As another Christmas comes into view, Scott Calvin/Santa Claus (Tim Allen) is concerned that a pregnant Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) is starting to miss her family (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret). When he leaves to escort his in-laws, and his own family, to the North Pole, Scott puts Jack Frost (Martin Short) in charge of the elves while he's away. Frost, finally seizing his chance to rule Christmas, starts to wreak havoc on the North Pole, and looks to perform a bit of magic that will remove Scott from his Santa position, leaving Frost the new jolly fat man.
Even for fluffy entertainment such as the "Santa Clause" films, dreaming up a second sequel is hard work. Up to this point, this has been an unexpectedly rewarding franchise; giving up the Christmas spirit with mistletoe ease, and allowing Tim Allen to take the stick out of his behind and act cheerful for once, unburdened by his career-killing, sour-puss sense of humor.
"Santa Clause 3" at least makes the effort to try something interesting with its plot. Instead of rehashing a sentimental yarn, this sequel actually gets a little serious as it goes about its holiday slapstick. "Clause 3" is pretty short on laughs, and what giggles are here are due to Short's innate mischievous behavior. The picture is hardly "Ordinary People," but it always seems to be breathlessly chasing the knotty plot instead of leaving generous time for elf-village horseplay. The pogo vibe of the first two films is missing from the new picture, but what it lacks in bellylaughs in makes up for in reliable entertainment value - an increasingly lost art.
One worthy idea that the production doesn't do nearly enough with is its "Back to the Future: Part II" spin on the story. As Frost and Scott battle for Santa bragging rights, they travel through time to the events of the first film, witnessing Scott's birth as Father Christmas. Using footage from the 1994 feature, it's a kick to match the pre-fame Allen with the considerably hardened 2006 version. The two sequences provide only minutes of screentime, but I liked the effort to play a little with the history of the franchise.
Once Frost gets his icy fingers on Christmas, the film plays directly to Short's brand of comedy, even clearing room for the actor to channel his Broadway history and belt out "North Pole, North Pole" on stage, complete with elf dancers. Short's presence makes "Clause 3" much more fun than it should be, and it was wise to give Allen someone of comedic creative weight to play off of.
The final 15 minutes of "Santa Clause 3" pours on the heavy sentimental syrup thick, and that's exactly why this series has remained successful and beloved throughout the years. To see Allen smile without fear of a deadly one-liner fastballed into our face afterwards is wonderful, as is a Disney-style construction of holiday cheer (with the notable exception of some farting reindeer). "Santa Clause 3" doesn't match the quality of the previous installments, but it gets some sequences perfect, making this third serving of Santa soup easy to swallow.