Dir: Michael Lembeck. US. 2002. 98 mins.

Eight years after the original family comedy became, in the US at least, a surprise Christmas smash, The Santa Clause 2 finds star Tim Allen back in the red and white suit for a pleasantly warm 'n' fuzzy - if typically overstuffed - holiday season sequel designed to appeal to kids of all ages. In the US, Buena Vista is launching the film, the season's only explicitly Christmassy offering, this weekend (Nov 1), well in advance of the higher profile holiday sequels. With that head start, the second Clause has a chance of matching the 1994 original's $144.8m domestic gross. Whether Buena Vista can make much out of the new film internationally is another matter: the original, which had to wait a year to see the light of day in many overseas markets, managed to gross only a disappointing $50m outside the US.

The sequel's global prospects should be helped by a much speedier international rollout (November and December launches are set for most territories). And Allen may prove a slightly more effective international draw today than he did in the mid-nineties: though his subsequent movie track record has been mixed (taking in Jungle 2 Jungle, Galaxy Quest and Big Trouble, among others), the actor's name-making TV sitcom, Home Improvement, is probably more familiar around the world now than it was in the middle of its 1991-1999 US run. Certainly Buena Vista International will benefit from the variety of marketing approaches suggested by a story that offers something for everyone.

When the sequel opens, Allen's Scott Calvin is happily settled into his new career as Santa Claus, the best Santa ever according to the elves with whom he shares his North Pole home. But when chief elf Bernard (Krumholtz) and cheeky sidekick Curtis (Breslin, from Disney's The Kid) reveal a previously overlooked 'Santa Clause' that requires the existence of a Mrs Claus, Scott/Santa has to return to his suburban home in search of a wife.

His wooing of frosty schoolteacher Carol (Mitchell, from ER and Nurse Betty) provides the film with a romantic comedy strand for adult audiences. Teens, meanwhile, might identify with Scott's now 16-year-old son Charlie (Lloyd, who played the same part in the original) and his problems with parents, teachers and girls. And for the little kids there's a colourful comedy strand back at the North Pole involving a mischievous Santa clone (also played by Allen) and his Grinch-like attempt to disrupt the Christmas festivities.

With so much action to follow, it is little wonder that The Santa Clause 2, directed by TV sitcom veteran Michael Lembeck, fails to build up much dramatic steam. But the plot twists are no more preposterous than usual for a heavily engineered sequel and the emotional moments, when they come, are pleasantly affecting. The performances, too, are enjoyable, with Allen coming across less edgy than he did in the original and Mitchell and some of the child actors providing strong support.

The film's effects work includes a mid-air sleigh race between Santa and his naughty clone and several animatronic reindeer. Other behind the scenes contributions of note include imaginative production design by Tony Burrough (Richard III, A Knight's Tale), who gives Santa's North Pole compound a colourful and original Art Deco look.

Prod cos: Walt Disney Pictures, Outlaw Productions, Boxing Cat Films
US dist:
Buena Vista Pictures
Int'l dist:
Buena Vista International
Exec prods:
William W Wilson III, Rick Messina, Richard Baker, James Miller
Brian Reilly, Bobby Newmyer, Jeffrey Silver
Don Rhymer, Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio, Ed Decter & John J Strauss
Adam Greenberg
Prod des:
Tony Burrough
David Finfer
George S Clinton
Main cast:
Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, David Krumholtz, Eric Lloyd, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Spencer Breslin