Here's yet another example of the law of diminishing returns. "The Santa Clause" from 1994 was charming and original, a Christmas classic. "The Santa Clause 2" from 2002 pretty much repeated the formula, sucking much of the life out of it in the process. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" from 2006 not only sucks the life out of the story, it replaces it with a kind of cruelness that borders on turning the whole affair into a holiday zombie flick. I found this one sorta scary--in the very worst way.
You remember the story: A special clause in the Santa contract forced ordinary-guy Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) into becoming Santa Claus twelve years earlier when the previous Santa fell off a roof and was unable to continue. Once Scott and his family got used to the idea, though, it wasn't so bad. Now, he's firmly entrenched in the Santa business and loving every minute of it.
But a few things have changed. For one, Scott has married Principal Carol Newman (Elizabeth Mitchell), who is at present Mrs. Carol Calvin (and Mrs. Carol Claus). For a second thing, Mrs. Claus is pregnant. For a third, the Clauses are living at the North Pole more or less permanently.
Nevertheless, Carol is feeling a bit lonely up there with only her husband and the little elves (or elfs, as one of their signs reads) for company. So Scott arranges to bring Carol's parents to visit. Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin, newcomers to the series, play the parents, Ann-Margret still looking young enough to be Allen's wife, and Arkin much too good for the material. However, Scott doesn't want to reveal to them his Santa persona, so he pretends he is just an ordinary toymaker in Canada, the North Pole is his factory, and all Canadians are very small people. Uh huh.
Meanwhile, back again are Scott's ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson), her feel-good psychiatrist husband Neil (Judge Reinhold), their daughter Lucy (Liliana Mumy), and Scott's son Charlie (Eric Lloyd, now about twenty but playing a teen); and you recall they all know about Scott's identity as Santa. Still, they have never been to the North Pole before, and they want to go, too. It's a rather gimmicky way to get all of Scott's family together at the Pole at the same time. Not that it helps.
OK, enter the snake. There's this Council of Legendary Figures that you'll also remember, composed of the Tooth Fairy (Art La Fleur), the Sandman (Michael Dorn), Cupid (Kevin Pollak), Mother Nature (Aisha Tyler), the Easter Bunny (Jay Thomas), and Father Time (Peter Boyle, in one of his final roles; such a shame as he was better as Scott's boss). Well, the new movie tells us the Council also includes Jack Frost (Martin Short), and he's a stinker. Jack is jealous of Santa's popularity and wants to horn in on the action. Therefore, he plots to highjack Christmas and sabotage the North Pole in order to wrest control of the place and the position for himself.
That's about it, only Short's Jack Frost is so creepy, so slimy, so realistically evil that it puts a damper on any possible fun the movie could have conjured up. At first, the film is just tedious; then when Jack shows up, it becomes downright mean spirited, and the disasters Frost imposes on the toy factory are not at all funny but frightening. It's not exactly the mood you want to establish for a lighthearted Christmas comedy.
What happened to the charm of the first movie, and the sweetness? Here, what little we find of either quality feels forced. There isn't the old fantasy or magic of the original movie, despite the glitzy, razzmatazz special effects of Santa's village. Instead of "The Santa Clause 3" helping us to laugh or even smile, it causes us to shudder. It's a sad, gloomy business all the way around.
The folks at Disney provide us with two versions of the movie on the same of the disc: One is in 1.33:1 full-frame and the other is in a "family friendly" 1.78:1 widescreen. In 1.78:1 you see a little more information on each side of the image, but in 1.33:1 you see more information at the top and bottom, so you can't win with either framing.
The Disney video engineers also provide a high bit rate and an anamorphic transfer, so they give you as much of the theatrical experience as possible. The result is colors that are very bright, very rich, and appropriately gaudy. A minimum of grain and reasonably good definition wrap up a first-rate visual presentation.
I wish there were more for the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio to do, but I'm afraid its main job is to reproduce dialogue. When it does open up on occasion, it sounds fine, with a fairly wide front-channel stereo spread, although the rear channels do little more than reproduce some occasional musical ambience.
It isn't the quantity of the extras I would question but the quality. Frankly, none of them impressed me. Things begin with an audio commentary by director Michael Lembeck, who is certainly sincere and has a lot to say but about nothing. Then there's a three-minute blooper reel that repeats some of the outtakes we see during the movie's closing credits. Following that is a three-minute alternate opening that demonstrates why the filmmakers chose to use the one they did. After that, there are three featurettes, the titles of which are pretty much self-explanatory: "On the Set with Tim & Marty," three minutes; "Jack Frost & Mrs. Claus: A Very Different Look," four minutes; and "Creating Movie Magic: Visual Effects Secrets," four minutes. Next is a Christmas carol-oke, where you can sing along with words to seven favorite carols. And things wind down with a music video, "Greatest Time of the Year," from Disney stars Aly & AJ. Dreadful to these adult ears.
The bonuses conclude with twenty scene selections and a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at six other Disney products; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and a handsomely embossed cardboard slipcover.
It's sad to see the life sucked out of a series that started so well, and it goes to show that sometimes you should leave well enough alone. Consider what happened to "Spider-Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," and "Shrek 3." So "The Santa Clause 3" exits with a thud. Maybe now it's time to put the franchise to rest.