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The Santa Clause Movies on DVD: The Santa Clause: Special Edition The Santa Clause 2 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

The Santa Clause: Special Edition DVD Review

The Santa Clause movie poster The Santa Clause

Theatrical Release: November 11, 1994 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: John Pasquin

Cast: Tim Allen (Scott Calvin), Judge Reinhold (Dr. Neil Miller), Wendy Crewson (Laura Miller), Eric Lloyd (Charlie Calvin), David Krumholtz (Bernard), Larry Brandenburg (Detective Nunzio), Mary Gross (Ms. Daniels), Paige Tamada (Judy), Peter Boyle (Mr. Whittle)

Songs: "Oh Christmas Tree", "Carol of the Bells", The Drifters - "White Christmas", Loreena McKennitt - "The Bells of Christmas", The Chipmunks - "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town", "Jeopardy Theme", Johnny Hawksworth - "Jingle Bell Ride", "Jingle Bells", ZZ Top - "Gimme All Your Lovin'", Brenda Russell and Howard Hewett - "Christmas Will Return"

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Everyone knows about Santa Claus, the jolly old man who has become as central to many people's Christmas celebrations as the Messiah for whom the holiday is named. Over the years, there is no doubt that the holiday and its imagery have been depicted cinematically more than any other feast. Many of these Christmas-themed films have dealt with the magical gift-giver, dating all the way back to multiple silent black and white shorts from 1897. Over a hundred years later, the North Pole remains a frequently-filmed subject. It is the rare year which doesn't find at least one theatrical film addressing the joyous December day from Santa's angle and even then, dozens of television shows are sure to tackle the territory. Still, the very nature of a kind soul who during the sleep from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning
delivers presents to those who have been good raises many questions, both for curious young believers and those who have to field the queries. In recent years, no film has addressed those questions as readily or memorably as Disney's 1994 comedy The Santa Clause.

What is the North Pole like? Just who are Santa's elves? What kind of technological advances have eased Santa's job? All these are answered, as most importantly is: How has Santa lived so long? The entire film is a response to that, in that it reveals the position of Santa Claus to be one which gets systematically re-filled from time to time.

Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is just an ordinary man in his late thirties. A successful executive at an Illinois toy company, Scott earns less kudos for his personal life, in which a messy divorce from his wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) has limited the time he can spend with his six-year-old son Charlie (Eric Lloyd). The exes still bicker regularly, allowing plenty of opportunities for Scott to summon his knack for sarcasm. But no zinger can ease the family problems that are as evident on Christmas Eve as any time. With Scott unequipped for single fatherhood, it's a chore for Charlie to spend the night with him. What is for many the happiest evening of the year unwinds through a series of mishaps, from a burnt turkey to an understocked Denny's to awkward moments where it is clear that Charlie's new father figure (psychiatrist Neil, played by Judge Reinhold) has become more of a presence and information source for the boy than Scott ever was.

Christmas Eve dinner at Denny's... what's not to like? Charlie (Eric Lloyd) and Scott (Tim Allen) don't know it yet, but they've just discovered The Santa Clause.

The biggest and most seasonal point on which Scott and Neil differ is on good old Kris Kringle. Neil has told young Charlie that Santa is "more like a state of mind." Scott is less theoretical; he ensures his son that Santa is real. As such, Scott's bedtime reading of Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas inspires a bombardment of questions from the now-skeptical Charlie. Any doubt of Santa's existence would appear to be erased that night when Scott and Charlie are awoken by "a clatter" on the roof. Father and son discover St. Nick on their roof, which he falls off of and disappears on the snowy lawn. Even if you haven't seen the movie, you probably know enough to guess what happens next.

In putting on Santa's red suit and saying "Let's go", Scott sets off on the big guy's Christmas Eve route with Charlie joining him in the reindeer-driven sleigh. They think it's just one unforgettable night, but upon arriving at the North Pole and being surrounded by elves (essentially kids with pointy ears claiming to be hundreds of years old), Scott learns of The Santa Clause, the fine print text on a card found in Santa's jacket reading "In putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waves any and all right to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus, in perpetuity to which some time the wearer becomes unable to do so, by either accident or design." In other words, as the impatient head elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) phrases it, "You put on the suit, you're the big guy."

The next morning, Scott and Charlie awake in their Midwestern house, leading Scott to suspect that the whole thing was an elaborate dream. Only there are some holes to that theory: both Charlie and he recall the adventurous night in great detail and Scott is even wearing the red silk pajamas that the helpful hot cocoa-perfecting elf Judy (Paige Tamada) gave him.

Scott enjoys some lovely hot cocoa made by Judy the elf (Paige Tamada). Psychiatrist Neil (Judge Reinhold) is not pleased to hear Charlie's firm belief in Santa Claus.

Though the idea of having your dad be Santa Claus sounds mighty exciting, Charlie's insistence of this as fact creates problems for both he and Scott. There are laughs at school on career day and worse yet, both Laura and Neil heartily disapprove of what they consider excessive fantasy and large-scale delusion.
Further complicating matters and entertaining viewers is what happens next for Scott. He undergoes physical transformation to look the part of Father Christmas. He moves to a diet of cookies and milk, which has him adopting a big belly. His hair turns white, even overcoming dyes. And he grows a beard, which no amount of shaving can offset. There are personality changes too: Scott can't help but object to a toy line proposal's inaccurate depiction of Santa and his elves. It's inevitable; Scott Calvin is becoming Santa Claus.

The Santa Clause is a fun movie and one which I think has bettered with age. It has emerged as the present day's definitive portrayal of Santa Claus and his fascinating universe. It doesn't do this with emotion manipulation, hokey dramatics on the power of believing, the all-too common reliance on elements from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, or a revelation of secular Hollywood's "true meaning of Christmas." Nope, it does so with humor, a bit of an edge, and a heavy dose of contemporary life. Divorce, custody battles, skepticism, police, and psychiatry all figure into this tale, making it very relevant for modern audiences, even the cynical. But these elements don't make the proceedings dreary; on the contrary, the hallmarks of the present-day are juxtaposed with the alluring classic concept of the North Pole and the result is largely believable and highly entertaining. The latter is especially true for fans of Tim Allen's brand of comedy, which he carries over here from the early years of his star-making hit sitcom "Home Improvement" along with Season 1 director John Pasquin.

The movie is not perfect and even my tremendous appreciation for the star, Christmas, and Disney films aren't enough for me to deem this the most satisfying holiday movie ever made, or even of the late-20th century. There's some unevenness, not all of the ideas get fully fleshed out, and surely close examination of the premise can reveal some holes. These shortcomings get overshadowed, however, by the film's many positive traits, which sadly have been partially forgotten or unable to recreate in this decade's two sillier, more kid-oriented sequels that at least divert in their own right. The original Santa Clause, though, stands out with its clever ideas and inspired execution. It delivers understated emotion, a non-pandering tone, a terrific score by Michael Convertino, and some heartwarming spirit. In short, it captures Christmas' place in modern-day America in a light-hearted but enduring way. The process of discovery and how being Santa Claus wedges itself into Scott Calvin's realistic everyday life makes for a most compelling viewing experience.

Scott is going through some changes. The grandfatherly new appearance attracts the interest of children.

The experience delighted more moviegoers than anyone expected twelve years ago. The Santa Clause's $144 million U.S. gross made it one of 1994's biggest earners, vastly surpassing expectations. It also launched the beginning of a potent big screen career for Tim Allen, who has since teamed with Disney (who produced "Home Improvement" with its Touchstone Television branch) a number of times, mostly finding success, especially in this role and in voicing the deluded action figure Buzz Lightyear in Pixar's Toy Story films.

If advertisements are in earnest, then The Santa Clause saga is ending with The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, which opened in theaters this weekend. But both the trilogy and especially this original film are destined to remain Christmastime favorites for many years to come. Certainly, this one continues to enchant a wide range of audiences today and has become one of Disney's most beloved live action films in recent years.

The movie is one of the few live action movies of the past 25 years to appear in multiple incarnations on Disney DVD. Its original DVD release was one of Disney's earliest, coming the first year that the studio committed to DVD (having previously supported DIVX, the failed pay-per-view digital format). When The Santa Clause 2 came to theaters in 2002, it brought a new Special Edition DVD for its predecessor (during Halloween week, the increasingly early launch of the commercial Christmas season). The Special Edition DVD, the only one in print, came in two flavors: widescreen and full screen. It is the "Widescreen Special Edition" which is the subject of this review hereon.

NOTE: The Santa Clause is one of the few films that has been altered for DVD. Its minor revision comes early in the film, when Laura is ready to leave Charlie with Scott. A brief exchange in which Laura gives Scott's Neil phone number (which he claims to recognize as 1-800-SPANK-ME) has been cut. As you can guess, it is over 1-800-SPANK-ME, which was a real phone number. In some TV airings the portion of the scene is redubbed with the nonsensical 1-800-POUND, but it's lost altogether on disc.

Buy The Santa Clause: Widescreen Special Edition from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
(Reformatted 1.33:1 Fullscreen available separately)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 29, 2002
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
THX-Certified with Optimizer tests
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

This "Widescreen Special Edition" offers considerable improvement in picture quality. Whereas the film's original DVD was in non-anamorphic widescreen, this one also presents it in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio but enhances it for 16x9 televisions. (There is also a compromised fullscreen version sold separately, which sadly is the one that's much easier to find in stores.) For a mid-'90s film, there is nothing to age the movie in terms of its video, aside from a slightly drab Walt Disney Pictures logo at the start.
Beyond this, the colors are rich, the print never welcomes a single intruder, and sharpness is just right. You might be able to find something wrong with the visuals with higher standards or a mammoth television screen. Otherwise, this transfer registers as practically perfect and a clear upgrade over the previous disc, which itself would be deemed sufficient by non-home theater enthusiasts.

In the sound department, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't sound much different from the mix on the original disc, but it's highly pleasing. Family films don't often do a lot with sound to engulf you in a world the way an action movie might, but The Santa Clause takes several efforts to make you feel as if you are in Scott Calvin's world with atmospheric effects that are well conceived and realized. From the opening multi-level building office party to the bustling activity of the elves at the North Pole, there's plenty to make the surround sound stand out beyond a basic stereo TV viewing. As is usual, the dialogue is crisp and the dynamics are consistent, but it is really the stellar design which makes the mix so commendable. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also provided.

"So You Wanna Be an Elf?" Bernard (David Krumholtz) is your guide in this fluffy featurette. Even if set-top games aren't your thing, "Santa's Helper" might be worth your time for the unannounced reward -- the Silly Symphony short "The Night Before Christmas." Live, love, eat? Yeah, "Making Santa Snacks with Wolfgang" is a pretty feeble inclusion.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

This Special Edition fails to live up to its moniker with a truly underwhelming slate of extras. First, "So You Wanna Be an Elf?" (6:28) finds David Krumholtz in character as Bernard (on the set of The Santa Clause 2) training a new crop of elf recruits. He gives them some tips in gift-wrapping and mail-sorting before turning to moviemaking with some behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of the original movie.
There's some interesting content, probably enough to sustain a nice half-hour documentary based on the quickly-cut snippets, but here, they're drowned out by Bernard's narration and literally amount to 85 seconds. Like the hokey bonus features of The Santa Clause 2, this featurette plays on the notion that the real Santa Claus made the movie. If this short supplement had been something which aired on TV in 1994, I'd have called it a neat inclusion. But as something filmed in 2002 as the lone making-of bonus for a Special Edition DVD, it's quite a letdown.

Next is the set-top game "Santa's Helper." While the visuals seem kind of cool, the game's design soon wears thin. With your remote control, you navigate the airborne Santa and reindeer either up or down based on approaching obstacles, meanwhile pressing "Enter" to drop gifts down the occasional chimney. At times, you've merely got to guess where the obstacle will be and if you guess wrong, you start the round again. To win, you have to endure four levels of this, separated by some basic sets of trivia questions about the movie. Now, most people reading this review would probably not care too much for this game, but here's the kicker: if you get through it all, you are treated to the 1933 Silly Symphony short The Night Before Christmas (7:54), in full (minus a couple of racially insensitive gags which have often been cut). As of publishing, this is the only place you can find this vintage cartoon on DVD, outside of a heavily-and-oddly-butchered appearance on Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment. Some players will let you access this Easter egg by going directly to Title 5. For those that don't, it's an awful lot of hoops you must jump through to see it, which makes your skill at DVD games never as important as it is here. Fortunately, with December's scheduled release of Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies, such elaborate efforts shouldn't be required to watch this holiday short on DVD, and hopefully, in its entirety.

Rounding out the video content is "Making Santa Snacks with Wolfgang" (15:40), in which the heavily-accented Austrian-American "celebrity chef" Wolfgang Puck guides a group of "elves" (kids) through making Santa's favorite foods: "snowman pizza", cookies, and hot chocolate. It relies on some visual and aural gimmicks to make it more exciting, from an "Elf TV" set-up and Puck's feeble attempts at comedy to some mechanically-delivered lines from the kids (whose parents surely work for Disney) and Puck's inane motto which is adopted as a form of grace ("live, love, eat"). In short, while a certain demographic might appreciate this more than a standard electronic press kit (EPK) piece, for most of us, it's pretty much a waste of time (both ours and those who produced it). Anyone who intends to try these out in the kitchen would benefit the same from the 19 pages of recipe text screens which are provided along with a 2-page measurement conversion table. Of course, how many people have a DVD player in their kitchen? A booklet inside the case holding this stuff would have made more sense.

The Flash-animated Advent calendar "25 Days Till Christmas" is one of two DVD-ROM bonuses. Write a letter to Santa, but you're not guaranteed a response. Press the snowflake on the main or bonus features menu and the snowglobe will snow.

The final two bonuses are limited to DVD-ROM. They are "25 Days Till Christmas" and "Letters to Santa." The former is a film-themed Advent calendar that you're much more likely to go through in one sitting than to actually countdown to Christmas.
Disney
Denny's
The numbers 1 through 25 are scattered about and you have to click them in order, each one reveals a basic little Flash animation, with a few accompanied by sound clips from the movie. As for "Letters", surprisingly, you actually get to compose your very own letter to Santa. You're supposed to get a response, but my request for a better Santa Clause DVD (penned today) has yet to be answered. Some may appreciate that both features offer lengthy excerpts from the film's memorable instrumental music.

About as important as any of the bonus features here is the one from the movie's previous DVD, which does not resurface here. I'm referring to the movie's original theatrical trailer, which is plenty cool in its own right, but even more so since it contains glimpses of scenes that were not in the final cut. Now that it's obvious that deleted scenes exist, this Special Edition DVD loses points not only for inexplicably dropping the trailer but for not providing those never-before-released deletions.

The main menu features excerpts of Michael Convertino's hard-to-find score as the listings appear on a snowglobe. An unlabeled snowflake icon does not take you to an Easter Egg, it just makes the central globe snowy, which also happens when you move to a different selection screen. The Bonus Material menu, the only other one that is animated, takes you closer to the snowglobe, with the option to produce a snow-blowing gust still present. On the whole, the menus are pretty clever and the kind that you can leave on for a while without going too mad, perhaps even putting you in the holiday spirit somehow.

The disc launches, predictably enough, with previews of other Disney properties. These promote The Santa Clause 2, The Jungle Book 2, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas Special Edition, Lilo & Stitch, The Country Bears, and Inspector Gadget 2. The Sneak Peeks menu holds additional previews for Winnie the Pooh: Very Merry Pooh Year, Atlantis II: Milo's Return, and (sensing a trend yet?) 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure.

Oh, and one final incentive worth mentioning but unusable now is a movie ticket voucher granting free child's admission to see The Santa Clause 2 in theaters. While its expiration decreases the package's value, a subsequent $10 price drop has more than made up the difference.

Father and son can have all kinds of fun Christmases henceforth! They're all looking in different directions, but Laura, Scott, and Neil are setting their sights on their rotund pal in his reindeer-drawn sleigh.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's too bad that The Santa Clause was revisited in a Special Edition that was a flimsy way to promote the sequel rather than one which actually paid due to this well-liked holiday classic. Still, the movie is perfect for perennial viewings and this DVD, though far from satisfying, is the best and easiest way to own it. If you only have the movie's original DVD or are still relying on VHS or laserdisc, you can afford to wait another year and see if The Santa Clause gets the DVD treatment it deserves when The Santa Clause 3 comes to disc. If it doesn't, then this will have to do and, based on the excellent movie and its fine feature presentation, deserves a spot in your collection. Just be prepared for major disappointment in the bonus features department.

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Related Reviews:
The Santa Clause 2 (2002) | The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)
Home Improvement: Season 1 (1991-92) | Season 2 (1992-93) | Season 3 (1993-94) | Season 4 (1994-95) | Season 5 (1995-96)
Jungle 2 Jungle (1997) | Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition (1995) | Toy Story 2: 2-Disc Special Edition (1999)
The Shaggy Dog (2006) | One Magic Christmas (1985) | The Christmas Star (1986) | The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) | Jingle All the Way: Family Fun Edition (1996) | I'll Be Home for Christmas (1998)
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994) | Squanto: A Warrior's Tale (1994) | The Lion King (1994)
Babes in Toyland (1961) | The Princess Diaries: Special Edition (2001) | The Parent Trap: Special Double Trouble Edition (1998)
Disney Channel Holiday (2005) | Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas (2004) | Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment (2005)
Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 9 - Classic Holiday Stories | Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 8 - Holiday Celebration with Mickey & Pals

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Reviews | Upcoming DVDs: Disney / All Studios | Recent Live Action Disney Films | Disney's Christmas Films | Search This Site

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Reviewed November 5, 2006.