him the phone number for Neal’s mother’s house so he can call if he needs her. Scott takes the piece of paper and quips “1-800-SPANK-ME. I know that number!” It didn’t take long for Disney to start receiving complaints that some kids had actually dialed the number, which led to an actual working phone sex line, which is why you won’t find the joke on any new Blu-ray releases of the film.
Inside Story: The Santa Clause (2011)