When "The Santa Clause," starring Tim Allen as a divorced, workaholic toy company marketing whiz who suddenly has the mantle of St. Nick thrust upon him, was released in November 1994, it deservedly became a popular Christmas movie -- a sweet-and-sour fantasy that connected with the frequently splintered families of the hard-driving '90s.
It's understandable that Disney would be eager to make a sequel, and while the studio can hardly be accused of rushing to capitalize on the first, it nevertheless went into production with a mishmash of a script with five writers, working from a story by three more writers, including the original film's Steve Rudnick and Leo Benvenuti. The result is a ponderous disappointment that puts Allen to an unjustly severe test.
Just 28 days before Christmas, Santa discovers that his contract -- who knew he had a contract? --requires that he come up with a Mrs. Claus or lose his job. This is a premise with potential, with Santa having to keep his toy workshop at the North Pole going full blast while resuming his identity as Scott Calvin and returning home to his picture-postcard community to find and win a wife in record time. As it happens he must return home anyway to straighten out his troubled son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd), who has run afoul of his severe middle school principal (Elizabeth Mitchell), who has lost the spirit of Christmas, which naturally means she will wind up the leading candidate to become the First Lady of the North Pole.
This surely sounds more than enough plot for a movie, but possibly somebody in a power position became worried that a holiday picture centering on a romance might not have enough kiddie appeal. Consequently, Santa's chief elves, Curtis (Spencer Breslin) and Bernard (David Krumholtz), pop Santa in a Rube Goldberg/Jules Verne-like replicating device that produces a plasticized Santa as a stand-in while he's away but who swiftly proves to be a tyrant who cranks out an army of giant wooden soldiers to enforce his will and ultimately threatens to destroy Christmas.
It would have been much wiser --and logical --to leave the operation of the workshop in the experienced hands of Bernard and Curtis. All these developments and challenges facing Santa weigh down the plot so heavily that they drain all the film of its energy and needlessly strain credibility (even a fantasy needs some credibility), leaving director Michael Lembeck to keep things moving as best he can. Under the circumstances the usual crowd-pleaser special effects and fantasy characters and elements don't count for much.
Tony Burrough's vast Toy Workshop and Elf Village at the North Pole is the film's strongest asset. The workshop is a dazzling and accurate display of the Art Nouveau style in sinuous full flower, a worthy homage to such architects as Hector Guimard, who designed those turn of the last century Paris Métro entrances, as familiar a City of Lights image as the Eiffel Tower. (The Reindeer's Stable, in turn, is an homage to Barcelona's Antonio Gaudi with its exuberant tiled-paved, bizarrely shaped architectural elements.)
Considering the abrupt changes Mitchell's uptight principal is required to undergo, the actress manages to pull together an appealing and even credible characterization. Allen has essentially been asked to hold together the film's two basically disparate stories, and there are moments when he succeeds through sheer dint of his regular-guy charisma. What the filmmakers may have done by conflating two plots in "The Santa Clause 2" is inadvertently guarantee that there will be no "Santa Clause 3."
* * * 'The Santa Clause 2'
MPAA rating: G (general audiences).
Times guidelines: Suitable for all ages.
Tim Allen ... Scott Calvin/Santa/Toy SantaElizabeth Mitchell ... Carol NewmanDavid Krumholtz ... BernardEric Lloyd ... Charlie CalvinSpencer Breslin ... Curtis
A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures. Director Michael Lembeck. Producers Brian Reilly, Bobby Newmyer, Jeffrey Silver. Executive producers William W. Wilson III, Rick Messina, Richard Baker, James Miller. Cinematographer Adam Greenberg. Editor David Finfer. Special make-up and animatronics effects designed and created by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. Music George S. Clinton. Costumes Ingrid Ferrin. Production designer Tony Burrough. Art directors Gwendolyn Margetson, Sheila Haley, Sheila Millar. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times