Given the blockbuster returns for 1994's The Santa Clause' and its 2002 sequel 'Santa Clause 2,' a third installment was inevitable, and so -- nearly a dozen years after the original -- out popped 'The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.' Unfortunately, not unlike a stale old fruitcake, this is another case of a Hollywood "product" that has long since passed its sell-by date.
To be fair, as far as sequels go, the story of 'Santa Clause 3' isn't entirely without promise. Having fully embraced his alter ego of Santa Claus, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is now happy spreading holiday cheer every Christmas and spending the rest of the year with his family. But he's about to risk all when he invites his wealthy in-laws Sylvia and Bud Newman (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margaret) to spend the holidays at the North Pole so that they can both be on hand as Scott and his wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) await the birth of Baby Claus. This inspires some cute comedic touches, such as when Scott attempts to disguise the North Pole to look like Canada, even having all of his elves cover up their physical attributes and run around saying "Eh?" at the end of every sentence just to complete the effect.
Things will get much more complicated, however, when Scott's ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) and son Charlie (Eric Lloyd), along with her new husband Neil (Judge Reinhold) and daughter Lucy (Abigail Breslin), also pay a visit to the North Pole, and will need some cajoling to keep the secret from the Newmans. But that's nothing compared to the villainous Jack Frost (Martin Short), a recent fugitive from the Council of Legendary Figures (which also includes Mother Nature, Father Time and the Easter Bunny). Seems Jack is out to get his own holiday after being ousted from the Council, and thanks to a little known "escape clause," intends to ruin Scott's holiday and replace him as Santa Claus.
'Santa Clause 3' was written by Ed Decter and John Strauss, who also penned 'There's Something About Mary,' and despite 'Escape Clause's G-rating, the sensibilities of the two films aren't all that dissimilar. There are more than enough slapstick pratfalls and reindeer fart jokes on display, and the Jack character is a whirling dervish of child-like energy and low-brow one-liners. Unfortunately, they never fully engage our emotions with great characters, leaving precious little genuine good cheer in all the hard-sell "madcap" shenanigans.
Likewise, the film lacks any true visual inventiveness. Director Michael Lembeck returns from 'Santa Claus 2,' and brings only a workman-like efficiency to the proceedings. The production values are certainly terrific -- the North Pole sets in particular are quite impressive -- but the whole affair just never really rises above the level of a big-budget TV movie.
The performances are also largely listless. Although I've found Allen to be an underappreciated comic actor when he's inspired (see 'Toy Story,' 'GalaxyQuest' and the early seasons of 'Home Improvement'), here he seems completely tired of all this Santa business. He's just phoning it in, and seems to have become the very washed-up has-been he played in 'GalaxyQuest,' only without the irony. Also shadows of their former selves are returning cast members/wax figures Reinhold and Crewson who are given little of any consequence to do, while sadly, the promising reunion of 'Little Miss Sunshine' Oscar honorees Breslin and Arkin fails to generate much charm, simply because they never share the screen together long enough. Only Short is truly memorable, coming across like a bouncing, bizarre amalgam of Mr. Frost and the Heatmeiser from those old stop-motion animation holiday TV specials. His performance is also infused with a charming sense of deja vu, as it's essentially a recycled version of his fey Franck Eggelhoffer persona from the 'Father of the Bride' movies, only dressed up like a Smurf in drag.
All things considered, 'Santa Clause 3' isn't a truly bad movie -- it's simply mediocre. As an adventure for the little tykes in the family, the film will surely please, and it does have a few sporadic if memorable touches of whimsical humor. Still, given the freshness and vigor of the original 'Santa Clause,' it's hard not to feel like 'Santa Clause 3' could have been more than merely passable.
Santa has arrived early for those looking for new demo material. As much as I'm surprised to say it, 'Santa Clause 3' really does have some moments that are reference-quality, delivering the kind of immaculate high-def images that are, quite frankly, better than the film deserves.
Disney offers up a 1080p/VC-1 encode in the film's matted 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and it's pretty sensational. An immaculate print is bolstered by excellent rich blacks and contrast that's as shiny as a silver Christmas ornament. Colors are also fantastic, with the kind of intensity that teeters on the cliff's edge of oversaturation, but never falls into the abyss. Fleshtones are nice and accurate too, while detail and depth are up there with the best transfers I've seen on a new release, delivering a wonderfully sharp and three-dimensional picture. Finally, I noted no issues with compression artifacts, such as posterization, noise or macroblocking on fast action.
My only slight nitpick is that shadow delineation, while very good overall, suffers a bit from black crush that's just a smidgen too heavy for my taste. Still, this is a minor complaint about an otherwise exceptional high-def transfer.
It's not quite as terrific as the video, but 'Santa Clause 3' sounds pretty spiffy, too. Disney presents the film in uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit), and overall this a pleasing mix if perhaps a bit too restrained at times.
Surrounds can be stingy with discrete effects, but when they do kick in, it's impressive. There are a few big setpieces (particularly a couple on the big North Pole set) that make full use of the rear soundstage, and in these moments the sound design really comes alive with aggressive directionality and seamless pans. Unfortunately, more general ambiance is lacking, with most non-action scenes sounding more like stereo. Still, this is a very clean and well-recorded mix thoughout. Heft and presence to the entire frequency range is strong, bass punchy, and dialogue pitch perfect. Volume matching is not an issue, and the score is nicely balanced out in the mix, too. Another win for Mr. Claus.
Even by the low-calorie standards of most family disc titles, the extras on 'The Santa Clause 3' are about as nourishing as a Twinkie. What we do get is mostly surface-level making-of material, plus a few goodies for the kids. (Not helping matters is the fact that all of the extras are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only. Bah, humbug.)
'Santa Clause 3' is entertaining enough, but the franchise is clearly getting old, and the introduction of a bunch of new characters just to spice things up feels a bit desperate. As a Blu-ray release, this one's quite nice, boasting stellar video, very good audio and a batch of supplements that's at least strong in number. If you've got any kids in your household they'll probably get a few good watches out of this one, but this one may be best confied to a spin at the rental counter.