Look, by no means am I a massive fan of the fairly beloved "Santa Clause" trilogy from Disney that were released between 1994 and 2006. They just weren't my cup of tea. But I could definitely understand the appeal of the often clever and entertaining original. And I do think that for what it was, the second movie provided a modest amount of chuckles and good-natured giggles. But good lord, was the third and final installment a letdown! I remember getting roped into seeing it on the big-screen one day with my extended family... and I still haven't forgiven them. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" is one of the most patchy, disjointed and all around messy family films to have come out in recent years, and that fact that it's excused all too often because it's "just a silly movie for kids" is just disconcerting and worrying. People, we need to have higher standards for the entertainment we subject our children to. The first two movies were definitely on par with what children's entertainment should be. The third... doesn't even come close.
Tim Allen is back once again as Scott Calvin/Santa Clause. But all is not well, thanks to his attempts to impress his visiting in-laws, the stress of knowing Mrs. Clause is pregnant with their first child and the arrival of the jealous wannabe-star Jack Frost. (Martin Short) Pining for the recognition of other fantastical beings, Frost manipulates Calvin into exorcising the "Escape Clause", causing a rift in time that stops him from ever having become the newest Santa in the first place. Now stuck in an alternate time-line where Frost has assumed the role of Santa Clause and has turned the North Pole and Christmas at large into a kitschy way to make money and attain fame, Scott must figure out a way to make things right once again and restore Christmas to its former glory.
To give credit where it is due, there are a few charming elements at play that keep the film from imploding into a complete train-wreck. Allen is charming as ever as our lead and has some fun moments. Short makes for a great whiny, conniving villainous presence. And while his role isn't quite as big as I might have liked, I also very much enjoyed co-star Alan Arkin as Scott's perpetually cranky father-in-law. There's also a fun little sequence where Scott and the elves try to disguise the North Pole as Canada as a ruse so that his wife's visiting parents won't discover his true identity that supplies a few decent chuckles. But unfortunately, the fun stops there.
This isn't really a film so much as a sub-par sitcom Christmas special, and the laughs come few and far in-between. There's a few interesting ideas at play, but they are never thoroughly addressed or developed, and the script does the film no favors. It's one of those strange cases where the film feels light on plot, yet somehow still overstuffed at the same time thanks to a collection of conflicting and messy sub- plots that consistently distract from the main story. It's a shame, because the idea of Scott "losing" his identity as Santa Clause and having to reclaim it after witnessing the effects it would have on the world around him is a charming enough idea... it could have easily been played as a riff on classics like "It's a Wonderful Life" or even "A Christmas Carol"... but it's never fully explored because instead we have to waste so much time up front with Scott worrying about being a father, or Scott worrying about charming his in-laws or a number of obnoxious and surprisingly low-quality set- pieces that fail to illicit either drama or laughs.
From what I can gather, the budget was slashed fairly tremendously between films, with this movie costing only a small fraction of what was spent on the first two entries, and it definitely shows on- screen. The film has all the aesthetic character and charm of a cheap Hallmark TV-movie, and is filled to burst with frankly flat and boring production and character design. Who'd have thought the North Pole or Fairy Tale characters like Jack Frost or the Tooth Fairy could look so dull? It can't even come close to matching the visual flair of the prior films, and there are a lot of effects present that are just... unsettling to look at because they look so out-of-place due to their low-budget quality. The reindeer look like they came right off of stage at a Chuck E Cheese and good lord, the Easter Bunny is the stuff nightmares are made out of!
Add to that a completely apathetic supporting cast who are coasting by on autopilot, an uninspired musical score with no discernible or memorable themes, really amateurish cinematography and just an otherwise head-scratching production full of half-hearted effort, and you got a recipe for a completely and utterly underwhelming film. It's shocking just how huge a dip in quality this third and final chapter takes, and it comes off as nothing more than a condescending cash- grab as a result. This is a cynical effort from a cynical crew who just want to make a little more money before the well dries up. Nothing more. Nothing less.
"The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" barely squeaks by with a 3 out of 10. The youngest of children might get a kick out of it thanks to a few clever gags peppered in here and there and the very un- challenging tone it has. But fans of the first two will likely just feel disappointed.