Tim Allen and Martin Short are funny guys. How do we know this? Because when this movie is finally over, there are some outtakes during the credit sequence that remind us. Up to that point, it’s easy to forget.
Twelve years ago, The Santa Clause was a surprise hit, as bitter, divorced, bah humbug Scott Calvin (
(Allen) finds himself turning into ho-ho-ho-able Santa. In the sequel, he discovers that in order to stay Santa, he has to find a wife. This time it’s his son’s cranky principal who has to go from joyless to jolly and become Mrs. Claus. And now, here we are again. Mrs. Claus is about to have a baby. She misses her parents, who think their son-in-law is a Canadian toy manufacturer and have never been to visit. And Jack Frost (Short) wants a holiday of his own, and thinks it would be nice if he got to be Santa for a change.
It’s all as genuine as tinsel and as stale as last year’s candy cane, but there are a few very mild pleasures, including Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret as Scott’s in-laws and a loony dance number with Short backed by elves. Abigail Breslin, who appeared in this year’s biggest independent film hit, Little Miss Sunshine, with Arkin, adds some class when she appears briefly as an elf. (Breslin’s brother Spencer, who appeared in the two previous films, plays head elf Curtis.) The lovely young actress Liliana Mumy seems to be in an entirely different film when she shows some heart and spirit as Lucy, the daughter of Scott’s ex-wife and her new husband. You almost believe in those warm hugs of hers. And it’s nice to see a Christmas film that acknowledges that we all get a little stressed and irritable on the holidays.
But this is not enough to make up for a lightweight script that does not have enough heft to be called half-hearted. It’s more like one-eighth-hearted. There’s no pretense of consistency of characters or story. The film shamelessly borrows the Santa substitution from The Nightmare Before Christmas and the how-would-life-have-been-different from It’s a Wonderful Life, as Jack takes Scott back in time and Scott sees his sad and lonely life if he had not turned into Santa. Not only are his ex-wife and son bitter and hostile (and — what’s that — she seems to be wearing a plastic name tag from some low-level job! the horror!), all of this seems to be his fault as his abandonment of his original family somehow led to his ex-wife’s divorce from her second husband.
I’m not sure that’s any weirder than the cozy relationship he has with his ex-wife’s new family when he is Santa, with her daughter with the second husband calling Santa “Uncle Scott.” And the thing that bothered me about the first movie reappears in this one — Scott becomes Santa because he inadvertantly makes the real Santa fall off the roof and…well, die (the body conveniently evaporates). This choice incident is re-created not once, but twice in this film, a scenes that is certain to upset at least some of the younger members of the audience.
It doesn’t make the mistake of the second in the series by concluding that Christmas is all about getting the right gifts, but there is still a disquieting level of commercialism. When, during Jack Frost’s tenure as Santa, he turns the North Pole into a theme park. Given that the movie is made by Disney, no stranger to theme parks or souvenir sales, it is ironic, if not downright pot/kettle/black-ish. On my checked-twice list, let’s just say, it’s not in the “nice” column. And if they’re planning to make another, I’ll be looking for my own escape clause.
Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor, including potty jokes, and brief schoolyard language. Much of the plot concerns pregnancy and impending childbirth. There is comic peril, and, while the script glosses over it, Santa falls off the roof and disappears so that a new Santa has to take over. Parents should also know that the movie has a married couple who are close friends with the man’s ex-wife, her new husband, and their daughter, who calls him “Uncle Scott.” Some families may find this confusing; others who are not as seamlessly blended may find this awkward.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Jack Frost was jealous of Santa. What was it about being Santa that he wanted? Did he get it? How was he able to trick Curtis into telling him the secret? Why do we sometimes get irritable with our families when we are supposed to be happiest?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Christmas classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol as well as the two originals.