Scott Calvin and Laura have gotten divorced. Their son, Charlie, lives with Laura and her new husband, a psychiatrist named Neil Miller. This year Charlie will reluctantly spend Christmas with Scott. Late Christmas Eve, Charlie hears noise on the roof and wakes Scott. Scott goes outside to investigate and sees Santa walking on the roof. Scott startles Santa, who falls and disappears. Over the next year, Scott becomes Santa to the delight of Charlie but to the consternation of Laura, Neil, and other concerned adults.
The Adoption Connection
Some children are adopted by a step-parent. Charlie is not adopted by Neil, but many relevant interpersonal dynamics are seen between Scott and Laura, and between Scott and Neil. Scott and Laura bicker in front of Charlie, and Scott talks negatively about Neil. Charlie expresses a strong preference to be with Laura instead of Scott. Laura, Scott, and Charlie all compare Scott and Neil as fathers. These dynamics – of preference, bitterness, bickering, and competition – can occur in foster, adoptive, step, or really, any family.
At a “bring your parent to school” day we see a teacher struggle with their situation. Both Neil and Scott are present, and the teacher is unsure how to refer to Neil. She ultimately goes with “your, um, Dr. Miller.”
Towards the end of the movie, Scott acknowledges that he, Laura, Charlie, and Neil are all part of a family and need to be respectful of each other. Eventually, the adults do learn how to co-exist with each other in matters involving Charlie.
The Santa Clause is a fun, feel-good movie that shows a distant father becoming more accessible to his child and more cooperative with his ex-wife. But the film comes close to mirroring dynamics of similar real-life situations. It almost feels like a cinematized version of the fantasy of a child who’s neglected by one parent.
Many children with absent parents fantasize about that parent. Sometimes the fantasies are negative - a child might believe that it’s their fault that the parent isn’t around. Other times, the child develops fantastic stories about the absent parent. One foster child told me that his absent father was away because he was a super hero fighting crime. This movie portrays that fantasy as true. Later, Scott even seeks Charlie’s permission to be absent, to go be Santa Claus. Charlie acknowledges that he must let Scott go, and “can’t be selfish.”
It’s cute in the movie, but it does reflect a dynamic that happens in many families, be they adoptive families, families touched by divorce, or families where one or both parents are over-committed to their jobs or ministries.
A stereotypical line for absent parents is that they’re out “trying to find themselves” or “figure out who they are.” Unselfish Charlie addresses this directly and tells Scott, “I know who you are, and you’ll figure it out soon enough.” When Scott is with Charlie, he tells Charlie to keep the North Pole a secret, because Neil, Laura, and the school would not understand. Scott’s visitation rights get suspended, and then Scott abducts Charlie. He gets arrested but is broken out of jail. Shortly afterwards, Laura gives him permission to leave with Charlie.
From one point of view, the film is about Scott, a man who finds a heart, grows closer to his son, and finds healing with his family through the magic of becoming Santa Claus. But from another point of view, the film is about Charlie, a young boy with divorced parents who is distant from his rather disinterested father. Charlie starts to become interested in his father, but then is asked to selflessly let his father go take care of other people, other responsibilities, other interests. In the movie, he’s happy about it. In real life, he probably wouldn’t be. So often, children have to be more mature than their age would suggest in order to compensate for their parents. Either that, or they develop fantasies to explain why life isn’t as it should be, sometimes blaming themselves or acting out.
Neil suggests that Charlie would make a good psychiatrist, but Charlie declines, saying that he’s going to go “into the family business.” This suggests that, even though Scott has acknowledged Neil as part of the family, Charlie really thinks that Neil isn’t as much a part of the family as Scott is.
This movie could be helpful in situations where a child has multiple families, whether the circumstances are caused by divorce and remarriage as in this film, or by adoption. Scott is often absent from Charlie. Initially this is because he is over-committed to work and later because he becomes Santa Claus. Parents could use this film to enter into discussions about the child’s perception of and feelings toward the absence of a parent.
Questions for Discussion
* Why didn’t Charlie want to spend Christmas with Scott? * Why did Charlie start liking to be with Scott? * Not every dad can become Santa Claus. What can other dads do to get along better with their kids?
* Are your children hurt by an absence in their lives? How do they show it? Might they be hiding it? * What explanation has your child created for the absence? What explanation have you created?
This review was originally published on Reel Spirituality.