Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is a divorced father and ad executive with a young son, Charlie. On Christmas Eve, Charlie comes over to spend the night with Scott before going back to his mother's for Christmas Day. That night, they are awakened by a clatter on the roof. Going outside to investigate, Scott can see someone on the roof. He yells at the trespasser, which causes the man to lose his balance and fall to his death. He appears to be Santa Claus.
Santa magically disappears after his fatal fall, but his familiar red and white suit remains. Scott and Charlie find a card in a pocket which reads If something should happen to me, put on my suit. The reindeer will know what to do. Santa's sleigh and eight reindeer are found perched atop the house. Scott puts on the suit to please Charlie, and begins delivering toys from rooftop to rooftop.
Their final stop is the North Pole. The head elf, Bernard (David Krumholtz), shows Scott a tiny inscription on the card which says that, upon the death of the previous occupant, whoever wears the suit assumes the identity of Santa Claus and all the responsibilities that go with it. This is the "Santa Clause", as stated by Bernard: "You put on the suit, you're the big guy." (In other words, whether Scott likes it or not, he is now Santa Claus for life!) He also gives Charlie a snow globe. Then, he meets an elf named Judy who tells Scott that he only has eleven months, until the next Thanksgiving to get his affairs in order before becoming Santa Claus full-time, which he tries to refuse. Charlie and he spend the night at the factory. The next morning they awake back in Scott's home, where the only indication of their previous night's adventure is Scott's new silk pajamas with "SC" (Santa Claus or Scott Calvin) monogrammed on them. Scott dismisses it all as a dream.
Soon, however, Scott starts gaining weight and his boss, Mr. Whittle (Peter Boyle), likens him to the Pillsbury Doughboy. He develops a ravenous taste for Christmas treats, like Christmas cookies and hot cocoa. He grows a long gray beard, and shaving it off has no effect; it regrows instantly. His hair whitens, despite all attempts to dye it. He somehow knows who has been "naughty" and "nice". Children (who somehow know he's Santa despite Scott not dressing the part) approach him with gift requests. Scott's rapid transformation worries his ex-wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), and her new husband, psychiatrist Dr. Neil Miller (Judge Reinhold), who try to terminate his visitation rights to Charlie. They question Scott's mental stability, and believe that his changes are attempts at getting Charlie to like him.
Eventually, Scott's visitation rights to Charlie are taken away. Disheartened, Scott begins to lose some of his certainty about his job as Santa. While visiting Charlie on Thanksgiving, Charlie's insistence that Scott is Santa reawakens Scott's magic and he, with Bernard's help, whisks Charlie away to the North Pole. Laura and Neil, who think Scott has kidnapped Charlie against his will, call the police, who make a massive investigation.
Meanwhile, at the North Pole, Charlie helps Scott and the elves perfect a new sled and communication devices. He calls occasionally, but this only reinforces Laura and Neil's belief that he is being held against his will. Eventually, Scott, as Santa Claus, goes on with his Christmas Eve trip, but is arrested while delivering presents to Charlie's home, and is accused of kidnapping him. A team of rescue-elves, the ELFS, free Scott from jail by tying up the front desk guard and using tinsel to break through the bars (which Scott is very impressed by), and fly Scott and Charlie home to his parents, to whom Scott/Santa gives the presents they always wanted since childhood but never got: Laura gets a vintage Mystery Date game and Neil gets an Oscar Mayer "Wienie Whistle". (It was because of them not getting these presents that they became convinced Santa didn't exist.)
Laura, realizing finally that Scott really is the new Santa, tosses the custody papers into the fireplace and welcomes Scott to come see Charlie any time he wants. Bernard tells Charlie that the snow globe is magic. Anytime he wants his father to visit, all he has to do is shake it. After ten minutes, he shakes it and Scott comes back, says he was off to Cleveland, and takes Charlie with him.
- Tim Allen as Scott Calvin/Santa Claus
- Eric Lloyd as Charlie Calvin
- Judge Reinhold as Neil Miller
- Wendy Crewson as Laura Miller
- David Krumholtz as Bernard the Head Elf
- Larry Brandenburg as Det. Nunzio
- Mary Gross as Miss Daniels
- Paige Tamada as Judy
- Peter Boyle as Mr. Whittle
- Kerrigan Mahan and Frank Welker as Reindeer (voices)
The film grossed over USD $144 million in the United States alone and over $189 million worldwide.
The film was generally well received by critics, and maintains a "Certified Fresh" rating of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 32 positive reviews from 40 counted and an average rating of 6.2/10. The consensus from the site is "The Santa Clause is utterly undemanding, but it's firmly rooted in the sort of good old-fashioned holiday spirit missing from too many modern yuletide films."
The film's soundtrack, which contains mostly the score composed by Michael Convertino, was released on November 11, 1994 in the United States. It is the only film in The Santa Clause trilogy to be scored by that composer.
- Come Together
- Immgrint Song
- All I Want for Christmas is You
- Let's Go
- Believing Is Seeing
- Sash Completes the Ensemble
- Away to the Window
- Bells of Christmas
- Goodnight, Goodnight...Don't Forget the Fire Extinguisher
- Visitation - The Drifters
- Rose Suchak Ladder
- Give Me All Your Loving - ZZ Top
- List - Loreena McKennitt
- Elves with Attitude
- Someone in Wrapping
- Near Capture
- Comfort and Joy
- Not Over Any Oceans
- Christmas Will Return
VHS and DVD
The popularity of the film spawned two related sequels, The Santa Clause 2 in 2002 and Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause in 2006. Much of the character cast remains the same for each film, but with some additions.
In The Santa Clause 2, Scott has been declared to be the best Santa ever, but with Charlie on the naughty list and the work becoming more hectic, he learns he must find a suitable wife or give up his duties as Santa.
- Despite its PG rating, several scenes were cut from the film's Freeform broadcasts, including the scene where Scott (while still transforming into Santa) shows his enlarged chest to the dietitian (possibly due to a confusion with nudity).