The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is a tepid and troubling movie that brims with a special kind of banality, even for a Christmas feature. Michael Lembeck is again in the director’s chair, while the screenplay by Ed Decter and John J. Strauss is less busy but less entertaining than what was offered in The Santa Clause 2.
At this point and time, The Santa Clause 3 is the last of the entries in this series. One gets the impression there may be more in the tank sometime soon, even as this 2006 picture underwhelms in every way. It does feature Alan Arkin and Martin Short, however, and both performers manage to overshadow Tim Allen.
Allen is back as Scott Calvin, who is also Santa Claus because of the blah blah blah. His wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) is expecting. They’ve been lying to her family for a few years about who Scott really is, so a decision is made to invite Sylvia (Ann-Margret) and Bud (Arkin) to the North Pole. A decision is also made to lie about the North Pole and to fool the in-laws into thinking they’re in Canada.
Meanwhile, Jack Frost (Short) isn’t happy with his role. He concocts a plan to don the Santa suit, which involves fooling Scott into saying some words and tapping into the reserve of snow globes. This leads to a reconfiguring of the timeline and means Scott must find a way to reverse the damage done by Frost before Christmas is ruined forever.
As with The Santa Clause 2, it’s best to not think about the plot of The Santa Clause 3. The story is full of missed opportunities and strange sentiment. But like the 1994 original, there’s also a darker underpinning that’s actually rather disturbing.
Consider the point of view of Carol’s parents, who have never met their daughter’s new husband and have been shut out of the family because of the Claus secret. They’re contacted suddenly and are drugged by the Sandman (Michael Dorn). They’re dragged to the North Pole, where they’re told a ridiculous lie. It sounds rather horrific.
After all, one never knows what kind of creepbag Carol’s hitched her wagon to. She was a once-promising principal, but an impetuous decision to marry the mystery man has whisked her away from her family. It’s hardly irrational to see reason in Bud’s incredulity. One of the movie’s many flaws is that he’s so easily sated.
Short gives it the old college try as Frost, but it somehow feels like he’s holding back. The best scenes come when he takes over as Santa and transforms the North Pole into a resort that resembles a Donald Trump wet dream. Santa’s name is even plastered all over the place, as Saint Nick himself stars in a show and reminds people they can shave a reindeer for five dollars.
But this snarky swipe at capitalism’s devastating effect on childhood daydreams is only lukewarm, as the rest of the film is indifferent, forgettable and undeniably sentimental. Allen phones it in as Santa, even as Short and Arkin dance circles around him, and Mrs. Claus is consigned to a troubled baby machine because, after all, it’s Christmas.