Judge Bryan Pope asks: Will Tim Allen ever escape Claus?
Our review of The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (Blu-Ray), published December 13th, 2007, is also available.
"Jack Frost, you have violated the Legendary Figures Code of Conduct in a manner that is both willful and malicious."
"Excuse me…did you just accuse me of being skillful and delicious? Guilty as charged!"
Part three in Disney's popular holiday franchise is ho-ho-hum.
Facts of the Case
Scott Calvin, a.k.a. Santa Claus (Tim Allen, Home Improvement), is about to become a proud papa, but things aren't all jolly at the North Pole. Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost) misses her folks (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret), so Scott goes on temporary leave to bring the in-laws and his own family back to the North Pole for the holidays. In his absence, a conniving Jack Frost (Martin Short, SCTV) steps in and attempts to hijack Christmas.
Okay, I doubt Santa Clause 3 is going to land Allen or any of the fine folks at Disney on Santa's naughty list. The movie is colorful, gaudy, and harmless. But like a Christmas goose, it's also overstuffed and likely to cause drowsiness. Or exhaustion. Martin Short, an entertainer whose life force could power five special-effects comedies, has been brought on board to restore some luster to a crumbling franchise. But his scheming Jack Frost—a spiky-haired flibbertigibbet who preens and prances through every scene—has far more energy than Ed Decter's and John Strauss' screenplay can handle.
The story lacks the original's freshness and the first sequel's willingness to at least try to mine laughs from the Santa mythology. Escape Clause is basically a domestic comedy about bickering spouses and in-laws, and it feels so…ordinary. The magic and wonder that should be a natural part of any Christmas fantasy is missing. Worse still, the movie breaks the cardinal rule of any movie starring Santa Claus: the flying sleigh should always, always figure into the climax.
Escape Clause wastes a handful of great supporting players, including Arkin, Judge Reinhold (doing yoga!) and Peter Boyle. And is that really Jay Thomas beneath all that Easter Bunny fur? Even Allen doesn't seem to have his heart in it. Mine sure wasn't. There's something about Santa fielding phone calls and poring over spreadsheets while his family trims the tree that makes me sad. Once the film sidesteps into It's a Wonderful Life territory, things only get worse. Watching this movie, I couldn't help but think of Charlie Brown, who was about 40 years ahead of his time when he bemoaned the commercialization of Christmas. Good grief.
Still, this being a Disney film, it has spectacular production values. Every frame twinkles, shimmers and shines, especially Santa's roomful of floating snow globes. Except for the children standing in as elves, this is exactly how I've always envisioned the North Pole.
Another upside is that we get to see Short in a cool mint-blue suit, belting out "New York, New York" and, in a funny moment that director Michael Lembeck says was partly improvised, dishing with the still fabulous Ann-Margret. Speaking of, the former sex kitten has matured into quite the saucy minx. Lembeck should have worked in a Vegas-style Christmas number for her. I'm thinking "Santa Baby." Now that would have put tinsel on my tree and jingle in my bells.
With this DVD, Disney has put together a reasonably entertaining stocking stuffer. Both the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame versions are included (nice move, House of Mouse). Both versions look splendid. Not a speck of grain or debris, absolutely no softness in the picture, and the colors burst from the screen like lollipops. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround makes fabulous use of the rear channels, and the music and dialogue is nicely balanced across the front channels. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are provided.
At first blush, this package is packed with goodies. Alas, they're less impressive once you start digging in. Lembeck turns in a feature-length commentary, and if it's not the most informative track I've ever listened to, it's still pleasant. Lembeck is congenial and gracious toward his performers, and he takes the time to point out secrets regarding his film's elaborate set design (the crew included a pastry chef who was responsible for all the gingerbread houses).
Also included is a three-minute blooper reel much like the one that rolls during the film's closing credits; an alternate opening sequence that recaps events from the first Santa Clause; "The New Comedians: On the Set with Tim & Marty" (3 min.), in which we find out what happens when two funny guys meet on one picture; "Jack Frost & Mrs. Claus: A Very Different Look" (4 min.), which traces the evolution of the two characters' designs; "Creating Movie Magic: Visual Effects Secrets" (4 min); a Christmas "Carol-oke" (exactly what it sounds like); and a music video featuring Disney stars Aly & AJ singing "Greatest Time of the Year."
Cute name, The Escape Clause. Judging by the end product, it's precisely what Tim Allen should have demanded when he signed on for this series. Skip it.
You've beaten the rap twice already, you big bowlful of jelly. But not this time. We're locking you up.
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