Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 12, 2006)
Given the enormous financial success of Ron Howard’s 2000 take on The Grinch, I’m surprised we’ve not found more live-action remakes of old animated Christmas specials. Not that I’m complaining, as I loathed the Howard Grinch and could live without similar attempts to cash in on revered TV shows.
Six years after Grinch scored on movie screens, we get a smaller scale reworking of 1974’s The Year Without a Santa Claus. Does it prosper where Grinch faltered? Nope. In fact, this stinker may actually smell worse than Howard’s effort, and I didn’t think that was possible.
The big business and growing cynicism of Christmas leaves Santa Claus (John Goodman) disillusioned, and the antics of media-savvy lead elf Sparky (Chris Kattan) don’t help his mood. Mrs. Claus (Delta Burke) can’t raise his Christmas spirits, so when Santa declares himself tired of Christmas, he decides to avoid the holiday.
Elves Jingle (Ethan Suplee) and Jangle (Eddie Griffin) overhear all these woes so they decide they will work to fix things. They feel if they can find one kid with true Yuletide spirit, Santa will rediscover his own feelings.
10-year-old Iggy Thistlewhite (Dylan Minnette) of South Town becomes the focus of their quest. The elves saw him on TV as the organizer of a renewed South Town Christmas festival, they think he’s the right party. Jingle and Jangle head to South Town and attempt to recruit Iggy to their cause. The film follows their efforts to inspire him as well as related issues.
Maybe it’s not fair for someone like me to review this live-action remake of Year. After all, I grew up with original animated show and still think it’s a winner. Programs that tamper with childhood memories tread on fragile ground.
Because of that, I can’t claim I viewed the 2006 Year objectively, but I don’t think my fond thoughts about the original led to my disgust with the remake. When a program that attempts to lampoon crassness and cynicism comes with more than a smattering of its own crassness and cynicism, problems result.
If forced to find something I like about this Year, I’d select Goodman’s amusingly cranky take on the disillusioned Santa. The movie doesn’t give him a lot to do, but he manages to add a little bite to his scenes. I’m not sure if his surly, disgusted attitude is acting, though. It’s more likely that Goodman realized he got stuck in a true stinker and his demeanor followed.
Year substitutes moronic cameos, ironic references and winking asides instead of real humor, spirit or emotion. One of the flick’s main problems stems from the fact it meanders badly as it pads the original TV special. The 2006 Year runs about twice as long as its inspiration, and the filmmakers fail to conjure any story points to expand the production.
This means a movie absolutely packed with filler. Various aspects go on well past their expiration dates. We see way too much at the toy expo as well as Sparky’s attempts to get Mrs. Claus to change Christmas. We get a ridiculously long and pointless arcade sequence, and many other prolonged segments go nowhere. These crash the original story under the weight of its feeble attempts at humor.
A cheap feel permeates the program. Effects are uniformly terrible, especially when the flick shows the realms of Heatmiser and Snowmiser. All these and plenty of other elements look bargain basement and detract from any potential effectiveness they might have. Oh, and don’t forget Goodman’s terrible fake beard.
How cheesy is this production? When Santa visits Heatmiser, the latter warms his hands on flames made of paper blown by a fan! This is the kind of effect you’ll find during an amusement park attraction; it has no place in a network TV production.
Year can’t even do its iconic songs well. Yes, this version includes the legendary Heatmiser/Snowmiser tunes, but it recasts them in a moderately rocking way that kills them. Bizarrely, the reworking of Snowmiser’s song changes “He’s Mr. 20-below” to “He’s Mr. 10-Below”. This doesn’t flow well, and I can’t see any reason to alter it.
Gah, what a sad state of affairs when a show can’t even get a tune’s lyrics correct – or intentionally alters them even though it hurts the song’s fluidity. It doesn’t help that Harvey Fierstein as Heatmiser is arguably the most grating singer of all time, and I’m not sure why he plays the role like an outcast from Amos and Andy.
How could anyone like a movie that casts the loathsome “Dr. Laura” as a wise guru? It would take a product much better than this to overcome such impediments such as that and “Queer Eye” Carson Kressley’s mincing performance as a fashion elf. This is atrocious Christmas product with no redeeming value.