The Santa Clause 2

Sigh. Halloween is over, so yeah, it must be Christmastime. It’s a little hard to get into the spirit when it’s barely November, but “The Santa Clause 2” is as cheery and festive as a movie can be, a rather tolerable little jaunt that aims at families and should do a fair job entertaining them.

It is a sequel to the 1994 hit film in which Tim Allen played an ordinary man who inherited the office of Santa. Now, it is eight years later, and Scott (for that was his pre-Kringle name) is widely considered the best Santa ever. But at the film’s outset, his elves discover an overlooked requirement: Santa must be married. Due to an arbitrary deadline — no doubt set by the same unidentified governing body that created the arbitrary Santa rules in the first place — Scott must find a Mrs. Claus by Christmas Eve, or he will lose his Santa powers and Christmas will cease to be. (Yes, apparently if Santa stops coming, Jesus won’t have been born.)

Here is a movie that tells you up front how it’s going to end. With the deadline in place, we know Scott will find a wife by the final reel. And since the only attractive woman in the film other than his ex-wife is his son’s principal Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), it should not be a surprise who the lucky girl turns out to be.

The screenplay, written by a gaggle of scribes six members deep, is tidy and efficient. It’s the sort of script whose first 20 minutes are a foreshadowing of the last 20: If someone is good at rappelling in the first act, those skills will be used in the finale; a rambunctious young reindeer who gets laughs early on will surely prove useful in the later stages. You have to admire that kind of neatness.

The film is a bit plodding at times, dragging its feet rather than working toward its inevitable conclusion. It also sets up too many plots for itself. Not only must Scott find a wife, but he must also reconcile with his rebellious son (Eric Lloyd) AND rescue the North Pole from the life-sized toy version of himself that he left in charge while he went wife-hunting. (It is amusing that the plastic Santa becomes a ruthless dictator, by the way.)

But stick with it, and overlook the obligatory flatulence joke — no live-action family film is complete without one! — and see if the proceedings don’t produce a warmth in the general vicinity of your heart. This is sturdy, decent fare, and not overly sentimental. And if you put off seeing it until it’s ACTUALLY Christmastime, well, even better.

B- (1 hr., 38 min.; G, some mild crudeness.)