Warner Bros. // 2006 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // March 9th, 2007
Your childhood favorite now in a live-action version full of holiday cheer!
Critics both professional and amateur cooked director Ron Underwood's Christmas goose for this remake of the Rankin-Bass stop-motion classic when it aired in Christmas 2006. It was called everything from vulgar and hateful to a bastardization of a cherished holiday tradition.
Sweet Jiminy Christmas, who knew this holiday trifle would yank someone's tinsel so ferociously? Of course, the majority of television viewers couldn't be bothered enough to get worked into such a tizzy, and they simply ignored it. This turned out to be a very bad Year for the once-celebrated director of Tremors and City Slickers.
This Year Without a Santa Claus follows the original's story to the letter. Santa (John Goodman) is fed up with the commercialization of Christmas, so he cancels the holiday. It's up to two of his faithful elves, Jingle (Ethan Suplee) and Jangle (Eddie Griffin), to find a child who embraces the spirit of Christmas. Only then will Santa's faith in humanity be restored.
The film's depiction of holiday commercialism -- the snippets of bloody video games are so horrific they're funny -- hits the bull's-eye, I'm sad to say, but it also highlights the film's biggest weakness. It too often goes for the throat when it should be aiming for the heart. The early scenes featuring Chris Kattan as a corporate ladder-climbing elf are amusing, but later scenes of people shouting "Santa, you suck!" before hurling snowballs is, well, depressing. It wants to be a sweet fable like Elf, its spiritual cousin, but it doesn't have one ounce of that movie's charm. This Year Without a Santa Claus does for its source material what Bill Murray's Scrooged did for A Christmas Carol, with all the nastiness but none of the style.
One wishes more care went into the bargain-basement production design. From the opening credits to the last falling snowflake, the film has all the visual pizzazz of a church Christmas pageant. Never is this more evident than during the movie's one reason for existing in the first place: Heat Miser's and Snow Miser's big production number (you know the one). The film ditches the original's score -- including the now-standard "Blue Christmas" -- save for this one number, giving Harvey Fierstein and Michael McKean a chance to take the stage in front of chorus lines of dancing ho-ho-'ho's. The set piece is an ugly, garish eyesore, a visual representation of what's wrong with the entire movie.
What it does have is an appealing performance by Goodman, whose gruff but huggable St. Nick is a nice change of pace from the original's whiney Santa Claus. The portrayal seems fitting enough for today. After all, it was only a matter of time before the world's cynicism grew enough to take down even the jolliest man on earth. Also turning in a likeable performance is Delta Burke as a contemporary but still long-suffering Mrs. Claus.
Are Goodman and Burke enough to make this worth recommending? Hardly. For holiday cheer, best look elsewhere.
Warner Bros.' DVD comes with no frills (the menu simply reads "Play movie"), but at least it boasts a clean anamorphic transfer. The Dolby 5.1 Surround audio is fine, although stereo sound would have sufficed for a production with such an unremarkable sound design. No extras, no subtitles.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated