Santa Clause 3, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

You get what you expect with The Santa Clause 3. The two previous movies in the franchise have adequately prepared potential viewers for the experience of sitting through the third. The bland sameness of these films disallows the possibility of differentiating between them. They're lazy, live-action cartoons (think of the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials come to life), full of juvenile comedy, overt sentimentality, and holiday good cheer. In short, they're perfect entertainment for five-year olds and sheer torture for the unlucky parent(s) accompanying them to the theater.

The Santa Clause movies must remind Tim Allen of those halcyon days when he had a career. When the first film in the series came out, his TV series, Home Improvement, was a Tuesday night fixture on ABC. By the time The Santa Clause 2 arrived, there was no more Home Improvement, but Allen was not yet viewed as a bad bet. The Santa Clause 3 represents Allen's third release of the year, following a pair of bombs, The Shaggy Dog and Zoom.

As The Santa Clause 3 opens, we arrive at the North Pole with Christmas fast approaching. Scott and Carol Calvin (Tim Allen and Elizabeth Mitchell) are about to become the parents of a bouncing baby Claus, and Carol is feeling homesick. To provide her with company as her labor day approaches, Santa takes the sleigh south and brings back his ex-wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), her husband, Neil (Judge Reinhold), and their daughter, Lucy (Liliana Mumy). Also along for the ride are Carol's parents, Sylvia (Ann-Margaret) and Bud (Alan Arkin). However, since they don't know their son-in-law is the Big Red Guy, they are put to sleep for sleigh ride (they think it's a plane trip) and the North Pole is decorated to look like Canada (not convincingly). Meanwhile, Jack Frost (Martin Short) has shown up in Santaland with the goal of convincing Scott to use the "escape clause" in his contract and step down. That would leave the way open for Jack to assume the suit and the power over children that comes with it.

While the previous two Santa Clause movies owed a debt to A Christmas Carol, this one recycles It's A Wonderful Life. Instead of Scott asking the question of what the world would be like if he had never been born, he faces the alternative reality of what would have happened if he had never become Santa. There's some potential in this storyline, but the movie doesn't do much with it besides giving Martin Short an opportunity to put on the fat suit.

The director is Michel Lembeck, who made his feature debut four years ago with The Santa Clause 2. To hone his skills in preparation for embarking upon this cinematic adventure, he helmed the horrific Connie and Carla in 2004. The screenwriters, Ed Decter & John J. Strauss, were members of the small army involved in the previous sequel's development. They are given sole credit for what appears on screen in The Santa Clause 3, although the reduction in the number of writers hasn't resulted in an improvement in quality.

The movie looks like it was made cheaply. The actors, set design, and special effects are worthy of made-for-TV fare, so The Santa Clause 3 probably doesn't have to draw huge audiences to realize a profit, and the franchise name has enough pull to lure at leas a few families to pre-Christmas weekend showings. Is this it for Tim Allen in the Santa suit? Time will tell. In the future, however, I hope I can annually honor Rankin-Bass by enjoying The Year without a Santa Clause.

Santa Clause 3, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2006-11-03
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1