The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

November 01, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

Is it too much to ask that children be allowed to empty their trick-or-treat bags and inventory the contents before getting ready for Christmas? Apparently, it is, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned. So, ready or not, Disney is foisting The Santa Clause 3 upon us this Friday. Most people haven't yet begun thinking about sizing and picking up the Thanksgiving bird. Traditionally, the "Christmas movie season" begins during the last two weeks of November. That has been the release period for the likes of Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas with the Kranks, Jingle All the Way, and dozens of others.

The Santa Clause series, however, has always broken this unwritten embargo. The first movie entered the marketplace on November 11 - late enough that kids were probably already thinking about making those annual lists. The Santa Clause 2 opened the day after Halloween in 2002, and the third installment is following suit. For the first two films, the release strategy paid off, but things have changed a lot in the last four years, not the least of which is that Tim Allen's box office draw has dropped to zero. (Remember Zoom? Probably not, and if you do, you likely wish you didn't. Point made.)

In 2002, it was possible for a movie to make real money after its fist weekend or two in theaters. As a result, The Santa Clause 2 was able to start with $30 million, hold steady through the end of November, then begin a slow fade into oblivion with a final take of $130 million. That won't work in 2006, when the opening weekend is everything. The Santa Clause 3 could be in trouble from the outset, going up against Aardman's latest, Flushed Away. Even if it edges out the other "family film" for #1 this weekend, the drop-off for next weekend is likely to be signficant, especially with Flushed Away fighting for the same audience. By November 17, it will be game over with the release of Happy Feet. One wonders whether The Santa Clause 3 will still be in theaters on December 25.

The other thing at work here is that The Santa Clause 3 is a Christmas movie. No two ways about it. And, no matter how much you love the holiday, it's tough to get into the spirit this early. At least wait until the Christmas-related TV commericals show up and the malls start playing those annoying loops of carols. Wait till the fake Santas show up and kids start screaming bloody murder at the sight of a weirdo in a red suit with fake white hair. November 3 is more Saw than Santa. Houses are deocrated with Jack O'Lanterns and plastic skeletons, not reindeer and jolly red blow up toys. This is the time for Halloween/Christmas hybrids: A Nightmare Before Christmas (Jack Skellington kidnaps Santa) and A Christmas Carol (Scrooge and four ghosts). Then again, it's possible that the very thought of a Tim Allen movie is enough to cause a moment's horror.

It may be that Disney doesn't expect much from The Santa Clause 3, at least theatrically. They could believe it has a slightly better chance to garner an audience against Flushed Away than against Happy Feet, so they're throwing it out there this week to sink or swim until it gets washed away. (One wonders if December 8 might have been a better choice, with two clear weekends and no other family films in sight until Charlotte's Web on December 20. Yes, The Nativity, which opens on December 1, will be out there, but there's not the same kind of overlap there is with Flushed Away. A lot of conservative Christians who will see The Nativity will avoid The Santa Clause 3, and there's a sizeable portion of kids who will have no interest in the former film.) In reality, The Santa Clause 3 might be a made-for-DVD title that's getting a theatrical release to pull in some extra revenue and avoid the straight-to-video taint. As movie-goers and consumers of film-related products, should our response to this be "Merry Christmas" or "Humbug?"