Fun fact: Nick Castle, who directed this DCOM, also directed the 1993 Dennis the Menace, one of my childhood staples. ‘Twas the Night was written by Jim Lincoln, Dan Studney, and Jenny Tripp. Lincoln and Studney were two of the Genius writers and worked on the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV show for Disney. Tripp has an “additional story material” credit for The Lion King.
‘Twas the Night both opens and closes with a shot of a house bedecked with Christmas lights and a mailbox that says “The Wrigleys.” Danny Wrigley (Josh Zuckerman) is a troublemaker whose Uncle Nick (haha, like St. Nick) is a bad influence on him. Malcolm in the Middle-era Bryan Cranston plays Nick, a con artist specializing in internet schemes. He’s being chased by the guys he scammed out of $30,000. Nick will do anything to keep from being captured again by his scam victims — even stealing a Santa outfit right out from under a guy while he’s on the toilet. The conman goes to hide out at his brother John’s place, conveniently right as John and his wife Abby — both doctors — are paged to go to the ER to help tame the reindeer flu (yes, you read that right). That leaves Uncle Nick with Danny, Kaitlin, and Peter.
Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” is read before the parents leave for work. The dad takes one line, “the children were nestled all snug in their beds,” to heart, sending them all off to sleep and away from Nick’s vices. No use. Danny comes back downstairs when he hears a rattling on the roof. As Variety noted, this movie has a taste of The Santa Clause: The rattling was good ole Father Christmas, who lunges at naughty Nick and Danny. Santa trips, hits his head on the mantle, and THUD. Falls to the ground. Another Santa Clause similarity is the teen bad boy: Charlie and Danny might be friends if you put them in the same movie. This film has a nice, high-tech sleigh, too.
Danny starts to seek goodness within himself, so he wants to help the knocked-out Santa. Nick sees this, but he only wants to sneak his way out of a problem, so he suggests they both carry out Santa’s Christmas deliveries. What happens next is what I most remember about the film: Nick and Danny go to lavish homes, where Nick steals furniture and other goods. He uses Santa’s shrinking gadget to make every item temporarily tiny. Danny becomes more invested in his cause of giving. After seeing that a young boy has been fighting at school, Danny chooses to give him a punching bag to help release anger. During this portion of the film, we get Nick’s sob story — brother John always opened his requested science equipment on Christmas, but Nick never got the guitar he wanted or the attention he needed. John was nice, Nick was naughty, and that’s the way it was.
Santa and the other Wrigley kids get involved by heading to a computer store for a state-of-the-art setup. Physics wiz Kaitlin steers with a joystick to remotely control Nick and Danny’s sleigh. Naturally, Danny is upset when he learns that Nick has been stealing. He heads home and accidentally crashes Santa’s sleigh, so it looks like the big guy won’t be able to complete his Christmas Eve deliveries. Meanwhile, Nick starts to feel badly for his actions while sitting outside a church as the choir sings “I Saw Three Ships.” He can’t outrun his problems forever, so Nick uses Santa’s shrinking doodad to miniaturize one of the angry collectors and get them all off his back for a little while. He gives up his scammy computer so Santa can revive his sleigh, and on Christmas morning, Nick finally gets his dream guitar (which he plans to sell to pay back the money). Like The Ultimate Christmas Present, this zany holiday premise is one that only a DCOM could get away with. If you revisit this rare holiday Disney Channel feature, listen for composer Craig Safan’s clever take on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Merry Christmas!