Director – Ron Underwood, Teleplay – Tom Martin & Larry Wilson, Based on the Book by Phyllis McGinley, Producer – Gideon Amir, Photography – Don FauntLeRoy, Music – Deborah Lurie, Visual Effects Supervisor – David Vara, Production Design – Craig Stearns. Production Company – Without Santa Productions, L.L.C./The Wolper Organization
John Goodman (Santa Claus), Chris Kattan (Sparky), Eddie Griffin (Jingle), Ethan Suplee (Jangle), Dylan Minnette (Iggy Thistlewhistle), Delta Burke (Mrs Claus), Lara Grice (Rachel Thistlewhistle), Roger Trevelier (Mayor Thistlewhistle), Harvey Fierstein (Heat Miser), Michael McKean (Snow Miser), John McConnell (Animal Control Supervisor), Fred E. Ellis (Drunk Santa)
Santa is fed up with the way that Christmas has been commercialised and decides that this year there will not be a Christmas, even that maybe it is time for him to retire. The scheming assistant elf Sparky sees this as his opportunity to become the new Santa. Two other elves, Jingle and Jangle, set forth into the outside world to see if they can find one person who still believes in Christmas in order to give hope to Santa. They come to South Town where the Mayor’s son Iggy Thistlewhite has set up a Christmas stall. Upon arriving, Jingle and Jangle’s reindeer is locked up by the animal shelter and they must ask Iggy’s help in getting it back, despite his scepticism about who they claim to be.
The Year Without a Santa Claus is one of a heap of Christmas season fantasies that are made for tv (and occasionally cinema screens) every Yuletide season. Indeed, director Ron Underwood has made not one but five of these tv movie Christmas fantasies with Santa Baby (2006)the same year as this, its sequel Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe (2009) and Holidays in Handcuffs (2007) and Deck the Halls (2011) in succeeding seasons.
The film is a live-action remake of The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), a one-hour stop-motion animated tv special from Rankin-Bass, which in turn was based on a 1956 children’s story by Phyllis McGinley. The book and tv special tell how Santa falls into a bad mood after he catches a cold and loses interest in having Christmas this year. The two elves Jingle and Jangle become caught up in various escapades in South Town in their effort to find someone who still believes in Christmas to try and inspire Santa again. The story remains basically the same here, having been padded out with more background in the story of young Iggy Thistlewhite and a heavy-handed and obvious message where Santa takes a stand against the commercialisation of Christmas.
This remake might be politely termed a disaster. It was directed by Ron Underwood who once a promising Hollywood director, where he made the highly enjoyable monster movie Tremors (1990), the likeable light fantasy Heart and Souls (1993) and the big commercial hit of City Slickers (1995). That was until the successive disasters of Mighty Joe Young (1998) and The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) fairly much torpedoed Underwood’s career as a cinematic director, leaving him washed up in the outskirts of tv fodder like this.
Santa Baby was routinely passable on Ron Underwood’s part but The Year Without a Santa Claus is an embarrassment. It is a film that collectively feels made by people who don’t care about what they are doing. Underwood choreographs lame slapstick sequences pursuing the reindeer through the town or with the two elves in videogame arcades. The Heat and Snow Miser sequences take place on cheap unconvincing sets that are barely above the level of a high school pantomime and come accompanied by some really badly choreographed dance sequences. The film is shot with flat, dull photography – indeed, my companion who sat watching the film with me was genuinely surprised to learn that it had a 2006 release date rather than was a faded print from the 1970s. It is hard to believe that the tedious, beneath entry-level work here could come from the same director who showed an immensely promising hand when he debuted with Tremors.
John Goodman seems to be going through the moves – it is difficult to tell if it is the Santa makeup or he is just starting to look old. There is stand-up comedian Eddie Griffin who plays an elf with a cynical streetwise accent, making for possibly one of the worst pieces of miscasting in recent memory. Some fun is had by Chris Kattan who plays his role to the gallery for all it is worth but the appearances of Harvey Fierstein and Michael McKean as the Heat and Snow Misers contain some excruciatingly bad overacting.