As the years progress, writers are becoming ever more creative about who Santa is, what he does and yes, importantly how he does it, and what happens when he decides that he’s had enough of the toy giving game and it’s time to hand over to someone younger, more agile and more inventive.
One of the most enjoyably imaginative takes on this very crowded part of the Christmas story genre was last year’s Dutch film, The Claus Family, which positioned Santa Claus as a relatively ordinary old man, Noël Claus (Jan Decleir), who leads a secret life in order to fulfill his festive obligations.
Almost acting like an red-draped Batman, Noël isn’t allowed to tell anyone who he really is, stealing off to the North Pole with the use of a snowglobe-shaped teleportation device – consider the how of that physics and time-defying Christmas Eve feat duly solved, and with Star Trek nowhere in sight – which allows him to come and go without anyone seeing him.
For reasons not ever explained – perhaps the magic is diluted if you say anything to anyone? – he has to stay full Secret Squirrel on his real identity, a burden which means he must do his job alone and which ends up costing him his wife (quite how is left to the viewing but it is moving).
The only one in on the secret is his teenage grandson, Jules (Mo Bakker) who is chosen as Noël’s successor in the first film, selected at a relatively young age after the untimely death of Jules’ dad and Noël’s son who was the new Claus and festively good at it.
Caught up, like his grandfather, in the emotionally chaotic aftermath of his dad’s death, a subject explored with great sensitivity and thought in the first film, Jules is reluctant to take it on at first but by the end of that film, and certainly in The Claus Family 2, he accepts the mantle of Santa: The Next Generation.
While it’s somewhat baffling that there’s a great big block of misogyny at the heart of Santa’s succession which skews far too much to the testosterone side of things, it means that the film has an opportunity for the kind of narrative discord that’s needed to carry along a film that inhabits a very happy genre indeed (normally, anyway).
One other thing fuelling angst in the storyline this time around is that Jules, being a head strong teenager who thinks he knows better than the man who’s done the job for decades, decides to reinvent the way Santa fulfills people’s Christmas wishes in direct contravention of established practice.
While Noël welcomes innovation, and champion his son’s attempts to remark Santa in a new modern image, there is one thing he can’t countenance and that’s answering the wishes of those who ask for intangible things such as people getting better from sickness or parents being brought back together like those of Jules’ neighbours across the snowy, impossibly picturesque inner-city laneway they call home.
His small sweet neighbour, a little girl called Marie (Jasmina Fall) is caught between feuding parents, department store magnate Steven (Everon Jackson Hooi) and Tine (Lauren Müller) who are so estranged they refuse to even see each other at handover.
It’s an emotionally fractious place for Marie and in desperation she writes to Santa begging him to bring her warring parents back together again; Jules finds the letter in the laneway after Marie is picked up by her dad before Christmas and decides they need to do something about answering it if they can.
Noël, however, won’t have a bar of it, but Jules is determined to help out Marie, for completely selfless reasons, and so begins subterfuge in the midst of Santa’s ongoing identity subterfuge where Jules, aided and abetted by four of the North Poles’ key elves – taciturn preset admin chief Holger (Stefaan Degand), thoughtfully cautious 2IC Assa (Janne Desmet), irrepressibly excitable Gunna (Eva van der Gucht) and timid IKka (Josje Huisman) – sets out to give his diminutive friend her Yuletide happy ending.
Now we all know that the affairs of the human heart, whether it’s grief over a loved one or the trauma of being caught in the middle of a toxically broken relationship, cannot be fixed by things, and Jules is smart enough to try that, but then neither are they healed by hijinks and hilarious happenstance.
Jules tries the latter, which results in lots of fun and games for The Claus Family 2, which is enjoyable but nowhere near as emotionally impactful as the first film despite its most valiant efforts, but it doesn’t have the desired effect, either in reuniting Steven and Trine or in generating the emotional weight that made las year’s effort such an affecting exploration of grief and loss.
It’s entertaining sure, even if the romantic subplot featuring Jules’s mum Suzanne’s new cookie shop and possible new guy – teehee her family member’s think her gay betsie, whom they don’t know is gay, would make a great new husband; cue hilarious shenanigans which are stopped in their tracks by a neatly timed kiss – feels a little half-hearted and forced, and it ensures that as sequels go, The Claus Family 2 has just enough fun and emotional nous to keep you engaged and feeling seasonally on point.
Caught in a somewhat overblown attempts to be as engagingly sweet and heartfelt as its predecessor, The Claus Family 2 doesn’t quite hit the festive spot but it is still a fairytale wonder of a film that gives us lavish decorations, cute-as-a-button cookie shop, snow-dusted laneways and a tussle between the old and the new, not powered by defiance but by lingering grief, the admission of which brings everyone closer together, makes sure the Santa legacy is shored up for the future, and gives everyone a warm glow of a Christmas finish to proceedings which proves that while Santa can’t do everything, he can make Christmas merry and bright, especially if the rest of the family are along for the ride.