The latest installment in Disney's "Santa Clause" franchise, Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, hit theaters in advance of the Thanksgiving holidays, but any hope Disney might have had for sustained box-office success through Christmas would seem to be undermined by the modest box-office numbers posted thus far. That, and the fact that the film, which once again stars Tim Allen as Scott Calvin as Santa, is plot-challenged, uninspired, and humorless. Santa Clause 3 is a cynical, heartless film masquerading as a seasonal feel-good film.
The film brings together two plots neither of which is captivating or well developed. The first concerns the tension between Santa's professional and domestic life, the rapidly approaching conflict between his duty, on the one hand, to be with his wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), whom he married in SC2: The Mrs. Clause, as she gives birth and his duty, on the other, to perform his world-wide delivery service on Christmas Eve. The second has to do with the encroachments of Jack Frost (Martin Short), disgruntled about his marginal status in the winter holiday season, upon Santa's role. In a different kind of film, either a more adult film or a film with, say, a plot, Short's grandiloquent humor might have worked. Here it comes off as sleazy and mean-spirited.
For no real reason other than to add to domestic discomfort, Scott's ex-wife, her family, and Scott's current in-laws (played by Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin) all end up at the North Pole. The film fails to profit at all from the casting of Arkin and Margret, even after it suggests a possible and possibly interesting plotline involving Margret and Short.
The predictable resolution of these issues affords the writers and producers an opportunity to affirm all sorts of empty clichés, about how "families don't have to be perfect, just together" and about the magical power of hugs. At least in the first film in the series there was some credibility to the transformation of Allen's character. Here it is purely contrived. Santa Clause 3 makes the Home Alone films look like scriptural parables.
The best scene in the film is Frost's singing performance of a version of "New York, New York" — in this case, "North Pole, North Pole" — that makes explicit the films' rather heavy-handed critique of the commercialization of Christmas. Of course, the best representative of that corrupt spirit would seem to be Disney itself. Allen offers a lame lament concerning Frost's violation of what "Christmas is really about." But Frost is the near perfect reflection of what Christmas is really about for Hollywood, except that Frost is more honest.
In a film that feels much longer than its brief 98 minutes, viewers might be wishing for an escape or refund clause. The best thing that could happen to this film is that it should be consigned to box-office oblivion in time for Christmas. As my youngest daughter commented to me just after one of Jack Frost's plots was foiled, "it deserves him right."