Director – Robert Battaile, Screenplay – Robert Battaile & Mark Reinking, Photography – Silvin Morgan Battaile, Music Directors – Robert Battaile & Eric Symons, Art Direction – Robert Battaile & Nick George. Production Company – Calexas
Kimberly Jensen (Sandy Claus), John Maniaci (Zwerkin), R.J. Snead (Snavely), Robert Ayres (Santa Claus), Michael Waterson (Nicholas Claus), Linda Fischer (Sara Claus), Chris Todd (Klaus Claus), Kiernan Morgan (Jan), Michael Caldwell (Silvin Zwerkin), Jennette Dunn (Bethany Zwerkin), Catherine Schoen (Ma Snavely)
1980. At the North Pole, Santa and his family pick up a message for help from the two children of the inventor Zwerkin. Zwerkin has mortgaged his house to the miser Snavely so that he can perfect his Tele-Santa game but is about to lose the house because he has been unable to complete the game by the deadline of Christmas Eve. Santa’s daughter Sandy takes it upon herself to go and visit Zwerkin. Zwerkin then perfects his teleportation device and is able to broadcast himself to the North Pole. Sandy sets him up with a workshop so that he can complete Tele-Santa. He and Sandy are attracted to one another. Meanwhile, Snavely, who is also demanding that Santa pay $20 billion for use of the copyright on his name, determines to get his hand on the teleportation device.
Santa and Sons & Daughter! is an independently made family film that was the first effort from Calexas, a production company based in St Helens in Northern California’s Napa Valley region. The film is the brainchild of songwriter and former Las Vegas impersonator Robert Battaile, who gets into the operation with several members of his family. Apparently, Battaile had conceived Santa and Sons & Daughter! some 25 years earlier and laboured to get it made. The film was made on a low-budget and shot on digital video, with Robert Battaile using many non-professional actors from the Napa area who worked on deferred payment. The film is sold via Calexas’s website rather than through standard retail/distribution chains.
One hates to be unkind to films where the creative talent involved clearly made an enormous amount of effort to get the film made. I also hate being unkind when the filmmakers themselves have gone to the extra effort of sending me a copy to personally review. I have to say though I did not enjoy Santa and Sons & Daughter! much. Maybe it is my inherent resistance to films targeted for family entertainment, maybe it is the inherent grinch in me and its dislike of Christmas-themed films, or maybe it is just the liberal in me that rankles at a film promoting itself with the approval of such a ludicrously Christian-biased media organisation as The Dove Foundation.
One should try to be fair to Santa and Sons & Daughter! and view it solely in terms of its aspiration and delivery. Certainly, it is not quite down in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) territory. The film is competently made for what it is, albeit clearly shot on a low budget. The special effects are passably cheap. The acting is mostly okay, with lead actress Kimberly Jensen having an especially sunny cheer as Santa’s daughter Sandy. The sole exception in the acting stakes is R.J. Snead as the Scrooge equivalent, who manages to mug his way through the entire show in a way that is so absurdly over the top as to leave one wincing every time he appears on screen. The film’s positive and upbeat sentiments are perfectly suited for the sort of film that is labelled family entertainment, where it seems that normal critical standards do not apply. As such, Santa and Sons & Daughter! is passable family time-waster material, even if it is akin to a Christmas toy that is not going to last beyond the day after Christmas.
However, on any wider critical level than viewing it as simplistic family entertainment, Santa and Sons & Daughter! is hard-going. It is almost impossible to conceive the film as being something that would be watched by anybody other than people with an extremely traditional view of what Christmas and family is and even then with the adults having to make a whole lot of allowances to watch down to the level of children. I found the film’s 97-minute running time a hard slog to get through. All the enforced happy cheer comes with the banality of the pasted-on smiles that visiting door-to-door salespeople and Mormons have. There are times that the film seems to be trying far too much – the puns playing on Zwerkin and working are repeated to the point that it feels as though this is the sole gag the film has. The score has an elevator muzak blandness and is played over the drama in a way that is often insistently distracting. The film also comes with nine colourless songs, including a number where Kimberly Jensen and John Maniaci sing about marriage, raising children and settling down in their dream home. The one worthwhile song is the Snavely Claus number sung by R.J. Snead where Snead’s gravelly singing voice actually makes the tune work over and above all the others in the show.
The other major complaint that one would make about Santa and Sons & Daughter! is the plot. This trades in the standard stuff of these Christmas-themed family films but the script seems to circle around without much direction. There are a number of subplots set up – Snavely muscling in on Santa and demanding a $20 billion cut for the use of his own name, Snavely about to foreclose on Zwerkin’s house, the struggle to complete the Tele-Santa game, the invention of the teleportation machine. Despite the deadlines that these plot devices set up and the running around between various characters, Santa and Sons & Daughter! rarely ever attains much direction or dramatic urgency. Despite Sandy setting Zwerkin up with a workshop, for instance, the film never focuses on the race to complete the device before the deadline but forgets about this while Zwerkin romances Sandy and instead allows the device to be finished off by the two kids.