Ben Franklin was wrong when he wrote how “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” If he had lived into the age of cinema, he probably would have added “disappointing sequels” to the list.
“The Santa Clause” was a charming fantasy that was built on a cracked foundation all too many families understood: a weekend dad whose ex-wife has brought another man into her life, one who makes Dad feel as if he has to compete for his own son’s attention and respect.
The 1994 film featured Tim Allen (“Home Improvement”) when he was still riding high as one of televisions most popular dads. Allen is a natural Everyman who keeps it real while also underscoring the humor in every situation, some of which might not necessarily be the laugh-out-loud variety.
Scott Calvin (Allen) is in the toy business, and the story begins with him getting to his house late from an office Christmas party when he was supposed to meet his ex-wife (Wendy Crewson) and take the handoff of their son, Charlie, so they could spend Christmas Eve together. That night, Charlie (Eric Lloyd) hears a “clatter” on the rooftop, and though Dad lectured Mom earlier about how her boyfriend-psychiatrist (Judge Reinhold) had no business telling Charlie that Santa isn’t flesh-and-blood, he’s no believer himself. He instantly thinks it’s a prowler trying to gain access, so he goes outside and, seeing the fellow, gives a shout that startles the poor guy so much that he slides off the snow-covered roof . . . and dies.
The lifeless man is wearing a Santa suit, and Scott, trying to find identification, reaches into the man’s pocket and pulls out a card that says “Santa Claus, The North Pole.”
“You killed Santa!” his son cries when he joins him outside.
No problem. Santa lives on, in succession. The movie revolves around The Santa Clause: fine print that says in the event of Santa’s demise, whoever takes the card and the suit (after the jolly old soul pulls a Ben Kenobi and disappears with a poof) BECOMES Santa. The bulk of the film follows Scott’s reluctant transformation to Santa, and the misunderstandings that happen after he spends that Christmas Eve with his son in a reindeer-driven sleigh delivering packages to children across the world. Of course no one will believe the boy and his mother’s boyfriend will be a psychiatrist! How else could this fun film have its “Miracle on 34th Street” moments?
Even Movie Met’s sometimes Grinchy John J. Puccio said that “Disney’s ‘The Santa Clause’ is the closest thing we’ve had in the last twenty years to a genuine Christmas classic . . . the kind of film that parents will play for their kids every holiday season and wind up enjoying as much as the youngsters.”
Though the film goes off the deep end a bit in the third act with an elf swat team, split-family issues combined with great special effects and make-up (especially Scott’s gradual Santa transformation) and an “I believe” Christmas theme are enough to make it an unqualified success. It’s one of my family’s Top 10 Christmas movies.
Alas, “The Santa Clause 2” takes that third act nonsense as inspiration for a plot that involves a Hitlerian replacement Santa (and you thought the NFL refs were bad), more fine print that says Scott will cease to be Santa (something he’s grown to love over the past 10 years) if he can’t find a wife. As if Santa wasn’t enough, writers-by-committee decided to add the Tooth Fairy, Mother Nature, Cupid, Sandman, and Easter Bunny—all of which add a veneer of “dumb” to the film from an adult’s perspective. Children will still like this one, but there’s too much forced silliness and fantasy run amok for it to work as one of those movies the whole family loves to sit down and watch together.
It’s “The Santa Clause” meets “Spy Kids” and “Back to the Future,” with twice the high-tech special effects, twice the hokeyness, and half the heart of the original. It’s a lump of coal trying too hard to become a diamond.
Head elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) and gadget-minded Elf #2 Curtis (Spencer Breslin) discover a clause whereby Scott will cease to be Santa if he can’t find a wife to marry by Christmas Eve. Curtis’s solution is to create a duplicate Santa to run the toy factory at the North Pole so that Scott can head home and try to find a wife. What he discovers, though, is that his now teenage son (Eric Lloyd) has turned delinquent. That’s no surprise, given how infrequently the boy sees his real dad. Scott, meanwhile, falls for his son’s principal (Elizabeth Mitchell) but keeps losing Santa characteristics as time runs out on him to meet his deadline. Mitchell helps keep this one real, but it feels like the old “Babes in Toyland” Disney film—a fantasy that, like the replacement Santa and his tin soldier army, gets so zany and out-of-control that you wonder why the writers couldn’t have stayed closer to the tone of the first successful film.
In “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause,” the writers go even further off the deep end with the other fantasy characters in story that introduces Jack Frost (Martin Short) as a disgruntled fellow who wants to take over Christmas. To accomplish that sinister purpose, all he has to do is to sabotage Santa’s holiday operation and get the big guy to say the exact words that would take everything back to 12 years ago when he first called out to the “intruder” on the roof and picked up the Santa Clause card and suit. It’s even more illogical than what transpired in the first sequel, and it gets worse. Scott’s ex-wife (Crewson) and husband (Reinhold) and their daughter (Abigail Breslin) beg to be brought to the North Pole so the little girl who’s no blood relation to Santa won’t feel “left out” and be scarred for life. Really? And then, as if there aren’t enough people visiting the Pole, Mrs. Claus (the former principal, who’s expecting now) wants her parents (Ann-Margret, Alan Arkin) to visit, and they think they’re visiting CANADA. As for the elves, apparently they’re of the mind that Canadians must be really really short.
Once again, filmmakers seemed more concerned with special effects than the plot. There’s more takeover nonsense here, with Scott/Santa needing to defeat Jack Frost and take back the North Pole and save Christmas as we know it. Or something like that. Peter Boyle played Father Time in “The Santa Clause 3,” which turned out to be his last film. That’s too bad, really. He deserved better. So, in fact, did audiences.
It’s not just me that sees it this way. Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the first film an 82 percent “fresh” rating, while the second one only got a 55 percent “rotten” rating, and the third film scored only a 15 percent “rotten” score. Darn those disappointing sequels.
“The Santa Clause” is rated PG for “a few crude moments,” while the sequels are rated G. The films come packaged in individual Blu-ray cases the way they'd be sold in stores, but with a sturdy cardboard slipcase to hold them.
All three films, presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, look terrific on Blu-ray, with only the first one plagued by a little grain and noise on large neutral-colored and white surfaces. That’s minor, though, compared to the gains we get with 1080p remastering, like incredible hair and facial features and even sharp fine print on the Santa Claus card—something that was always a bit fuzzy on the DVD. I saw no problems with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfers. Each film gets a little glitzier, with stronger visuals.
All three films come with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and French/Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options, while the third film also includes an English 5.1 Uncompressed 44kHz/24-bit option. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The featured soundtracks are bright and peppy, with plenty of rear-speaker involvement, especially in the sequels. But for a catalog title, the first film also sounds terrific. There’s even a little bass rumble when the sleigh takes out a few houses and such. If you have a receiver that upconverts, you’ll enjoy distribution of sound over 7.1 channels as well.
“The Santa Clause” features a six-minute “So You Want to Be an Elf” in-character bit of nonsense, “Making Santa Snacks with Wolfgang” (as in Wolfgang Puck showing how to make pizza, cookies, and hot cocoa), and “The Night Before Christmas” Silly Symphonies short.
“The Santa Clause 2” features seven deleted scenes, a gag reel, “Inside the North Pole with Curtis” making-of featurette, a “True Confessions of the Legendary Figures” featurette in which direct Michael Lembeck interviews these in-character characters, and a brief (under five-minute) tour of the elf world, again, led by Lembeck.
“The Santa Clause 3” includes a blooper reel, an alternate opening, a three-minute ad-libbed “The New Comedians: On the Set with Tim and Marty,” a seven-song “Christmas Carol-oke” with film-clip visuals, a “Jack Frost and Mrs. Claus: A Very Different Look” four-minute feature, a “Creating Movie Magic” visual effects four-minute feature, a “Deck the Halls: Virtual Holiday Decorator” that the kids will like—maybe more than the film itself.
Most of the bonus features on these three discs are geared toward children, confirming that Disney thinks of “The Santa Clause” as a kids-only trilogy.
“The Santa Clause” is an 8 out of 10 holiday classic, “The Santa Clause 2” is disappointing 6 out of 10, and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” is so absurd it merits no more than a 5 out of 10, which is probably an overly generous number given in the Christmas spirit. Together, the three films average a 6 out of 10. My kids liked the first two films but didn’t care for the third. Two out of three isn’t bad, especially since those two come to Blu-ray for the first time, and one of them is a bona fide holiday classic. For the kids? Make it a 7 out of 10.