Friday, December 8, 2017

DISNEY'S THE SANTA CLAUSE 2



Last year, I did a review on the Disney Christmas classic "The Santa Clause" that still manages to hold-up wonderfully in-spite of some of its problems. So as I was preparing reviews for the holidays, I thought to myself why not do a review on the film's sequel that I grew-up watching as well...



Though I remember not being to thrilled about the idea of a 2nd Santa Clause movie when it was announced, I eventually began to watch it after my Father purchased a DVD copy of the film for my Mother. And to my surprise I enjoyed it so much, that I would watch it as much as I would watch the original classic. I even remember watching all of the Special Features whenever the movie was over, and trying my hardest to finish playing the game on the DVD. But despite my nostalgia for the film, how does the film hold-up. Is it really as good of a sequel as I remember it; ON WITH THE REVIEW!

Taking place eight years after Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) became the new Santa Claus; Scott being so happy and proud of his job of bringing joy to the children around the world and supporting his Elves, gets some rather bad news. It turns out that his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) is on the naughty list for vandalizing his School gymnasium with graffiti, and that he must go home to straighten things out with his son to see what's troubling him. But Scott gets even worse news when he discovers that there's another Clause that says that he has to find a Mrs. Claus before Christmas Eve or else he'll never be able to be Santa again as he slowly loses his magic and physical Santa appearance. As Scott goes out to help Charlie and find a new bride, he leaves a toy Santa (also played by Allen) created by one of his elves in-charge, who eventually takes over the North Pole to try to ruin Christmas.

 

The plot involving Scott of trying to find a Mrs. Claus is as clichéd as any other love story can get. The two meet and they don't get along, but eventually start warming up to one another and begin to establish feelings for each other, until Scott has to tell her the truth resulting with her not believing him and the two break-up, but you know that they're going to get back together in the end...and oohh, it's just as generically predictable as the plot in the first movie, with no surprises at all! The only real surprise (if you can even call it a surprise) is how much it reminds me of Santa getting together with Jessica in the classic Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas Special "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town". His love interest Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) works at a School, is very snobby and cynical when we first meet her before she acts sweet and charismatic, and is even given a doll that she always wanted to have since she was a little girl that cements their connection for each other. But to be fair, "Santa Clause is Comin' to Town" did all that in one scene, this film at least gives the characters some time for their relationship to bloom. And apart from how not surprising the love story is, the whole concept of why he has to do it makes no sense. I know it's a fantasy involving Santa and that I really shouldn't think too deeply about it, but it seriously takes eight years for the characters to figure out that Scott has to get married, right at the time when the "de-Santification" process begins, while blaming it on an elf who we never met or heard of until now? And if this 2nd Clause is so important, then who was the elf responsible for putting it in the fine print WITHIN IN THE FINE PRINT? It's almost as if the elf who created the card was looking for trouble. Plus, if Mrs. Claus is so important, does that mean that the previous Santa had a Mrs. Claus too, if so what happened to her, and how did the elves forget to tell the new Santa that gaining a Mrs. Claus is just as important? Alright, I'm really over analyzing all of this, but the point I'm making it is that it seems a little late for the film to bring up something this big!



However, as asinine and unoriginal as the film's main plot is, the characters and the chemistry that they share together does give it plenty of heart and charm. Carol as clichéd as her character is written is still interesting thanks to Mitchell's performance. Though we know that the characters are going to wind-up dating, she plays the cold and serious side of her character so bitterly in the first few scenes that we see her in, that it enhances my curiosity of how the two are going to hook-up and how she's going to change her tune, which to the film's credit, despite all the events happening only within' a month, there is a good amount of time devoted to the characters establishing their relationship, as where it should be. And when she starts to lighten up and show a sweet and sentimental side to her, the transition to her change of heart feels natural, as she reveals why she's the way she is that's already been used in the first film, but still carried out as effective, which leads to a legitimately adorable relationship. Tim Allen himself manages to bring the same exact charm that he brought from when he previously played the role, and now seeing him fully establish himself as Santa, all the way through the movie you get a strong feeling of how much he loves his job and cares for the children and his elves, and how much it would crush him for him to lose it all and disappoint the billions of children around the world (just like Douglas Seale's performance as Santa in "Ernest Saves Christmas"). When you see him motivating and playing with his elves, or when he hands out toys to adults who have lost their Christmas spirit, you see a man who is full of Christmas cheer that loves doing good for others and are enchanted by it as you're also sympathizing with his concerns of not being able to spread the cheer if he doesn't find a bride in time.

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As emotionally conflicted as Tim Allen is when he plays Santa, he still doesn't lose track of his cynical personality which brings a few good laughs, but the bigger laughs that come from Allen is his performance as the toy Santa. Almost whenever he appears on-screen I always find myself getting a huge laugh out of him. Part of that has to do with that he's more over the top than the actual Santa, but the main reason why he’s so hilarious is just how awkward of a performance it is. Everything from his uncanny toy-like appearance, to his unnatural line delivery and performance by always coming-off as comical and cheery and yet still seem so robotic for how phoned in it is, are so priceless that it's hard to keep a straight face for how weird and goofy it is at the same exact moment. And since Tim Allen is playing a toy in a Disney film once again, they don't resist from making one or two references to the "Toy Story" franchise, that go from subtle for how well it fits the plot, to an obvious wink when the film is about to wrap up.

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Apart from Tim Allen reprising his role as Scott, the rest of the leads in the first film all come to reprise their characters after so many years, which I remember being in awe when I first saw these characters returning when I was kid, now looking older and witnessing what they are doing now, especially Charlie who's gone from being a cutesy kid to a troubled teenager. Watching it now, the chemistry that these characters have with each other is still as authentic as it was before, but there are one or two issues that I have with seeing some of these characters again. The character of Bernard (played once again by David Krumholtz) for instance is near completely backwards. Bernard in the original film was cool, snarky, and tough, but cared about the children around the world just as much as Santa does, and would have a few gentle moments of expressing his kindness. But here, he's more cheerful when ordering the elves, and more sentimental and weak when standing-up for his fellow elves or telling Santa the bad news, which doesn't at all feel like how the character would react or behave given how demanding of a leader he was in the first film, and how chill he was when it comes to handling tough situations and discussions. The only time when we ever see him act strict is when he interacts with the elf Curtis, which makes him out to be more of a bully as opposed to a leading elf who is trying to keep things in order. There's also the subplot involving Charlie acting like a delinquent that in the long-run could have easily been cut. I know that his irrational behavior is what leads to Scott and Carol meeting and hooking-up, but aside from that, it has very little focus when compared to the other two plots surrounding the film. So little focus that Charlie is even given a love interest for a girl in a School that he hangs-out with, and yet is completely forgotten after he tells his Father about her.

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As we ourselves get reacquainted with old characters, and acquainted with Scott's love interest and the toy Santa, we're given a few other new characters as well, mainly in the North Pole. The only new supporting character we encounter outside the North Pole (not counting Molly Shannon’s awkward cameo) is Scott's niece Lucy (Liliana Mumy) who's adorable, but really only exists for the film to give us some kind of wide-eyed child innocence when we're not at the North Pole now that Charlie is all grown-up. Since we're gazing at a world where Santa exists, we discover that legendary mystical figures such as the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Mother Nature, the Sandman, Cupid, and Father Time also exist in this universe, who are each given distinctive designs that's carried through inventive use of costumes and effects, with performances that make them fun to watch, and a few cute little jokes that relate to what they specialize in. But unfortunately, with the exception of the Tooth Fairy, we don't spend too much time with them. We instead spend more time with the second in command elf Curtis (Spencer Breslin), and as much as I can see Breslin having fun with the role that he's given, when it comes to emoting when it's needed, his delivery is so monotone that it's emotionless. The only time when his monotone delivery ever works is when he has to explain technical aspects of the Clause, or his inventions to Santa since it does make him sound to be a nerdy genius. Which makes me wonder about what happened to the smart British elf Quentin who specializes in making inventions for Santa. Obviously the actor playing him is just as old as Charlie is, therefore couldn't reprise the role, but honestly if they hired a British kid and made him look and act like Quentin and put him in Curtis' place, I really wouldn't mind it because the character that Breslin is playing reminds a bit much like him for how smart and close he is with Santa and Bernard. Though to be fair, it's not as distracting as when the film tries to replace the character of Judy with an elf named Abby, because in the very least despite Curtis having similar characteristics to Quentin, he still manages to stand-out as his own character, while Abby isn't. She dresses up like a princess, serves Santa hot-coco, talks like a highly educated servant, and even has a few similar facial features that the actress who played Judy had in the original! These two characters are so alike in so many ways, that it makes wonder why this character couldn’t have been Judy? Again, I know she's played by a different actress, but I'd rather it be the same character as opposed to an obvious rip-off of the character.

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But the distractions of elements in continuity that are supposed to connect to the first movie but don't, doesn't end there. Being that this film was made eight years after the original, with a different director and on a much bigger budget, it would seem more than natural for the film to have a different look as well, particularly in the scenes that take place at the North Pole. The sets that were built to recreate the North Pole are as bright and cheery and inventive as the sets in the original looked, but as nice as most of it is, since this is supposed to be the same exact North Pole from the original film, this comes across as a bit of a distraction for how different most of it looks. The large toy shop that had all kinds of things going on at once looks a bit smaller then it was before; and the elf village that looked like a giant busy city in the original now looks like Epcot's version of the North Pole. I'm not saying that none of this imagery is not fun to look at, I just find it hard to overlook the differences in terms of design and lay-out between both versions of the North Pole since this is supposed to be a continuation of the first movie in the same exact world and environment. 

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But out of all the distracting changes that this film makes, the most cringe worthy of them all goes to the characterization and effects for the reindeer. The puppetry for the reindeer in the original film looked incredibly life-like, but were given subtle cartoon-like expressions for when they communicated with Scott to give them a personality. And while I can't say the puppetry for the reindeer here is bad on a technical level, their designs don't look as realistic as the original ones were for how ridiculously cartoony they look, especially when they're in CG. And unlike how the reindeer in the original film were more subtle with their comedy (well aside from an unnecessary fart joke) and acted like real animals as they would respond to Scott by growling or nodding their heads; the reindeer here are the exact opposite where they're reduced to making goofy facial expressions, behaving as off the walls hyper as a Looney Tune’s character (just minus the funny and charm), and speaking in childish gibberish. What the hell did they do to them, did they hire Adam Sandler or one of the people from "Happy Madison Studios" to write and redesign the reindeer as they were making "Eight Crazy Nights", they are more out of character than Bernard is!

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When I watched this film as a kid, though I viewed the first film way more times than this one, this was the one that I remembered being entertained by the most. We spend more time at the North Pole, there was a comical villain, and it had humor that was goofier than the original film was; it just seemed to carry more entertaining elements for kids, compared to what the first film had. But looking at it again now, it all feels overwhelmingly dumbed-down. Sure the first film had its slow and dialogue heavy moments, but it also carried a subtle but fun whimsical tone that was consistent throughout the film that both kids and adults can enjoy, without resorting to that many childish antiques. This film on the other hand pretty much reverses it, where it's chock full of humor that plays itself out to the younger crowd, as we're given little moments that are subtle and charming when it comes to the emotional and magical moments in the film. I don't even remember the score for this film, when with the original film I get goosebumps every time I hear it for how enchanting it sounds. But with that said, there's still some fun and interesting stuff in the film to keep your attention, as you do get some very funny and endearing moments, which are at their strongest in the first two acts. Once the Toy Santa unleashes his army of toy soldiers on the elves, that's then followed by Scott and Carol breaking-up when he tells her the news, that's the point where I feel when the film stops being interesting and heads into mediocre territory. The jokes (aside from the scenes with Toy Santa) get more childish and unfunny as it goes along. The toy soldiers that terrorize the elves do so little harm to them for how stiff they move, and get defeated so easily by them in the climax that you wonder what's so threatening or scary about them to begin with (I remember them being much more threatening and intimidating in the DVD game, than in the actual movie). And you pretty much know when, where, and how the problems are going to be solved since things become more predictable as ever than it was before. It's not a terrible 3rd act, but it doesn't come across as strong as the first two half's of the movie for being too silly and not offering anything that new or surprising. 

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I feel like my overall thoughts were already summed up from my last paragraph, but in terms of the film holding-up as a good sequel, well... it's not good. The story is heavily clichéd and predictable (though so was the original film). Half of the changes made for the original characters are either barley focused or feel out of character. The obvious differences between the North Pole's from the first and second film is distracting. Most of the new characters are nothing special. And the change of tone for the film to appeal more for little kids as opposed to the whole entire family is pretty degrading where it's at its worst when we get to the third act. However, I can't say that the film is not unwatchable either. The love connection between Scott and Carol is endearing. Allen is a total riot to watch when he plays toy Santa. The visuals are still nice to look at. And it doesn't seize to be entertaining, while still being able to bring a few genuinely nice lighthearted and whimsical moments here and there. It may not be a good continuation to a beloved holiday classic, but I assure you that it's not one of the worst out there either since it has just enough good in it for me to say that it's worth a view, that is if you're looking for something different to watch this holiday season.