“The Santa Clauses” doesn’t bother trying to reinvent the sleigh, but it does splash a new coat of paint on it, in mostly agreeable and mildly clever ways. After three movies over a 12-year span beginning in 1994, Tim Allen is back in a Disney+ series that, at six half-hour episodes, puts some additional cheer in holiday streaming.
Having stumbled into the job, Allen’s Santa, née Scott Calvin, has settled into it, presiding over his elfin empire with Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) and their kids (Austin Kane and Elizabeth Allen-Dick, the latter of whom is Allen’s real-life daughter). Not that the North Pole isn’t nice, but the younger Calvins have grown up shielded from the wider world, and in the older one’s case, more than a little curious about it.
Accustomed to things going off without a hitch, Santa experiences a few disconcerting hiccups on his latest round of deliveries, confessing to his comically loyal elf sidekick, Noel (Devin Bright), “My magic may have failed me.”
After briefly trying to hide his gift-giving dysfunction, Santa begins to contemplate retirement, but of course that means finding a potential replacement. Given that his story intercuts with that of a toy tech developer, Simon Choksi (Kal Penn), a single dad with troubles at work, it doesn’t require a PhD. in English lit to see where this might be heading.
Still, producer/showrunner Jack Burditt (a veteran of “Modern Family” and “30 Rock”) does fill his bags with some surprises, and “The Santa Clauses” does a nifty job of cliffhanging its episodes, even the ones that drag a bit, to pull the audience along from one into the next.
There’s also an overall playfulness to the proceedings, not only in terms of drawing upon material and characters from the previous movies (the last came out in 2006) but contemporizing the message, which includes kids becoming more jaded amid the wanton consumerism of this one-click-shopping age. In addition, some of the jokes, from a Bigfoot-inspired visual gag to one playing off the 1987 movie “The Untouchables,” clearly aren’t afraid to sail over the younger demo’s heads.
Saying the show works nevertheless requires a few qualifiers, with too much reliance on humor about the ageless elves (played by kids) and too much time devoted to the Calvin progeny, in a Disney Channel-ish sort of way that can’t help but feel like reheated leftovers.
Still, “The Santa Clause” is one of those concepts almost ideally suited to this sort of made-for-streaming revival, with equity from the previous movies but no real need at this point to pad that theatrical trio into a quartet.
Allen, notably, was at the height of his sitcom stardom in “Home Improvement” when the first movie premiered, followed a year later by “Toy Story.” His association with Disney, in other words, goes back more than 30 years and has been mutually beneficial and then some.
“The Santa Clauses” extends that relationship, in a festive package that’s bright, colorful and unburdened by loftier pretensions – just the kind of easy lift that should deliver a few good nights.
“The Santa Clauses” premieres November 16 on Disney+.