I’m probably the last person on the planet to see the first installment of The Santa Clause. However, knowing I would see the sequel, I made it a point to grab the original for rental night. Though I’ve heard it lavished with praise for achievement in family comedy, I found myself under-whelmed by what seems to be a fairly dated kiddy flick miss-marketed as a well-rounded family film. More cute than funny, The Santa Clause takes some charming and movie worthy ideas and throws in a few wink wink smiles; walking away to leave a story that’s slightly disjointed and almost overly simplistic. Fortunately, The Santa Clause 2 takes the cuteness of the original and makes a much less age dependent, full on family fun adventure from it.
The Santa Clause 2 picks up several years after the first, with Tim Allen reprising his role as Scott Carlin, a divorced dad who ends up becoming Santa Claus. After a few successful years filling the very large pants of St. Nick at the North Pole, the elves discover a loop hole in Santa’s contract: The Mrs. Clause. Santa has 28 days to find a wife, or he’ll lose his powers and his girth forever. With son Charlie causing teenage trouble at home and school, Santa heads back to the real world to check in on his wayward teen and hopefully stumble over a suitable Santa-wife.
The print I saw had a few effects shots unfinished and the music wasn’t completely done; yet most of this was barely noticeable. In fact, from what I saw it’s hard to imagine they’ve much to add before the film’s release in a few weeks. However, after beautifully effects heavy movies like last year’s Ron Howard Seussification The Grinch, the red and green Christmas world of The Santa Clause ends up looking a little bland. Views of Santa’s shop look pretty much as they did in the first movie, filmed over 8 years ago. While that might have been breathtaking back then, today it suffers and ends up looking just a little bit dated. In fact, the North Pole itself really isn’t all that fanciful. It mostly comes off as a sweatshop in which the miniscule, pointy-eared, child workers have deluded themselves into being blissfully happy. Though mediocre in plot and panache, films like The Grinch have trained our eyes to expect more from fanciful holiday fare. Because of that, SC2 loses some of the wonder associated with the magic of Santaland, but at least sticks faithfully to the previously established world and set pieces of the first film.
Allen seems much more comfortable this time around in the big red Santa suit. Even out of it, he maintains the low key ho-ho jollies you’d expect from a modern day St. Nick, whether he’s wearing the beard or not. His gags are family friendly, but across the board hilarious, rising above the occasionally childishly silly stuff found in most kid friendly films. In contrast to the great work here by the lately little seen Allen, the rest of the cast, all of whom return from the first film, seem to have fallen asleep. Judge Reinhold is no longer very antagonistic. Scott’s ex-wife barely shows up at all, except when she’s standing behind Allen lost in a scene in which she has relatively little importance. . Charlie has grown up and become the most good-natured teenage brat I’ve ever seen, hardly in desperate need of the intervention for which Santa Scott is brought in. Sadly, father son relationships aren’t this film’s strong point, and the film lags whenever Scott has to get involved with his angst ridden teenage son. In fact, Charlie seems this time to be more of an afterthought, an excuse to work the kid back into the film for continuities sake, a decision I guess I should applaud, even if the script doesn’t seem to spend enough time on Charlie’s troubles to justify it.
Luckily, most of the film consists of Scott playing Santa with rosy-cheeked elves or weaving magic charm on unsuspecting potential brides. Reverting back to normal form, courtesy of a pesky and aptly named “de-sanctification” process, the tables are turned and Scott must relearn life outside the Santa suit. Allen’s timing serves him well as he dishes up helpings of good-hearted Christmas laughs playing a dual role as Santa Clause and a mildly disturbed “mecha-santa” who threatens to conquer the North Pole while Scott is away.
Surprisingly, one of the most entertaining aspects of the film comes courtesy of convenient romance between Scott and Charlie’s cold-hearted principle played charming to the hilt by Carol Newman. Not too much kissing for kids to handle, but plenty of smiley Christmas moments and relaxed chemistry between the two make it a well-executed device to give adults something besides flying reindeer to watch. I blame Newman, who takes what could have been a painfully obvious and hackneyed romance and uses her natural charm to steal scenes even when Allen is doing his darndest to capture the camera’s eye.
Mix in a few surprisingly funny encounters with various other fantasy-type creatures and lots of elf related gags and The Santa Clause 2 proves itself a more streamlined and thought out encounter than the original could ever have hoped to be.