Holiday films are a part of people's cherished holiday memories. And with annual royalties at stake, it seems to be every studio's annual goal to make the next "Miracle on 34th Street," "A Christmas Carol," "A Christmas Story," or "It's a Wonderful Life."
But, you know what they say: one man's trash is another man's treasure.
I discovered that when polling my students about their favorite holiday movies. Not ONE of my favorites made their list. And some of their choices frankly made my eyebrows arch.
For all I know, the "Santa Clause" series could be speaking to a new generation. But that generation is now small children, and I'm willing to wager that when they grow up "Santa Clause 3" won't be one of those holiday treasures that they watch year after year.
The first one might be. "The Santa Clause" offered affable Tim Allen as a workaholic dad who gets a wild lesson in reorganizing his priorities after he inadvertently makes the real Santa fall off the roof and go poof!, leaving behind that famous red suit and a card that says whoever is responsible for the Big Guy's death has to take his place. So with a gradual, comic transformation that Allen would reprise with "The Shaggy Dog," we watch him turn into a jolly old elf with a real, white beard, kicking and screaming all the way. But he finally finds a sense of duty and responsibility, and that includes to his son, Charlie, who had been bonding more with new step-dad Dr. Neil Miller (Judge Reinhold). Eventually Charlie learns about Dad's secret identity and gets the royal tour of the North Pole in a fantasy that affirms what the New York Sun told readers in their now famous 1897 editorial: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." And God bless us everyone.
Though "Santa Clause 3: The Escape Claus" is loaded with talent and has a visual style that jumps off your widescreen monitor in Blu-ray, all of that talent and technical wizardry seems wasted on a concept that's dumber than Donner. What's worse, they're all so bound by the script that folks who have a reputation for improv seem to just be saying their lines and picking up their paychecks. As for Allen, much of his comedy is based on his facial expressions and deadpan, and with a full Santa's beard for all of the film's 92 minutes, he could be aping up a storm but we're just not seeing or appreciating it.
I have to admit that I bought part of the premise. It seemed reasonable that after 12 years Scott Calvin might have evolved full-out into Santa, with no ability to change back to his former self. And it seemed logical that looking like Santa 365 days a year he would have no place to live but the North Pole, year-round. It would certainly tax a relationship if Santa was at the Pole and Mrs. Claus remained back in the States, wouldn't it? So it made sense that the woman he married--his son Charlie's former principal, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell)--would live there too, right? But after that, any logic or cleverness gets wrapped up with the presents and whisked off in the sleigh.
I know it's supposed to delight younger viewers to see some of those childhood figures that they're encouraged to believe in . . . until, that is, the first kid in their school tells them it's really mom or dad. But I didn't find anything remotely charming about seeing a gruff guy with tiny wings who looked like he could be a boxer playing Tooth Fairy (Art LaFleur), or a wise-cracking Cupid (Kevin Pollak), an insipidly whiny Easter Bunny (Jay Thomas), an inexplicably narcoleptic Sandman (Michael Dorn), bearded and sagely Father Time (Peter Boyle), or Mother Nature (Aisha Tyler) decked out in a costume that made her look a bit like a Vegas showgirl. And I thought it was dumb that this "Legendary Council" met regularly, this latest time to issue sanctions against Jack Frost (Martin Short) for trying to usurp Christmas for his very own. If they travel from all over to meet in order to nail this guy, and he has a history of trying to nudge Santa out of the way, why is it that they very quickly decide he can be Santa's helper this year?
Oh, I remember. How else are you going to enable a villain to sabotage the operation and try to get Santa to say the exact words that would take everything back 12 years ago, as if none of it ever happened? It makes no sense, except to drive the plot. Same with Scott's ex-wife (Wendy Crewson) and her husband (Reinhold) and daughter (Abigail Breslin) begging to be brought to the Pole so the little girl who's no blood relation to Santa won't feel "left out" and be scarred for life. Yeah, sure. Whatever. And then as if there aren't enough people coming to the North Pole, which is supposed to be kept a secret, Carol/Mrs. Claus has been lonely and wants a visit from her parents. So Scott/Santa arranges to bring mom (Ann-Margaret) and dad (Alan Arkin), but fixes it so they are whacked with sleepy dust and brought to a place they think is Canada (Oh, sure, people are this small in Canada). And the elves? They all look like the children they are, and of course haven't really cut their acting chops yet.
While there are recognizable elements of both "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Back to the Future" in this film, everything seems so contrived and just plain stupid that any allusions (or blatant rip-offs) just get lost in the constant flurry of dumbness that rains down on this production like fake snow. Or else it's inappropriate, given the mental level that this film seems to be aimed at. "Santa Clause 3" may be rated "G," but do kids really need to see Santa in peril or watch a sleezy Jack Frost hitting on Ann-Margaret? It kind of takes all the fun out of singing "Jack Frost nipping at your nose," doesn't it?
But of course Blu-ray is a very forgiving medium. Everything looks so wonderful that you're half-tempted to readjust your thinking. The colors are vivid\\ and the detail so plasticine sharp that it makes you gasp in spots. Maybe it's not such a bad film. But then more dumb things happen that not even a brilliantly pristine 1080p picture (1.85:1 aspect ratio) can compensate for.
The audio is also pretty fantabulous, with an English PCM 5.1 uncompressed main soundtrack (48kHz/24-bit) and additional options in English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. It's a pure-quality sound that delivers a fine flow across the speakers, with good bass/treble balance and a rich timbre. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
I'm always leery of listening to a commentary on a film that didn't impress me. When I'd prefer anecdotes or notes on casting, what I usually get are all sorts of back-patting descriptions of how they accomplished this shot or that. Well, I have no problem with the visual look of this film. It's the premise and script that knock this Santa off the rooftop. Yes, it's interesting to hear in this CGI era that 1.5 tons of Epson salts were used to make the fake snow, but even for technophiles, Michael Lembeck seems to go on and on about small things, things that ultimately I didn't find interesting.
Same with the other extras. A blooper reel? Come on. How many of those have you seen where you've truly laughed as hard as the people who are goofing up? And a short alternate opening that's intended to justify why Lembeck used the one he did? Ehh. Then there are a trio of VERY short features--teasers, really: "On the Set with Tim and Marty," "Jack Frost and Mrs. Claus," and "Creating Movie Magic." Rounding out the bonus features is a music video, "Greatest Time of the Year," by Aly & AJ, and a Christmas "carol-oke" that gives you the words to a combination of seven secular and Christian songs.
Exclusive to Blu-ray is a game, "Deck the Halls: Virtual Holiday Decorator." This one is strictly for the wee ones. You click on four different elements in a room in order to decorate the tree (by placing and locating ornaments wherever you want), decorating stockings (with names and messages), decorating the room (just a few clicks, really, changes the whole look), and a jukebox that does what jukeboxes do. As I said, little kids will like it, but the older ones will just shrug.
"Santa Clause 3" gives us a claymation script with a live-action cast, and it just doesn't work. Aside from some wonderful special effects, it's more lump of coal than a holiday treat. As John J. Puccio expressed in an earlier review, "it's sad to see the life sucked out of a series that started so well."
In fairness, this one seems aimed at kids, and so I asked the two under-teens in my household what they thought. They'd give "Elf" (one of their favorite holiday movies) a 10, and my nine year old said he'd give this one an 8. My six-year-old daughter said she'd also give this a 10. What does that say? Maybe the older you are, the less you're going to like "Santa Clause 3."