...more of a high-tech extravaganza than a touching fantasy.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

The Wife-O-Meter watched this movie before I did, and she hated it. She gave it what she said was a generous 4/10 rating. Undaunted by this appraisal, I watched it the next night and concurred in part. Of course, being the sucker I am for love stories, I liked the romantic part of the film better than she did. My rating is, therefore, a touch higher than hers but not by much.

Understand, both my wife and I loved 1994's "The Santa Clause" and consider it a Christmas classic, which is why, I suppose, we were both disappointed with this 2002 sequel. Let me begin with some of my wife's random comments: "Except for Bernard (David Krumholtz), the characters were mostly cardboard cutouts, sleepwalking through their roles." "The plot was not feasible, even for a fantasy." "The reindeer talk was stupid." "The whole thing was too dumb-downed." "It wasn't as well developed as a Saturday morning TV show for kiddies." "Not even the elves in Santa's workshop were convincing in their duties; they were just hitting things with their hammers for show." And "It has none of the charisma of the first movie." Whew! As I said, she didn't like it.

You'll remember from the first movie that Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) had been pressed into the service of being the new Santa when the old Santa fell off his roof. Well, he's been at the job for the past eight years, while his son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd), has been living with Scott's ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) and her husband, the touchy-feely psychiatrist Neil (Judge Reinhold). But disaster is about to strike in two ways: (1) Charlie is starting to misbehave at school, getting himself on Santa's "naughty" list and having to face the school's rigid female principal, Ms. Newman (Elizabeth Mitchell); and (2) there's the matter of the "Mrs." clause, a stipulation in Scott's Santa contract that says he has to get re-married before the next Christmas arrives if he is to continue as Santa. Just why this particular clause is invoked at this particular time (after eight years) is never explained, except to further the plot.

So, anyway, Scott has twenty-eight days until Christmas to find himself a Mrs. Claus. Curtis (Spencer Breslin), one of Santa's many adorable elves, thinks he has the answer to both of Santa's problems; he creates a toy Santa to take care of things at the North Pole while Scott goes back to civilian life to look for love and straighten out his son.

Here's the thing: The plot never gels. It's hit and miss. The beginning of the film is corny and strives too hard to be cute. The middle, the romantic part, is quite affecting. Then, things go haywire and off track when the toy Santa becomes a dictator and creates a toy-soldier army. Finally, the ending is not only silly but gets overly sentimental. Meanwhile, the film's art, set decoration, and special effects departments have a field day stuffing the movie full of eye candy at the expense of anything much of worth happening.

Let me tell you about some of the movie's nice qualities, though, so you know it's not entirely hopeless. The best part is probably Tim Allen's fat makeup, especially his facial makeup. He really does look fat; nothing phony here. The second best part is the romance I mentioned earlier. When Scott does find someone, the relationship is presented sweetly and engagingly. The third best part is a playground scene when a little girl runs up to Scott (now looking normal) and talks to him as though she recognizes him as Santa. The fourth best part is a high school faculty Christmas party. Trust me.

Now for the movie's naughty parts. It's made up mostly of pretty imagery and precious characters, very juvenile compared to the first film. Things appear to happen for no particular reason, like a football game at the North Pole that is supposed to establish Santa's carefree personality but, in fact, simply takes up time. At 104 minutes, the movie is much too long for its flimsy premise; seventy-five or eighty minutes would have more than sufficed. The entire toy Santa episode could have been eliminated without, I'm sure, anyone's caring in the slightest. Plus, there's the business with the Council of Legendary Figures, made up of Mother Nature (Aisha Tyler), the Tooth Fairy (Art LaFleur), the Easter Bunny (Jay Thomas), the Sandman (Michael Dorn, a scary thought), Cupid (Kevin Pollak, of all people), and Father Time (Peter Boyle, uncredited), that could have been cut or edited.

All in all, "The Santa Clause 2" is more of a high-tech extravaganza than a touching fantasy. Yet despite its computer graphics wizardry, the reindeer are clearly mechanical and the Easter Bunny is an actor in a rabbit suit. Go figure. The movie appears to have been made expressly to capitalize on the first film's popularity rather than establish any credibility of its own. Let's just say it's not simple enough, having too many characters, too many subplots, and too many cutesy-poo gimmicks to win over many adults (or even children, for that matter). Too bad; there's plenty of money on display here.

True to form, the less likely one is to watch the film again, the better its video quality. The anamorphic widescreen presentation measures a ratio of approximately 1.78:1 and is remastered to THX standards. The transfer is very clean and very clear, and the picture displays plenty of deep, rich color. Flesh tones are particularly striking, and, needless to say, the many colorful costumes of the North Pole denizens come off well. A few darker areas of the screen seem a bit less than revealing, it's true, there are occasional moiré effects to deal with, and a couple of soft or rough areas are but minor distractions.

The sonics come to us courtesy of Dolby Digital 5.1 reproduction, and they, too, are quite good. Unfortunately, much of the audio serves only the loud, noisy, annoying music, but that's about what we've come to expect from most movies these days. Still, the frequency response displays some strong, deep bass and some reasonably powerful dynamics, while the surround speakers mete out more than a fair share of rear-channel sound in the form of hammering, tinkling, and workshop voices.

There is a goodly collection of extras on the disc, most of which I could have done without. There's a customary audio commentary with director Michael Lembeck. There are seven deleted scenes, with introductions. There's an "Operation Toy Box: Save Santa" set-top game for youngsters. There's a "True Confessions of the Legendary Figures" featurette that is thankfully brief. There's an "Inside the North Pole with Curtis" featurette that last ten minutes. There's a "Director's Tour of Elfberg" featurette that lasts four minutes. Lastly, there are some Sneak Peeks at other Disney titles, a three-minute gag reel, a page insert, and twenty scene selections. English, French, and Spanish are the spoken language choices, with English captions available for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
It's always seemed to me that the best children's movies are the ones that appeal to adults almost as strongly as they do to kids. Think of "Snow White," "Toy Story 2," "Willy Wonka," "Mary Poppins," or "Monsters, Inc." Youngsters love them, and when they grow up, they still love them. Good children's entertainment can be a win-win proposition. But not with "The Santa Clause 2." This one feels simply like a set of dissatisfying bookends holding together a middle that shows us what the rest of the movie could have been.


Film Value