I'd love to write under the assumption that everyone has already seen this movie, because as far as holiday films are concerned, this is something of a modern classic. If for some reason you haven't seen this flick yet, then you're likely one of two things - A Scrooge or a Grinch. Fortunately, you can correct the mistakes of your past much like these characters by watching this film. I doubt your heart will grow three sizes that day (unless you have one heck of a holiday meal), but trust me - You're going to enjoy yourself.
The Santa Clause is the story of Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), a major advertising executive for a toy company in Illinois. He doesn't have much reason to celebrate Christmas though, as he's gone through a divorce and only gets to be a dad to his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) part-time. On the bright side, he's able to have his son over on Christmas Eve, but he's sad to learn he needs to convince his doubting 8 year old that Santa isn't a scam. Although Scott isn't a believer himself, he doesn't want his son disenchanted at such a young age, so he does his best to keep the spirit of Christmas alive. In the middle of the night, when up on the roof arose such a clatter... but unlike the tales of ole', this night ended with a splatter. Running outside, Scott and Charlie can't believe what they see - Reindeer attached to a big red sleigh on the roof, and a cold, lifeless Santa lying motionless in the snow. Before they can question if this is some sort of elaborate hoax, Santa's body magically disappears in the snow, leaving nothing behind but the iconic red and white suit. Inside one of the pockets they find a card - If something should happen to me, put on the suit; the reindeer will know what to do. So, Scott does just that, and he and Charlie are whisked to the North Pole. There, Scott's told that he has until the next November to get his affairs in order, because he's being designated as the new 'big guy'. Waking up the next morning in his own comfy bed, Scott blows everything off as if it were a silly dream. In the following months however, he grows a beard, his hair turns white and he gains a pasta belly for no good reason. As a result, people can't help but think he has an obsession with looking like Father Christmas. Many would consider themselves lucky to be the one chosen to bring happiness to children all around the world, but unless Scott can do something to convince people he's really the Santa Claus, the price he'll pay is the relationship with his son.
The Santa Clause was Tim Allen's first major motion picture since 1991's Home Improvement made him a star, so people were intrigued to see how Tim 'The Tool Man' Taylor would fare on the big screen. That being said, I wasn't sure his presence would lend to the credibility of a legitimate holiday film the entire family could enjoy. When this film was released, we were used to seeing big name comedy stars appear in gut-busting Christmas romps, and although some of them are considered classics today (National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, Scrooge, etc.), they didn't exactly have a lot of heart. Being that The Santa Clause was supposed to be a family film, I wasn't sure what to expect and thought it to be a risky move on Disney's part. The studio easily could have gone overboard, transforming this film into a vehicle for Tim Allen to do his shtick and little more. It's not that I thought him to be incapable, but when studios see an opportunity to exploit a major star for the sake of selling seats... well, quality control usually goes out the window, story be damned (*cough*Ron Howard's 'The Grinch'*cough*).
Well, The Santa Clause actually turned out to be a well-rounded experience. For starters, the story offers a little something for everyone. As Tim Allen's presence indicates, yes, there's quite a few laughs throughout, but the jokes are never over the top and fit perfectly within the context of the story. Tim Allen was already quite the expert at playing the 'average Joe who finds himself in absurd situations' bit, so he fits the bill perfectly here since that's exactly what the role calls for. Furthermore, his transformation into Santa Claus is remarkable - The artificial gut, beard, hair and jolly, wrinkly face are realistic enough that we never feel like we're merely watching Tim Allen perform in a Santa suit. His transformation seems genuine and having a believable Santa is part of the reason this film works as well as it does. Outside the comedy, the concept driving the plot is actually pretty clever. Granted, there's nothing here that's going to involve you intellectually, but then again, that's not what we're looking for in a holiday film, is it? What we do have, is a modern day Santa Claus origin story, so there's plenty of that holiday magic to go around. Of course, there is no 'magic' without lots of heart, and The Santa Claus has plenty of that, too. The story between Scott and Charlie will pull on your heartstrings like a roller coaster, the elves at the North Pole will win you over with their charm, and watching the humbuggers in this film finally discover the true meaning of Christmas will bring a smile to the face of all but the most hardened of hearts.
The only real problem with this film is that it clings too hard to the 'just believe' motif. Scott and Charlie's relationship was sufficient enough for driving the point home, especially since it's strained and subsequently strengthened by belief. Instead of leaving well enough alone, this plot point is pushed over the edge when we learn why other adults no longer believe in Santa Claus - They didn't get what they want for Christmas when they were kids. This single handedly pulls me out of the film's reality when revealed. I mean, these people are grown adults... and they're holding grudges from not getting a toy during their childhood? It's a good lesson for the kids, I suppose - Don't lose your faith just because you don't always get what you want. I guess 'patience is a virtue' works, too. Still, I can't help but wince a little whenever I see that part of the film. Grow up, folks.
All things considered, this is a pretty minor complaint considering how well the rest of the film is pieced together. As far as modern holiday classics are concerned, I feel this film is right up there with Home Alone, Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story. There are plenty of Christmas flicks that come and go each year, films that ultimately get lost in the shuffle and are soon forgotten. If you want a recent example of this, when was the last time you heard anyone even mention 2007's Fred Claus? I mean, that wasn't a bad film by any means, but in the few years that's passed since its release, it's already proven that it's not going to withstand the test of time. The Santa Claus has been entertaining those looking for a little holiday cheer for 18 years though, and why? Because it's a well-balanced effort that can capture the heart and imagination of everyone, children and adults alike. No, it's not a perfect film, but the positives dwarf the negatives by a staggering degree. I know film choices are going to vary from person to person, but when I think about the holiday films I can't live without on any given year, The Santa Claus is one of them. If you haven't had the chance to see it yet, then you owe it to yourself to give it a try. You never know, it just might become one of your favorite holiday traditions, too.
***It's worth noting that this isn't the original theatrical version of the film. There was a joke that uttered the number, 1-800-SPANK-ME. It was supposed to be a made up phone line, of course, but low and behold, a child went home, dialed the number and actually found a dirty hotline waiting for him on the other end. As a result, home video releases have stricken this joke from the film, and the Blu-ray continues this censored tradition. This isn't a deal breaker for me, but it is disappointing, especially since Allen's delivery of the line was hilarious.
The Santa Clause didn't really need a sequel, but you know how it is in Hollywood - If it first you do succeed, pry, pry again. Taking place 8 years after the original, Scott is loving life as the jolly sleigh rider. This comes to a crashing halt however when elves Bernard and Curtis discover The Mrs. Clause. If Scott doesn't find a wife before the next Christmas rolls around, not only will he lose his ability to don the suit and deliver happiness to children around the world, but Christmas itself will fade out of existence. Since time is running out, Scott will also revert back to his former physique and lose most of his Santa 'powers'. If that's not enough of a burden, elf Abby reports that Charlie (Scott's son) has landed on the naughty list. Scott has no choice but to return to Illinois so he can find a wife and figure out what's going on with his son, so he consults with the Council of Legendary Figures - consisting of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, Father Time and Mother Nature - to take a leave of absence. Someone has to run the toyshop in the meantime though, so Curtis creates a Santa replica robot to keep the ship afloat. Unfortunately, mecha-Santa quickly shorts a circuit and transforms the North Pole into an evil militaristic base, and even puts every child in the world on the naughty list. Can Scott get hitched and make it back to the North Pole in time to save Christmas?
Where to begin? I guess I should just cut to the chase and get right down to The Santa Clause 2's major drawbacks, despite not being the most Christmas-like thing to do. At its most primitive level, the plot makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The first film taught us that if the original Santa were to pass on, the next shmuck to put on the red and white suit would become Santa. Yes, Santa dies and Christmas can still be saved... but if Santa Claus doesn't get married, Christmas is doomed? Were the writers even thinking about how ridiculous this sounds? How can the barrier of death be no big whoop whereas the lack of marriage has the power to plunder the world into darkness? Then there's our introduction to the Council of Legendary Figures to consider. First, the name sounds like a placeholder that was never revised before production began. Furthermore - Really? There's some form of holiday government that includes the likes of Mother Nature and the Tooth Fairy? I often wonder why we were never introduced to them in the first Santa Clause flick. After all, if they're important enough that Scott has to report to them on a regular basis, wouldn't he have met them before taking on the role of Santa Claus full time? Last but not least, there's the side story with Charlie - The boy is 16 now, so why are the elves still keeping track of him on their naughty and nice lists? I don't really have to go on, do I? Conceptually, this film is a disaster. The writers showed no restraint when building the plot, so the film comes off feeling hectic and busy. Also, the charm of the original is nowhere to be found - Part of the reason why The Santa Clause worked as well as it did, was the fact that it had some sort of ground to reality. The Santa Clause 2 has no semblance of that however and completely jumps the shark.
But, why? Why is this film so different, crazy and over the top? Well, the simple answer is that someone was trying to pander to the children. That's why we have the Council of Legendary Figures, animatronic reindeer with goofy cartoon eyes, and so much noise, noise, noise. Kids don't care much about morals or heart; they're just there to have a good time. In this respect, The Santa Clause 2 succeeds with flying colors (reds and greens, mostly). Although it's a sleigh-wreck of a film conceptually, it's actually a lot of fun. Forgettable, but fun. If I had to choose what my favorite part of this film was, which is no easy task, I'd probably have to tip my hat to Tim Allen. He plays the jolly joy-bringer with much warmth and affection this time around, and if a better script had allowed it, this would have gone down as one of his top theatrical performances. Unfortunately, he's wasted in a near-cartoonish film that strives to do little more than keep the kiddies on the edge of their seats. If you have children at home, this installment absolutely needs to be in your collection. They'll have fun watching it, and you'll have fun watching it with them. If you're wondering if this is something you'll enjoy on your own, you're better off hitting the sack before the real Santa realizes you're up past your bedtime and puts you on the naughty list.
The Santa Clause 2 suffered because it tried to be too many things at once - A rom-com-holiday flick for children. It tried desperately to have a personal story worth telling, but that's exactly where the film lost its way. If you're going to be a film for children and little else, then don't even try to hide it. Own up to the fact that you're a popcorn flick and just roll with it! Thankfully, that's exactly what The Santa Clause 3 does.
The plot is short and sweet - Scott (Santa) is summoned to a meeting of the Council of Legendary Figures. Jack Frost (Martin Short) shows up and starts ranting and raving about how he should have a holiday in his honor like the rest of the council, but he's quickly accused of trying to cut in on Santa's action and denied the consideration. Of course, Frost isn't willing to accept defeat so easily. He starts sabotaging operations at the North Pole, hoping he'll frustrate Scott enough to renounce his position as Santa. This is otherwise known as the Escape Clause, and as soon as it's invoked, Scott would travel back in time to a point where he had not yet donned the Santa suit. Since Scott is ignorant of the clause, he falls into Frost's trap and is sent spiraling back to his old life as a big wig at the toy company. With Frost now in charge, the North Pole is promoted as a tourist attraction and the elves are expected to work in conditions akin to slave labor. If Scott wants to set things right and take his rightful place as the one and only Santa Claus (again), he's going to have to outsmart the frosty villain before the spirit of Christmas is ruined forever.
Although The Santa Clause 2 was waffling with its identity, The Santa Clause 3 knows exactly what kind of film it is and doesn't pretend otherwise. What does this mean in the quality control department? Well, let's just say this film doesn't have any tricks hiding in its sleigh. As expected, more plot holes rear an ugly head, and they predictably revolve around the introduction of another random character. Wouldn't we have met Jack Frost in the second film with the rest of the council? Other than that, the film has no real appreciable storytelling qualities - There's no lessons to learn, no morals to share and not a single ember of emotion to warm the heart. I thought Tim Allen's performance would have helped to provide something endearing, but he just seems to be along for the ride. Anyway, there's really no need for me to continue rambling on about how this film is horridly written and painfully predictable. This film was a blatant cash grab, simple as.
Much like The Santa Clause 2 before it though, this film is undeniably fun. Not because the scripted events themselves are fun and whimsical (because they rarely are), but because Martin Short is truly magnificent as the chilly Jack Frost. Martin Short doesn't get enough love these days for the talent he has, but this man knows how to execute flawless comedic timing and always nails the physical stuff. He just has a way to always make you smile whenever he's on-screen. Not only does he excel in his performance, but he pushes Tim Allen to actually step his game up so he isn't completely overshadowed. The two seemingly liked to one-up each other during takes, and their playful rivalry is plain as day in the final product. They have a lot of room to compete, too, because the film ups the cartoonish antics up to an unbelievable degree. In short, your kids, again, are going to love this film. It's fun and funny, and if that's all you're really looking for from a comedic holiday offering, I guess you could do worse than the final film in this trilogy.
A lot of people were curious if this collection of Santa Clause films would be given the respect they deserve, and being that Disney was the studio responsible for the release, I had no doubt that they would.
That being said, the first film isn't the '100%' transfer I was hoping for, but it's no slouch as a catalog title, either. Encoded at 1080p via AVC (1.85:1), The Santa Clause often shows signs of brilliance, but there are times where I don't really feel like I'm watching film. Certain shots peppered throughout has grain that looks too digital and pronounced. I wouldn't go as far to say that it's noisy, especially since compression problems seem to be a non-issue, but the grain structure can look slightly digitized at times. I'm not sure if this is a result of minor sharpening or what, but it's worth noting anyway despite being an incredibly minor inconvenience. Outside of these instances, grain and detail are excellent - The clarity can't compete with what we're used to seeing from theatrical efforts today, but the source seems to be accurately reflected more often than not. Colors are bold and warm the film with a Christmas vibe, and black levels and contrast are excellent. For a catalog title, The Santa Clause isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn close. A true digital restoration probably would have made a great transfer look even better, but I'm certainly not going to complain as this is the best The Santa Clause has ever looked.
The Santa Clause 2 looks a bit better, and this can probably be attributed to the combination of pricier production values and better technology (this film is 10 years old whereas the original Santa Clause is 18). Film grain is much finer and clarity also gets a minor boost. This film really goes out of its way to pump out all the Christmas reds and whites that it can, and this encode handles them all with ease. Reds never seem to bleed and whites are bright without blooming detail out of existence. There are shots in the film where Santa is wearing a big, white sweatshirt while there's little more than snow blanketing the background... and they look absolutely marvelous. The snow has texture and Santa's beard doesn't suffer, either. Other colors (blues and greens, especially) are replicated with ease and, of course, black levels are deep and inky through and through. There's also an appreciable amount of depth that the original film doesn't display. The Santa Clause 2 looks magnificent in this 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (1.85:1). No doubt about it.
The Santa Clause 3 has the same VC-1 encoded transfer (1.85:1) as the previous, single release, but that's not a bad thing. Again, detail is immaculate and grain is finely resolved, and since the encode often pushes 35 mb/s (sometimes even nearing 40), there's no compression artifacts to muck things up. Black levels and contrast are superb, but it's the colors that impress most of all, even above the amazing amount of detail, depth and clarity. As I said in my review, this film knew exactly what it wanted to be - A popcorn holiday film. As a result, it does everything it can to assault our eyeballs with pleasing visuals, and since Jack Frost enters the mix, the cool blues are just as welcome a sight as the bold reds. From a technical standpoint, there is nothing wrong with this film and is even more striking than The Santa Clause 2, despite its utilization of an older codec.
As expected, The Santa Clause and The Santa Clause 2 are given decent 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, although the second film retains the edge.
The first film does a fine job at replicating the source - Dialogue is crisp and clear, and sound effects are placed appropriately around the sound stage. The surround activity doesn't really offer pinpoint precision, but the film wasn't really meant to be an enveloping experience to begin with. That being said, there's still an appreciable level of environmental ambience that provides each location in the film its own sense of realism. The score sounds great, too, but I was somewhat disappointed by it at the same time. A lossless recording of an orchestra, even on a catalog title, should have the capability to make me feel like I'm sitting in the orchestra pit, listening to the music play all around me. Instead of being lively and boisterous, it does sound a bit thinner dynamically than it should. Still, this is a complaint of style more than anything else, as I believe this to accurately reflect the source.
The Santa Clause 2, much like its video presentation, steps things up a bit. The surround effects are far more effective this time around, even the environmental ambience. This film has quite a bit more going on than its predecessor, so the improved sound design is fitting. The score this time around actually seems like a fuller experience with wider dynamic range.
The Santa Clause 3 uses an uncompressed 5.1 LPCM codec, but it's still a great experience through and through. This is the most enveloping experiencing in the franchise of all, with very careful attention to details in the mix, flawless environmental ambience and a score that's sure to fill your home theater. LFE takes more precedence than it has before, although it's never overbearing.
All films considered, the sound in this set is great. Even though the first film doesn't impress as much as a modern film might, I have no reason to believe it's anything but representative of the source.
-The Night Before Christmas - Animated Short - This 8 minute short comes from Disney's vaults of 1933, and its inclusion on this set really surprised me. Most of the story is told through the events as they unfold on-screen, rather than dialogue, but this short is a keeper for numerous reasons, thanks to having both entertainment and historical value.
-So You Wanna Be An Elf - This is more of a short promotional piece, as it acts as an Elf training video. Cute idea, but not really worth the time.
-Making Santa Snacks with Wolfgang - Includes three 'how to' videos with Wolfgang Puck - Wolfgang Puck's Pizza, Classic Christmas Cookies and Santa's Favorite Cocoa - whereas the other three features are just text-based recipes for the same treats Wolfgang has made in the previous videos.
-Audio Commentary with Director Michael Lembeck - Wow, what a huge, huge waste of time. Instead of giving us all the good behind-the-scenes/production stuff, Lembeck acts like The Santa Clause 2 was the real day, as if he just happened to show up and shoot everything on location. Oh, how magically... stupid this is. There's very little actual information about the film's production as a result of this charade, so what's the point? Thanks for nothing, Mr. Lembeck.
-Inside the North Pole with Curtis - The child-star playing Elf guides us through some real behind-the-scenes stuff. It's mostly cute and promotional, but since the commentary has set the bar so low, it comes off as quite the treat.
-True Confessions of the Legendary Figures - Yes, this is an actual faux-interview segment with the legendary figures themselves, and they absolutely gush about their experience starring in this film. Oye vey.
-Director's Tour of Elfsburg - Disney got word that Lembeck wasn't getting things done on set apparently, so this video is Lembeck showing the studio around the 'Elfsburg' set to show them everything was just fine. Again, not much behind-the-scenes info, but the intimate look around the set is actually pretty darn cool.
-Audio Commentary with Director Michael Lembeck - Well, this is much better, as Mr. Lembeck actually talks about stuff that happened behind-the-scenes. He's very enthusiastic about his work on this film, and although enthusiasm is usually great for commentary tracks, he goes over the top at times. Still, this is a worthwhile track if you're a fan of the film.
-Deck the Halls - Virtual Holiday Decorator - You can design a living room with Christmas decorations. I'm certain my son will get a kick out of the real thing, but this? Seems kind of worthless.
-Jack Frost and Mrs. Clause - A Different Look - This is a detailed look at the wardrobe used throughout the film. Check this one out.
-The New Comedians - On the Set with Tim and Marty - This featurette solidifies the whole 'playful competition' thing we see during the film. These guys have a lot of fun working with each other, so you should check this out to see what they were like behind-the-scenes. Good stuff!
-Creating Movie Magic - This featurette covers how some of the visual effects in the film were tackled.
-Christmas Carol-oke - Seven christmas carol tunes that you can karaoke to, with a montage of film footage to accompany them.
-Greatest Time of the Year - Music Video with Aly and AJ -Tour of Elfsburg - This actually shows us around the CGI version of Elfsburg, as seen on the main menu of the disc.
After all is said and done, the extras across these three discs offer some goodies if you know what you're looking for, but a lot of it is just promotional filler.
The Santa Clause - The Complete 3 Movie Collection is somewhat of a mixed bag... that is, depending on what you prefer from your holiday flicks, or especially if you have a family at home. If you're looking for straight quality, only the original The Santa Clause will fit the bill as it's truly a modern classic. The Santa Clause 2 and 3 have a host of problems, the chief complaint being that their plots make absolutely no sense and are completely over the top. That being said, children of all ages are likely to appreciate the fun-factor in the sequels, and anyone with children really should consider having the entire trilogy in their collection. If I had to go based on the quality of the films alone however, I'd say this set comes recommended (which is smack dab in the middle of our rating scale). As far as the set's technical specs are concerned, everything looks and sounds solid, but the extras leave quite a bit to be desired as they're mostly promotional filler. Don't want the entire trilogy? No worries, because Disney covered all their bases and are also offering these films individually.
***Please note, the scores given for this set are an average of all three films combined.