LOS ANGELES -- Tools and toys. Tim Allen can't escape the trappings of his best-known roles.
Formerly Tim "The Toolman" Taylor on "Home Improvement" and the voice of plaything Buzz Lightyear in the "Toy Story" movies, Allen returns as Big Cheese of the North Pole toy industry in "The Santa Clause 2," the sequel to his 1994 hit. The movie opened Friday.
Allen wants to broaden his range, but he's not grousing yet about typecasting. Santa's too good a gig, he says.
And it doesn't hurt that the follow-up to his highest-grossing live-action movie comes after two bombs the past year, "Joe Somebody" and "Big Trouble." With a clever premise that's faithful to the first movie without simply duplicating it, "The Santa Clause 2" has the makings of another green Christmas for Allen.
"That would certainly please everybody that's relying on me to make their living," Allen, 49, said in an interview. "I don't rely on that, the box-office part of it. It's hard enough to be in this business without constantly thinking about that. I don't know who you emulate on that."
Until "Big Trouble" and "Joe Somebody," Allen had a solid resume of second-tier movies to accompany his blockbusters. His comedy "For Richer or Poorer" tanked, but he had modest successes with the fatherhood romp "Jungle 2 Jungle" and the sci-fi spoof "Galaxy Quest."
Film 'like an alias'
In the original "Santa Clause," Allen plays a divorced dad who accidentally bumps off Kris Kringle, then begins transforming into the jolly old elf when he slips on Santa's coat. The new movie picks up eight years later, with Santa forced to search for a bride if he wants to keep his job.
Allen said the sequel took so long because he did not want to churn out a tired knockoff.
"You don't make a sequel," Allen said. "You make an independent film that's like an alias. It relates to the original but isn't really anything like the original."
The new movie presents Allen in the real world as he "de-Santafies" -- losing his fat belly, white hair and beard -- and tries to find a woman to settle down with him up north. He also doubles as a "toy Santa" -- a plastic substitute left behind to mind the shop, a role that required a four-hour makeup job each day.
The sequel gives Allen, generally cast as a lovable lunkhead, a chance to play the heavy, albeit a comic one. As the toy Santa, Allen goes on a power trip, replacing his Santa outfit with a fascist uniform, deciding the world's children all deserve lumps of coal and creating an army of giant toy soldiers to enslave his elves.
"He's a much better actor than anybody gives him credit for," said "Santa Clause 2" director Michael Lembeck. "Tim has this incredible comedy tool in his tool kit, but he also has wonderful acting skills. He's playing the villain, the hero, this amazing icon of Santa, and this Everyman character. He breaks your heart, he makes you laugh."
While toy Santa becomes a bit menacing, the movie still landed the family-friendly G rating distributor Disney is known for. Most of Allen's film and TV success has come with Disney, including the "Toy Story" movies and "Home Improvement," which aired on Disney-owned ABC.
Allen, who spices up his conversation with four-letter words and built a stand-up comedy career loaded with vulgar language, finds it ironic he wound up in partnership with wholesome Disney.
"It makes me smile all the time," he said.