Nielsen Ratings: Santa Who? (2000) Review
Given his famously snow-white hair and twinkly-eyed charm, it’s a wonder that Leslie Nielsen didn’t play Santa Clause more often. In a sixty-year career spanning over one hundred films and one thousand, five hundred episodes of television in which he portrayed more than 220 characters, his Santa tally amounts to a total of twice. Of the two, “Santa Who?” – part of “The Wonderful World Of Disney” – is probably the better and makes you wonder what he could have done with the role in, say, a “Miracle on 34th Street” or “The Santa Clause”.
Feeling a bit poorly, Santa (Nielsen) decides to get a bit of fresh air and takes the sleigh out for a pre-Christmas flight. Unfortunately, he hits some bad weather and falls out, landing in Los Angeles and losing his memory. He’s discovered by a cynical TV reporter who sees an opportunity for a feel-good holiday piece by reuniting the befuddled old geezer with his family. However, the TV reporter’s girlfriend’s son starts to believe the old man is the real Santa Claus.
It’s hard to ignore the broad similarities between “Santa Who?” and “Miracle On 34th Street”, especially given the film itself namechecks it more than once. Fortunately, Nielsen’s natural warmth and charisma helps imbue the film with the requisite amount of Christmas magic and while it’s as corny and predictable as can be, he manages to make it a fun watch. There’s not so much in the way of deadpan dialogue or even his trademark slapstick so it’s a chance for him to show a more subtle, empathetic side to his acting and he delivers everything you could want from an on-screen Santa.
The rest of the cast are decent enough for this kind of TV movie fare and even the child lead manages to avoid the overly saccharine or sarcastic tropes common in this kind of movie. The effects are decent, and the script has more than a few adorable set pieces which work well within the film’s limits. There are a few repeated cutaway scenes which initially seem intrusive and bafflingly disruptive, but they do eventually pay off in the end.
It’s cosy, familiar, Christmassy entertainment for the holidays and while it’s got no claim to being one of the seasonal classics, it’s got enough energy and fun to keep the family entertained for an afternoon snuggled under a blanket with some hot chocolate.
Nielsen Rating 5/10