The Search for Santa...Oh, Judge Dan Mancini sees what they did there.
Meet Santa's BFF!
Disney's The Search for Santa Paws is a sequel of a spin-off of a spin-off. Did you follow all of that? If not, don't feel bad. My eyes glazed over just typing it. In 1997, the House of Mouse released Air Bud, a family feature about a Golden Retriever named Buddy with amazing skills on the basketball court. The movie was successful enough that four sequels followed (three of them direct-to-video), showcasing the canine's talent at football, soccer, and other sports. In 2006, the series was spun off in Air Buddies, a flick about a quintet of precocious, athletic Golden Retriever pups who, unlike the original Buddy, spoke through CG-animated mouths. Air Buddies spawned three sequels, the last of which—Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws—was a spin-off of sorts about Puppy Paws, the son of Santa Claus' Golden Retriever, Santa Paws. The Search for Santa Paws is the sequel to that spin-off of a spin-off. It's also a poorly titled film as little of the action and none of the main plot involves a search for Santa Paws.
In the North Pole, Santa Claus (Richard Riehle, Office Space) is distressed to learn that one of his most loyal supporters, New York toy store owner Mr. Hucklebuckle, has passed away. Hucklebuckle's toy store has been willed to his grandson, an accountant with no interest in the toy business. When Claus and his pooch pay a visit to the Big Apple, the merry old elf gets clipped by a Yellow cab, robbed of his magic crystal, separated from Paws, and left with amnesia. By chance, Claus ends up at Hucklebuckle's, where he lands a gig as the store's Santa Claus. Meanwhile, Paws is on the hunt for his master. First, he teams with a trio of wise-cracking dogs: Haggis the Scottish terrier, Rasta the Puli, and T-Money the Bulldog. Eventually, he befriends orphans Quinn (Kaitlyn Maher, Santa Buddies) and Willamina (Madison Pettis, Phineas and Ferb), who live under the supervision of the cruelest foster parent since Carol Burnett in Annie. Paws and the orphans join up with Santa's lead elf Eli (Danny Woodburn, Seinfeld) and his dog Eddy (voiced by Richard Kind, Curb Your Enthusiasm) to rescue Santa, who isn't immortal so long as his magic crystal is missing.
Its hero may be a purebred Golden Retriever puppy, but The Search for Santa Paws is a mutt of a movie—an amnesia story mixed with an orphan tale that flirts with the conventions of the musical (though it only contains a song or two) and is sprinkled with liberal doses of Miracle on 34th Street. Typically, the movies of the Air Bud and Air Buddies franchises have been competently made if soulless family entertainments. This time around, writer-producer-director Robert Vince seems to have either lost control or lost interest. Given that the flick's target audience is children, the fact that its subplots adhere rigidly to the demands of genre isn't a problem. But the subplots are so numerous and overlap so little throughout most of the movie that we never become attached to any of the characters. The orphans' story has a bit of dramatic pull because of the cartoonishness of their overbearing guardian, but the girls are never in real peril. The younger Hucklebuckle's predictable transformation from a cold-hearted accountant to a Yuletide-loving toy store owner isn't nearly as warm as it ought to be. The antics of the talking canines are consistently earnest but surprisingly lacking in mirth. The Search for Santa Paws is a kids' movie with too much plot, too many characters, and too few laughs. When my kids weren't mildly disturbed by the foster care lady railing about Christmas and taking away the orphans' toys, they were bored silly—and something is very wrong when a movie about talking dogs can't hold the attention of a couple preschoolers.
The Search for Santa Paws looks decent on Blu-ray, but not spectacular. Colors are bright, whites are pure, and blacks are solid. Detail is reasonably sharp. The depth of the image is beyond what DVD can deliver, but far from top shelf. The presentation is 16:9 in full 1080p. The DTS-HD master audio track in 5.1 surround is clean but pedestrian. Dialogue is bright and clear, never pinched by the music or effects. The entire soundstage is put to use, though imaging isn't particularly creative and directional panning is non-existent.
Extras are sparse. "The Hucklebuckle Hero" featurette is an animated pop-up storybook in which pooches Rosebud and B-Dawg from the Air Buddies movies narrate a side adventure involving T-Money, Haggis, and Rasta. Children will enjoy it; adults will find it irritating (and by "it," I mean "B-Dawg's borderline offensive ghetto-slang interjections"). A sing-along option adds lyric subtitles to the few songs in the feature. There's a music video for a bubblegum pop version of "Deck the Halls," by Disney teen chanteuse Debby Ryan (The Suite Life on Deck). Finally, there's a 12-minute reel of deleted scenes.
The disc is BD-Live enabled.
The good folks at Disney have also seen fit to slip a second disc inside the case: a DVD with the feature and all of the same extras (other than the BD-Live option) on the Blu-ray.
Even when graded on the Family Entertainment curve, The Search for Santa Paws earns an F. It has too many moving parts, and none of them are compelling, entertaining, or fun.
Guilty as charged.
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