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John Pasquin
Tim Allen, Eric Lloyd, Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold, Peter Boyle, David Krumholtz
Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick

What if your dad was Santa Claus?
Rated PG.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 10/29/2002

• So You Wanna Be An Elf?
• Santa’s Helper Trivia Game
• “Making Santa Snacks With Wolfgang”
• Sneak Peeks
• DVD-ROM Features


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The Santa Clause: Special Edition (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Anyone else remember when Tim Allen ruled the world? He enjoyed an awfully good run back in the mid-Nineties. While Home Improvement rode high on the TV ratings charts, Allen broadened his horizons into the world of movies. He provided a lead voice for 1995’s biggest hit, Toy Story, and he also starred in 1994’s holiday hit The Santa Clause.

Allen never recovered the box office clout he displayed with that $144 million success. In fact, Allen didn’t star in another movie until 1997’s flop Jungle 2 Jungle. 1999 offered a rebound for him with Toy Story 2 and the modest hit Galaxy Quest, but Allen’s days as a major star seemed behind him.

Nonetheless, he still enjoyed a nice time at the top, and Clause remains a reasonably popular Christmas flick. At least it did well enough to finally generate a sequel in 2002, a fact that seems to be the reason why Disney released this new special edition DVD for the original film.

In Clause, we meet successful toy executive Scott Calvin (Allen). He split with his wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) and gets sporadic visitation with his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd). Charlie doesn’t seem wild about these occasions, and he wants to make their Christmas Eve time together as brief as possible.

Things don’t go well, and they get a jolt when a stranger lands on their roof. Though Charlie knows it’s Santa, Scott doubts. When he startles the interloper, Santa falls from the roof and becomes injured. At Charlie’s urging, Scott puts on the suit and takes Santa’s place. This sends them on a wild ride to deliver toys, and they also end up at the North Pole. There head elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) fills in Scott about “the Santa Clause”; when Scott donned the outfit, he legally accepted the responsibility to take over the job as Mr. Kringle.

When he returns home the next morning, Scott tries to deny the events of the prior evening. However, Charlie becomes obsessed with his dad’s Santa status, which negatively affects the situation. Laura and new husband Neal (Judge Reinhold) – a psychiatrist – fear that Charlie’s losing his grip on reality, and they don’t like the way that Scott seems to encourage those thoughts. Scott initially fights the situation, but eventually he accepts it and then goes through physical changes that turn him into our generally accepted image of Santa.

For a movie called The Santa Clause, this one spends surprisingly little time dealing with Christmas. Granted, the Santa theme remains constantly in play, but in truth, Clause deals more with the drama related to fractured family dynamics than with St. Nick’s issues. While Scott always remains our main character, the film emphasizes the topics that relate to Charlie.

This approach doesn’t seem very successful, partially due to the unlikable presence of young Lloyd. He offers a precocious and petulant personality that consistently annoys me. The film’s many other young performers – most of whom play elves – don’t provide very strong actors either, but at least they don’t seem as obnoxious as Lloyd. His weak work creates a hole in the center of the film.

Since so much of the movie emphasizes Charlie, that causes problems, but Allen offers a generally genial and engaging presence that helps. He doesn’t provide anything particularly special, but he seems up to the role’s minor demands, and he helps make some of the movie’s gentle humor come across acceptably well. His best moments come when he starts to get into the Santa part; one fun scene shows him at work, where he opposes the same cynical toy marketing he supported for so long.

Probably the film’s best performance comes from Reinhold as psychiatrist Neal. He creates an amusingly stereotypical take on a shrink that seems broad but entertaining. Neal acts as the flick’s de facto bad guy, but Reinhold creates such a gentle and unassuming character that he provides some nice moments.

While parts of Clause work well, I think the filmmakers try way too hard to give it a mystical aura. The movie pours on sparkly glop like a crummy New Age song from Loreena McKennitt – I’d forgotten how much I hated her “music” - and it attempts to force magic when it can’t deliver. The movie does bring about a nice feeling of an idealized Christmas setting at times, but during others, it works too hard to enchant us.

Ultimately, parts of The Santa Clause seem moderately amusing and entertaining, but other aspects fall flat. Some weak performances from child actors harm it, as do forced attempts to create a magical aura it can’t naturally deliver. In the end, the flick offers some fun bits, but it comes across as too drippy and sappy to become a total success.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B / Bonus D+

The Santa Clause appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture looked good, but a number of small concerns kept it from becoming great.

Sharpness seemed solid. The movie presented a nicely crisp and accurate image. I noticed no signs of softness or fuzziness, as the flick stayed distinct and detailed. Jagged edges caused no issues, but I saw a little shimmering during the scenes at Denny’s, and I also noticed a little edge enhancement. As for print flaws, some light to moderate grain appeared throughout the movie, and occasional examples of specks and grit appeared, but generally the flick remained clean.

Colors offered the strongest aspects of the transfer. The movie featured appropriately bright Christmas tones, and the DVD replicated them nicely. The hues seemed lively and vibrant from start to finish, and they displayed no concerns related to noise, bleeding, or other areas. Black levels came across as dense and dark, but shadow detail looked a little heavy at times. During most low-light situations, the material looked fine, but some scenes seemed a little too thick and opaque. In the end, the picture of The Santa Clause provided an acceptably positive image, but it didn’t appear outstanding.

I felt the same way toward the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Santa Clause. Not surprisingly, the soundfield maintained a general emphasis in the forward spectrum. Music showed fairly solid stereo imaging, and effects offered a nice sense of atmosphere. Surround usage seemed a little odd. At times, the rear right speaker appeared to dominate the proceedings more than it should. On those occasions, it mildly overwhelmed the front right speaker and created a weird cross-field with the front left channel. This didn’t occur consistently, and I don’t know if it happened due to an accident or via audio design. It didn’t show up all of the time, but it became a distraction when it did.

Except for this odd orientation problem, the soundfield seemed fairly good. As I noted, the front channels dominated, but the rear speakers also added some useful information at times. They reinforced the music well, and a reasonable amount of unique effects also popped up from the rear. Other than the scenes with the overactive rear left speaker, the soundfield sounded engaging and appropriate for the material.

Audio quality came across as positive. Speech seemed warm and natural, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects appeared realistic and accurate. They packed a nice punch when appropriate, and they displayed no distortion problems. Music seemed bright and rich, and the score also showed nice bass response. Though modest in scope for the most part, the audio of The Santa Clause appeared very good. It lost a few points due to some odd imaging issues at times, but usually it presented a nice piece of work.

One odd note: at times toward the end of the movie, the subtitles disappeared. They came back sporadically. They covered most of the film, but I didn’t see them all the time. I don’t know if this issue related specifically to my Panasonic player or if the problem came with the disc itself, but I don’t recall seeing such a concern elsewhere.

This new Special Edition release of The Santa Clause offers the film’s second issue on DVD. It offers a new anamorphic transfer that the original disc lacked, but otherwise, it seems like a sorry excuse for a special edition, as it packs only a few very minor supplements. So You Wanna Be An Elf? provides a six-minute and 29-second “examination” of the processes through which new elves must go. Featuring David Krumholtz as Bernard, this newly created piece gives us a cutesy document of this “training”. It’s generally lame and pointless, though at least it tossed in a few shots from the set of Clause.

For budding chefs, we find Making Santa Snacks With Wolfgang, a program that teaches us how to make some different eats. This includes three video segments that last a total of 15 minutes, 40 seconds, and illustrate how to make Wolfgang Puck’s pizza, classic Christmas cookies, and Santa’s favorite cocoa. In addition, we get text recipes for those items and also discover measurement conversion charts. As for the video programs, they offer an obnoxious presentation. Puck cooks with some kids in Christmas garb, which seems fine. However, the post-production pours on goofy sound effects and extraneous animation, all of which make the clips almost unbearable to watch. The cooking tips might be useful for kids, but I found the pieces annoying.

The Santa’s Helper game combines a simplistic action game with some trivia questions. The former seems annoying and boring, while the latter appear easy for anyone who saw the movie. The contest seems to last forever, but at least it ends with a nice reward: a “Silly Symphony” from 1933. “The Night Before Christmas” lasts seven minutes, 55 seconds and is absurdly cutesy, but it still makes a nice addition to the package. Too bad you need to jump through hoops to access it.

The disc includes the usual complement of ads at the start of the disc. When you pop the platter in your player, you’ll find promos for The Jungle Book 2, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Lilo & Stitch, The Santa Clause 2, The Country Bears and Inspector Gadget 2. In addition, the Sneak Peeks domain features all of those trailers as well as additional ads for Atlantis II: Milo’s Return, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure and Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year.

We also get the THX Optimizer. This purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.

As a minor Easter egg, on some screens you’ll see a snowflake icon. Highlight it and click “enter”. You’ll then shake up the onscreen snow globe. It’s a minor thrill, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

Finally, a few DVD-ROM features appear. “The 25 Days of Christmas” provides a simplistic collection of holiday artifacts. You click on the numbers one through 25 in order, and each one shows a basic animation related to Christmas; for example, a gingerbread man might hop around the screen. Wee ones might find some entertainment here, but the loud presentation actively annoyed me.

“Write a Letter to Santa” offers exactly what it describes. You can compose your own little note and send it off to St. Nick. A response will come back before too long. I don’t think Santa actually reads the letters you send to him. I wrote something pretty naughty, but I still ended up on his “nice” list. Maybe Santa’s just a little kinkier than we think.

Although it doesn’t match up with the best Christmas movies, The Santa Clause offers a generally entertaining piece. It suffers from some obnoxious child actors and excessive sentimentality, but it includes enough amusing moments to work as family viewing. The DVD provides good but unexceptional picture and sound, but its new roster of supplements seems lame.

I didn’t like Clause enough to strongly recommend it, but for families who want some decent holiday viewing, they could do much worse. If you already own the original DVD release, you might want to upgrade to this one for the new anamorphic image. However, don’t buy this package for the extras. The paltry package provides little of use; it’s a sad excuse for a special edition.

Note: this special edition of The Santa Clause comes with a voucher good for a free ticket to the film’s sequel. Actually, it’ll score you a $7 credit to see the new flick; that might get you in the door some places, but most folks who live in large metropolitan areas can’t see non-matinee screenings for $7 or less. Some prior DVDs – like Return to Neverland - also tossed in free movie tickets, but I can’t think of any others that didn’t limit the vouchers to kids. The coupon with Clause works for anyone. I didn’t factor this ticket into my supplements grade simply because it’s only good through December 13, 2002, but for anyone interested in both Clause films who pursues the DVD within the appropriate time frame, it offers a nice little incentive.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1372 Stars Number of Votes: 51
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