Ho, ho, no. There’s a spectacularly unfortunate moment in one of the last-gasp “Our Gang” shorts where the little girl replacing Darla Hood is hell-bent on showing that she not only knows her lines, but everybody else’s, and to prove it she mouths every one of those lines while the other actors are speaking. That’s the sort of thing you keep encountering with the kids in The Santa Clause 2. It’s sad — as well as evidence of contempt for the audience — when a big-budget picture is so slipshod that it leaves in a shot where one of the kids turns and looks directly at the camera to see what’s going on (no one noticed this in editing?). That’s the worst example, but far from the only one. In fact, slipshod pretty much describes the whole movie.
The special effects are rarely convincing and sometimes downright lame. The much-vaunted art nouveau sets have all the antiseptic anti-charm of Disney World at its plastic worst. Santa’s workshop is presumably a few hundred years old at least; this place looks like it was just finished and waiting on an influx of upscale Christmas shoppers with lots of disposable cash. The idea of casting children as elves is just plain bad. Even if the kids didn’t look like animatronic escapees from “It’s a Small World,” they still don’t look much like elves, no matter how many Mr. Spock ears they glue onto them. They look like children.
It took six writers to cook this thing up, and that may be the problem with it. The film feels for all the world like something that was made by a committee and first-time feature director Michael Lembeck doesn’t have what it takes to smooth things over. The screenplay is a heavy-handed mess. It was one thing when Tim Allen noted in the press kit that the film was about “trying to balance family and career.” It’s quite another for the script to actually incorporate a line to this effect — as if the audience is just to damn dumb to get it unless it’s spelled out. It doesn’t help that the movies is too heavy on the plot.
The basic setup of Santa having to find a wife in order to remain being Santa is good enough without dragging in a subplot about Santa’s son turning into a very, very G-rated juvenile delinquent, not to mention a further subplot involving a Santa clone who’s supposed to run things while Santa’s off searching for a wife. What’s most regrettable is that there’s the core of a good Christmas movie — if not a good movie — somewhere at the bottom of this sea of curdled eggnog. The time the film spends with Tim Allen’s Santa wooing the future Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell, Nurse Betty) actually has a good deal of charm and a hint of the magic and heart the rest of the movie wishes it had. (As a bona fide British sports car enthusiast, I have to admit that I was suckered into this part of the movie by a strange digression on the merits of the 1953 MG TD — wondering all the while just what the film’s 5- to 10-year-old target audience thought the characters were talking about!) Unfortunately, this part of the movie only accounts for three scenes.
While the Santa-clone subplot is largely unnecessary and takes away from time that could have been more profitably spent on the movie’s romantic-comedy aspect, it does provide the bulk of the film’s laughs. The bogus Santa — played by Allen as a cross between Idi Amin and Frank Morgan’s Wizard of Oz — definitely perks up the later portions of the proceedings. And there are occasional flashes of playful wit — including one crack about how some workshop gizmo was designed for no good reason other than the fact that it “looks cool.” There’s a nice evocation of the Laurel and Hardy classic Babes in Toyland, too, but these things aren’t enough to salvage the film from its basic shoddiness. And, for God’s sake, I know it must test well with 6-year-olds, but can’t we have just one — just one — kiddie comedy that doesn’t include a flatulence gag? Is that too much to ask?