Director – Michael Lembeck, Screenplay – Ed Decter & John J. Strauss, Producers – Bobby Newmyer, Brian Reilly & Jeffrey Silver, Photography – Robbie Greenberg, Music – George S. Clinton, Visual Effects – Furious FX & Tippett Studio (Supervisor – Brennan Doyle & Eric Leven), Special Effects Supervisor – Al Broussard, Makeup Effects – Amalgamated Dynamics (Supervisors – Alec Gillis & Tom Woodruff Jr), Production Design – Richard J. Holland. Production Company – Disney/Outlaw Productions/Boxing Cat Films
Tim Allen (Scott Calvin/Santa Claus), Martin Short (Jack Frost), Elizabeth Mitchell (Carol Calvin), Wendy Crewson (Laura Miller), Judge Reinhold (Neil Miller), Alan Arkin (Bud Newman), Ann-Margret (Sylvia Newman), Liliana Mumy (Lucy Miller), Spencer Breslin (Curtis), Michael Dorn (Sandman), Eric Lloyd (Charlie Calvin), Aisha Tyler (Mother Nature), Peter Boyle (Father Time), Art LaFleur (Tooth Fairy), Kevin Pollak (Cupid), Jay Thomas (Easter Bunny), Charlie Stewart (Dr Hismus)
At the North Pole, Scott Calvin prepares for another Christmas as Santa, while his wife Carol is about to give birth. Because Scott is so busy with directing the workshop and Christmas deliveries, Carol feels neglected and longs for the company of ordinary people rather than elves. Scott arranges to have her parents brought to the North Pole, although conducts an elaborate scheme to convince them they are in Canada so as not to give away the SOS (Secrets of Santa). Meanwhile, the Council of Legendary Creatures sanctions Jack Frost for trying to promote Christmas as his own holiday. Frost pleads to be given probationary service by working at the North Pole. However, once there, Frost schemes to sabotage Scott’s operation. He steals Scott’s own personal Santa snowglobe and tricks him into enacting The Escape Clause by saying that he wished he had never become Santa while holding the snowglobe. Upon doing so, Scott is taken back 12 years to the time when he first put on the Santa suit, only for Frost to overpower him and put the suit on himself. Scott then finds himself in an alternate timeline where Frost is Santa and has turned the North Pole into a cynical commercial operation.
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause was the third (and last) in the series that began with The Santa Clause (1994), an exceedingly light, throwaway item that should in all reasonable circumstances have been a tv movie but got by on the virtue of starring Tim Allen, then a hot name as a result of tv’s Home Improvement (1991-9), as an ordinary man who becomes Santa Claus. This was sequelized and blown up on an effects budget as The Santa Clause 2 (2002). Tim Allen, director Michael Lembeck and all of the supporting cast from The Santa Clause 2 return here.
While The Santa Clause felt an entirely disposable effort, the franchise was feeling needlessly extruded by the time of The Santa Clause 2, let alone by the time of The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. Is there truly anyone who could truly say that The Santa Clause was such a classic that they were so burning with enthusiasm for it and its characters that they just had to rush off to see a sequel? What point does The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause have as a film other than for mum and dad to grit their teeth through on an outing with the kiddies over the Christmas Holiday break? This was something that was seemingly born out by the underwhelming box-office response with which The Escape Clause was greeted.
The A-budget flourish of The Santa Clause 2 seems thinly drawn here, particularly when it comes to the highly unconvincing animatronic reindeer. Especially on the level of plot, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause feels tired and without an original bone in its body. One greets all the old elf puns with a combination of groans and yawns. The overarching theme of the perpetually busy man who learns to appreciate the things under his nose that he has taken for granted is played out entirely by the numbers. The Escape Clause almost starts to get into original territory in its latter half when it jumps into an alternate timeline that shows what would have happened if Tim Allen had not become Santa. However, the film does surprisingly little with the possibilities inherent in the idea – all we get is a riff on Back to the Future Part II (1989) where we see a dark alternate present where capitalism has run rampant. Of course, the source that The Escape Clause is drawing on here is the classic Christmas fantasy It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) where James Stewart is shown an alternate timeline where he does not exist and sees the misery that this would cause and learns to appreciate the ordinary things he has taken for granted. Also, one tends to think that the film’s plot, which presents opposition to the notion of Christmas being commercialised, is a little precious for a film that is itself a blatantly commercialised franchise and from Disney, who have gone to far more extremes than the film’s villain has in terms of marketing and milking their own product. Indeed, substitute the film’s North Pole theme park for Disneyland or Disneyworld and there seems either an extraordinary hypocrisy or else a blind spot to the film through which you could fly a team of reindeer.
Tim Allen seems to coast through the role this time around. One of the film’s novelty points is that it tries to create a villain for the show – well okay, there was the plastic Santa in The Santa Clause 2 but that was only a mirror Tim Allen – and throws in Martin Short’s Jack Frost. Martin Short takes the opportunity to play to the gallery and completely upstages Tim Allen. The other person seeming to be having a lot of fun is Alan Arkin who makes the most of his role and is hilarious whenever he appears on screen. It is the two of these – Martin Short and Alan Arkin – that make an otherwise eminently forgettable film enjoyable whenever they are present.
Director Michael Lembeck subsequently went onto deal with other mythic characters in Tooth Fairy (2010).