Veteran actor Tim Allen has been unashamedly devoted to keeping Christ in Christmas this year, especially in his new Christmas series on Disney+, The Santa Clauses, and despite our differences, what the world needs now as the new year approaches is more people like Allen.
Christmas Day 2022 has come and gone, and just outside the windows of millions of Americans today, the winds have been howling, and ice and snow cover every surface–flat and slanted–around them. In many places, the weather was so extraordinarily outside of seasonal norms that many were left without electricity, as power grids failed.
In addition to the dangerous winter weather some have experienced across the country, the stock market seems like a taunting game of Russian Roulette as the threat of an impending recession hovers in the air like a dense fog. Across the Atlantic, Russia and Ukraine barrel toward the one-year mark on their fighting as casualties continue to mount up, and here at home, the United States is seeing a sharp rise in the number of influenza cases across all demographics–some cases very severe. And just two days before Christmas, the lives of three innocent human beings at a cultural center in Paris, France, were stolen from them, from their families, from their friends, and from their communities.
On the same day as the Paris attacks, six teenagers were involved in a physical altercation that escalated, resulting in the murder of a 19-year-old man at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
In Haiti, an outbreak of cholera that began in October 2022 has now been responsible for nearly 20,000 suspected cases in the country, and the first vaccines against the disease have only become available in the past few days. On Christmas Eve, a shooting in a British pub left one dead and three injured.
Perhaps Pope Francis said it best during his Christmas Day message, when he characterized the world as “suffering from a famine of peace.” And perhaps planet earth would see less of such a famine if Tim Allen and those like him weren’t immediately silenced because their views buck the status quo.
In his latest project for Disney+, Allen reprises his role as Scott Calvin and Santa Claus in a new spinoff from Disney’s The Santa Clause film franchise, which began with the first installment in 1994. Subscribers began streaming the first and second episodes of The Santa Clauses on November 16, and a new episode dropped every Wednesday after that, with the sixth and final episode available on December 14.
The new series has been so well received that Season Two just got the green light. But while Tim Allen fans are pleased to see the seasoned actor back in the sleigh, it hasn’t been all milk and cookies.
Just after the new Christmas-themed mini-series debuted on Disney+ in mid-November, Allen found himself at the center of a loud upheaval amongst those who took issue with a line from Episode One. A singular line. Nine simple words. Nine simple words that offended the masses. Well, that’s what the media would have viewers believe, anyway. The truth is that the line spoken by Allen as Santa Claus in Disney’s The Santa Clauses became the cornerstone of the most recent troll lore on social media.
The Daily Mail reported that in the first episode of The Santa Clauses, Santa seems as though he’s troubled. When asked by an elf whether something is perplexing him, he responds by explaining that things are generally ok, except that “saying ‘Merry Christmas to all’ has suddenly become problematic.”
Silly Tim Allen: truth is for grown-ups. Not trolls.
And such truth simply won’t be tolerated by some, as evidenced by several tweets in response to Allen’s line. (Keyword “several.” Several, but certainly not a number representative of “the masses” or a major conglomerate.) One user on Twitter went so far as to accuse Allen’s character of “forcing religion on everybody,” even though nothing in the meme he retweeted has anything to do with any religion of any kind. (Be careful out there; they’ve made the Kool-Aid look so pretty and smell so sweetly, that you can become drunk on it, having never realized you took your first drink.)
uh oh, sounds like Santa wants to force his religion on everybody.
— 𝔾𝕣𝕖𝕘𝕠𝕣𝕪 (@aGGregArt) November 18, 2022
And like every other incidence of cherry-picking under the sun, the so-called “problematic” quote debacle eventually got a little quieter, but not because of a resurgence of peace on earth or goodwill toward men extended by Allen’s naysayers. Rather, the former Home Improvement actor landed himself in front of the proverbial firing squad yet again only days later when several news media outlets began reporting about the actor’s admitted insistence on keeping Christ in Christmas in Disney’s The Santa Clauses series.
In a recent interview, Allen said that the original plot for the Disney+ mini-series had a few elements he didn’t want as part of the storyline because he wanted the series to focus on “Christ-mas” and the true meaning behind the season.
“It originally had a lot of otherworldly characters, ghosts, and goblins,” explained Allen. “I said, ‘No, this is Christ-mas. It’s Christ-mas. It literally is a religious holiday,’” he said. “We don’t have to blow trumpets, but I do want you to acknowledge it. That’s what this is about. If you want to get into Santa Claus, you’re gonna have to go back to history, and it’s all about religion.”
Allen said he is proud of the work the cast did in keeping that focus.
“It’s really wonderful,” he said of the new Christmas-themed mini-series on Disney+. “They took a chance, and we did it really well.”
The idea that a title produced by Disney would bolt away from a religious take on a production so unabashedly might be surprising to some. But in a 2014 interview on NPR’s talk show, Fresh Air, Oscar-winning songwriters behind the hit song from Disney’s Frozen, titled “Let it Go,” Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, said that the word “God” is banned in Disney films. According to the songwriting savants, Disney isn’t a “sanitized” corporate environment. But they went on to explain that “one of the only places you have to draw the line at Disney is with religious things [such as] the word ‘God.'”
“You can say it in Disney, but you can’t put it in the movie,” Robert Lopez said.
So . . . those “religious things” aren’t allowed in films born at Walt Disney Studios? Really? Perhaps it’s only “things from certain religions” that aren’t allowed in Disney films. Let me show you . . .
In Disney’s Pocahontas (1995), “religious things” are very much a part of the storyline, as the beliefs and central themes of religion are heavily depicted. Animism, the set of religious beliefs and practices related to the concept that all of nature possesses a spiritual essence, including plants and trees, is on exhibit throughout the film. For example, the film depicts a tree spirit as the source of spiritual guidance for Pocahontas. The practices and beliefs in Animism are also central to the lyrics to one of the film’s most recognized and best-loved songs.
Disney describes the song “Colors of the Wind” as a “stirring anthem to Animism.” Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz created the song to be such an anthem. In other words, the song was intentionally written to celebrate the ideals of that religion.
In Disney’s 1997 film Hercules, the ancient Greek religion underscores the entire storyline. (It is a film about Hercules, so, yes, we expected to see gods and goddesses from Greek mythology in the movie.) The film features Zeus, Hades, and others, all of whom play roles of varying importance in telling the story of Hercules.
A year later in 1998, Disney released Mulan, an animated film about a young woman in China who strives to bring honor to her family and to her ancestors by serving in wartime in place of her father, who is old and ailing, since she has no brother to go in her father’s place. The film is reportedly accurate in its depiction of Daoist ideas, as well as in its depiction of what is expected of women according to the religion of Confucianism and its depiction of Confucian relationships.
For example, Mulan includes the depiction of ancestor worship, and, as part of the storyline, the dragon Mushu, a minor god–though hilariously characterized by comedian Eddie Murphy–is the source of Mulan’s help and guidance along her journey.
In 2022, Disney and PIXAR released Turning Red, a coming-of-age story chock full of adolescent rites of passage and milestones–both physical and emotional. But the computer-animated film also features a heavy emphasis on Buddhism and incorporates themes and beliefs from the Buddhist religion throughout the film, as well as the themes of ancestor worship found in Taoism and Confucianism, Zen Buddhism, and polytheism (the belief that there are multiple gods).
And these are just a few examples of Disney films that have seemingly embraced religion–not in small ways like the depiction of a member of the clergy as a character, but as central themes that are woven into the very fabric of these films. Confucianism, Buddhism, ancestor worship, polytheism, the ancient Greek religion, Taoism (or Daoism), and other religions are not only embraced in these films, but they are depicted in ways that aren’t dishonoring or disrespectful to those who practice them.
The only animated film Disney has produced in which Christianity was part of a strong, underlying theme is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, released in 1996. The film drew its inspiration from the 1831 novel of the same name by author Victor Hugo and tells the tale of Quasimodo, the bell ringer at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, while also telling a story about the breathtakingly beautiful French cathedral as well.
And while Disney wasn’t responsible for the original work behind the Quasimodo film, it’s important to point out that for centuries, poets, novelists, and writers of every genre have offered up a proverbial buffet of inspiration upon which modern films can be based. Yet when Disney chose to produce an animated film that would take a deep dive into Christianity, it used as inspiration for that film a novel written by an author who was known as loudly critical of institutionalized religion and the church itself.
Hugo intentionally wrote his novel to characterize Claude Frollo, a member of the clergy, as the evil force responsible for the pain and sorrow experienced by characters within the story, and though Disney’s version of the story gives Frollo a different title within the church, it keeps the clergyman in the role of villain. Paste Magazine points out that the Disney film begins with “a hate crime on the steps of the cathedral,” creating a loathing of the man of the cloth that–understandably–lasts for the duration of the film and beyond.
This writer takes no issue with the depiction of religion and religious practices in Disney films–so long as they are depicted respectfully. That’s true inclusion–when everyone’s invited, and each invitee is treated with respect and fairness. Nor am I organizing a protest of Disney films that depict religions practiced across the globe.
This writer does, however, take issue–alongside many of my colleagues, friends, and fellow human beings–with an “inclusion” that leaves room for, and sometimes fosters, the exclusion of some. It’s not rocket science: two words that are antonyms do not become synonyms because of someone’s justification or subscription to a baseless, thoughtless idea of relative morality.
True inclusion would be a monumental step in the way of solving the aforementioned “famine of peace” around the world. Sure, everyone has the right to believe as they wish, about what they wish, for as long as they wish–so far as those beliefs don’t trespass on the rights of others. So if Tim Allen wants to keep Christ in Christmas, chaos and pandemonium need not be the responses.
Nothing about Allen’s spiritual and religious beliefs infringes on the rights of others.
Those who have an aversion to such a system of beliefs surely have the right to watch another offering on Disney+ or any of the nearly 200 streaming platforms available to humans living on the earth in 2022 and 2023.
It’s estimated that nearly 2.5 billion people on earth celebrate Christmas. That means Santa and reindeer to some. To others, it’s a season of commemorating the birth of Jesus and a renewal of a commitment to playing a role in spreading peace on earth and goodwill to men. And while this writer cannot understand an aversion to something that has personally been so undeniably life-changing and positive, I simply don’t ascribe to a mindset of anger and discord as the response to views that differ from my own.
It wouldn’t be in keeping with the “peace on earth, goodwill to men” message of keeping Christ in Christmas, you know? But as respect is given, so should it be earned, and the beliefs of others that do no harm–and even stand to bring goodness and hope to our world–shouldn’t be stifled simply because they don’t line up with what another ascribes to and believes.
Regardless of our individual beliefs, skin tones, social status, and any other metric by which we count and categorize human beings, showing respect, kindness, and hope is always right. And going into the new year, what I need, what you need, what this world needs is more people like Tim Allen and others who are willing to take a stand for what they believe in and to work to spread hope and kindness to others, without identical beliefs being the prerequisite.
Wishing you all a very happy new year in which your life is graced by kindness, joy, and belonging.