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How 'The Santa Clauses' Expands What You Think You Know About Tim Allen's North Pole

The Disney+ series will explore how Santa is 'not necessarily a person but a mantle that might get passed on,' executive producer Jason Winer said at D23 Expo.

Danielle Turchiano
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'The Santa Clauses'

Disney+

A film trilogy is big, but a six-episode series might just be bigger. For The Santa Clauses, the forthcoming Disney+ limited series continuing the beloved The Santa Clause film franchise from the 1990s and early aughts, it was bigger in the amount of footage they had to capture in one production schedule, bigger in the number of hours star Tim Allen had to spend in the hair and makeup trailer getting transformed into a Christmas icon, and bigger in stakes. Because in this story, Santa is going to have to find his successor — eventually.

In an exclusive clip screened during a panel for the series at the D23 Expo, Santa, aka the former Scott Calvin, tells his wife Mrs. Claus, the former Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) he had an incident where his magic didn't work. She tells him that happens (he is 65 after all), but he is concerned, so she suggests he retires.

"He's working so hard to be Santa and do everything right that the kids are growing up in the North Pole with other humans," Allen explained on stage. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore."

He begins the process of finding the next, new Santa by plucking men out of their homes and bringing them up to the North Pole for interviews. But because in the real world that is "kidnapping," Allen said with a laugh, Santa uses the magic that does still work for him to make sure they think it's a dream sequence. One of those potential new Santas is professional football player Peyton Manning, as was revealed in a teaser for the show released earlier during the expo. 

But as he goes along in that process, they also dig into the lore of how Santa is "not necessarily a person but a mantle that might get passed on," said executive producer Jason Winer

"I like watching Iron Man, but how did Iron Man really get in that suit? The first time when he's got to go to the bathroom — these are the kinds of questions I ask," Allen said.

And along those lines, the rest of the history of the North Pole, including the characters around Santa, will get further fleshed out, including a nugget you may have missed from the films that the location is under a dome of ice. Winer said there are quite a few "big, mythological choices made in the original films" that the series builds on it, using modern technology to "make even cooler."

Everyone remembers Carol, and in the time away from her, she has been raising two children born at the North Pole Elizabeth, the baby born in the final film in the trilogy and another who came later (played by Elizabeth Allen-Dick and Austin Kane). For the most part she has been going with the flow, but a little bit of the harder-nosed Carol you may remember from the films comes out, starting with her realizing Mrs. Claus (and so, now she) doesn't have one anymore.

The kids, meanwhile, have been growing up in the North Pole where they (as revealed via another clip) have been spying on people in the real world by sneaking peeks at snow globes in a restricted area in the workshop because they want to know what real kids and lives are like.

Allen shared that he originally wanted Allen-Dick, who is his real-life daughter, to avoid acting at her young age, but he thought it would be a fun surprise if she just appeared in a scene as an elf. She went through the audition process, which he said he stayed out of, and when he saw her reading lines, "it was the hardest acting I've ever done to not go, 'Yes!'" Needless to say, she got the role, and Allen added that he got to do an emotional scene with her when her character, Sandra, doesn't want to leave the North Pole, and that was a particularly special experience for him.

Living in a bubble is a challenge for both kids, but as Kane put it, at least for his character, "he's ill-equipped" to leave the North Pole, even though "he wants to be prepared for anything that comes his way." He likened the character to a Golden Retriever puppy.

"We were thrown into the deep end [with the family scenes]," Kane put it, noting that the first scene he and Allen-Dick shot was with Mitchell. "Us two yelling at each other. She basically broke my finger because I was yelling at her. We had the family dynamic down!" 

"I have a teenager, so for me, it was really a joy to have teenagers who listened to me. [They] were really respectful and wrote me thank-you notes," Mitchell said, adding that the more she would intensify angry reactions in scenes, Allen-Dick and Kane would react in kind. "I think I ramped it up on occasion, probably too much. ... On one occasion you looked genuinely scared, and I felt really powerful."

Santa has a strong support staff in the workshop, including the notable additions of Matilda Lawler as his chief of staff Betty and Devin Bright as his new right-hand man Noel.

"Betty's kind of the man behind the curtain. She's the one that's actually doing the work. She's just making sure everyone's doing what they're supposed to be doing, in control of everything, and also making sure Santa's doing what he's supposed to be doing," Lawler said. "I don't think 'fun' is in her vocabulary; I think it's more, 'I have to do this; this is my job,' and that's not a bad thing for her. It's her mission."

Winer showed Lawler Bebe Neuwirth's work on Cheers, which was became an inspiration for a more deadpan delivery.

"Noel is almost in love with Santa," Bright shared. "He's his favorite person in the world. He loves helping Santa, whether it's making sure everybody gets their gifts, is in the sleigh; it's his favorite thing to do."

And just because this is a family-friendly series doesn't mean there won't be conflict. Kal Penn called his character, inventor and single dad Simon Choksi, "Santa's nemesis." 

Simon starts out as a "top pick," Allen added for the position of Santa, in part because he understands giving from his high-powered, high-profile role in the tech world, but "the spirit of giving can get messed up a little bit with the spirit of capitalism," he noted. (But hey, it probably doesn't hurt that his initials are also S.C.!)

Penn explained it as: "His spirit gets hijacked by greed, and it's his relationship with his daughter that brings him back."

(His daughter Grace is played by Rupali Redd.)

And he's not the only seeming foil in this one: Laura San Giacomo plays a Christmas witch based on Italian folklore. "She lives in the Wobbly Woods that exist behind Santa's workshop," Winer said, circling back to how the series builds out the world of the North Pole further from the films.

However, Allen noted that, like Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, you may think "witch" is a villain in a Christmas movie, but there is a message baked within about assumptions and misunderstanding people.

The last time the audience saw The Santa Clause, it was more than years ago (the third film was released in 2006), and it's not only the Claus family that has changed. So, too, has the world, and the North Pole has adjusted accordingly. For example, they are no longer supposed to say the "naughty list." 

Revealed in a clip in the room at the expo, that is now the "misunderstood list, and they still get gifts."

Bernard (David Krumholtz) is also different: He used to be Santa's right-hand man, will be in this series in a guest-starring reprisal, no longer working for the big man in red in the same capacity. Eric Lloyd was also confirmed to be returning as Charlie, Scott's eldest son, and he is an adult now, which will change the dynamics between him and his father and step-mother exponentially.

"When you bring this stuff back, it ties it to the magic of the original," Allen said. "It's the sweetest story."

The Santa Clauses premieres Nov. 16 with its first two episodes on Disney+. Watch the first teaser here.