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The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

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Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is good clean fun, but not condescending. Read on:

The Santa Clause franchise began, in 1994, as the ultimate collision of workaholic-Dad-snapped-into-line-by-fantastical-intervention cinema (see The Family Man, Liar Liar, Click, et al) and high concept piffle (ordinary guy becomes… Santa Claus). The movies have since served as one of the two twin pillars, alongside the Toy Story films, in star Tim Allen’s otherwise scant big screen career. Eight years passed between the original and its sequel, but the $172 million worldwide gross of The Santa Clause 2 (almost on par with its forebear) cemented plans for a trilogy.

While the films have taken a turn for even more family-friendly terrain (the original was rated PG, the latter two flicks both G), the result — somewhat paradoxically, when stacked up against many other live action family franchises — is not a movie that feels tame or uncertain, but one emboldened by the clear purpose and vision of its mission. Yes, there are still, dishearteningly, reindeer flatulence jokes and a sound mix full of cartoon cacophonies, but for the most part The Escape Clause succeeds as a credible adventure flick for little tykes.

Michael Lembeck returns as director from The Santa Clause 2, and guides the movie with a sure hand. He’s aided by a solid screenplay by Ed Decter and John Strauss — the original writers of There’s Something About Mary, who’ve generally refocused their efforts on younger audiences, going on to pen scripts for The Wild and The Lizzie McGuire Movie, among others — and an engagingly colorful villainous performance by Martin Short as the jealous Jack Frost.

After having become Santa in the first movie, Scott Calvin (Allen) has tried to juggle the demands of the job with his personal life. The Escape Clause finds Santa taking on new challenges as his extended family continues to grow. At the risk of giving away its secret location, Scott invites his in-laws, Sylvia and Bud Newman (Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin, a rich pair) to the North Pole to share in the holiday festivities and be near their daughter, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), as she prepares for the eagerly anticipated birth of Baby Claus. The problem, of course, is that Carol’s parents don’t know about Scott’s secret identity (they just think he’s a north-of-the-border toymaker), so he disguises the North Pole as Canada, instructing all his elves to cover up their pointy ears and go about appending, “ehh?” to the end of every other sentence.

Further complicating matters are Scott’s own blended brood — ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson), her new husband Neil (Judge Reinhold), their daughter Lucy (a very effective Liliana Mumy) and Scott’s son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) — who beg on for a trip of their own, and have to be entertained as well as keep the secret from the Newmans.

The main complication, though, is Jack Frost (Short), an icy-browed outcast on the Council of Legendary Figures, a group which includes the Easter Bunny, Father Time, Mother Nature, Cupid, et al. Jack wants his own holiday, and when rebuffed by the council he hatches a mischievous scheme to wreck Scott’s holiday and make him unwittingly invoke the titular “escape clause,” thus freeing the path for Jack to become the new Santa Claus.

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