The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
At the conclusion of The Santa Clause 2, Scott Calvin (aka Santa Claus) marries Carol, who forsakes her old life as a school principal to join him at the North Pole. Toys. Elves. Reindeer. Bottomless cups of cocoa. All in all, a pretty sweet gig if a gal is lucky enough to land it. Now, in the series' third installment (subtitled The Escape Clause), the couple awaits the birth of their first child together.
Santa, stressed out by pre-Christmas deadlines, struggles to keep the workshop on schedule and meet the needs of his extremely homesick wife. So he decides to bring her parents, Sylvia and Bud, to visit—a seemingly simple gesture complicated by the fact that his in-laws think he's a toymaker in Canada. Santa and his helpers must develop a ruse in order to preserve their secret. That deception is minor compared to the one about to be perpetrated on the Clauses ... one that threatens to change the feel of Christmas.
On the verge of being kicked out of the Council of Legendary Figures for trying to upstage Santa, Jack Frost offers to do community service and assist the jolly old elf during his busy season. The frigid fiend's true agenda involves a hostile takeover. Forget benevolent gift-giving and flights around the world. Imagine the North Pole as a money-making tourist trap! If he can get Scott to invoke the "escape clause" by holding his magic snow globe and saying he wishes he'd never become Santa, it could open the door for Jack to seize control.
Scott wants to avoid repeating the parenting mistakes he made in his first marriage ("I'm a tad worried about being a father again because I wasn't that good at it the first time"). He looks after Carol and does his best to meet her needs without letting down the children of the world who need Santa to come through, professionally. It's easy for dads in the audience to relate to him. He's not a selfish workaholic, but simply a man struggling to balance the many noble things competing for his time and energy. We also see a grim yet realistic depiction of family hostility and resentment from an ex-wife and neglected teenage son.
Holiday tension with the in-laws ends with Scott making peace and noting that it's normal for families under pressure to tick each other off ("We don't have to be perfect to be good families; we just need to be together"). Another homily is that family members shouldn't keep secrets from each other. We see the saving power of a child's warm embrace, and we witness how important it is to resist shutting out loved ones. The elves cooperate with each other in great demonstrations of teamwork. Santa makes the best of a crisis situation by crafting three severely damaged toys into one cool one.
Jack's greedy, materialistic, theme-park version of Christmas is a poignant picture of what the holiday should never become. (To be honest, though, Jack's revisionism isn't a far cry from Disney World-meets-the Toys 'R' Us day-after-Thanksgiving sale—a reminder, for those who are ready to hear it, that the commercial, secularized holiday we see at the mall can't equal a faith-based celebration of Christ.)
Temporarily relieved of his Santa duties, Scott gets to see what his life would've been like if he had never taken on the role (think It's a Wonderful Life). He comes to realize what it meant to his life and others' that he slaved away as Santa for 12 years, and chooses to reclaim the role with all of its pressures.
A sitar chimes in when a character shares relaxation techniques, suggesting a Zen-like connection. When the proper elements align, a magical snow globe manipulates time and space. A girl is said to possess magical hugs. Frost's deception of worker elves provides an (unintentional) example of how Satan can twist the truth.
Jack Frost flirts with Scott's mother-in-law. Mother Nature shows a bit of cleavage.
Minor scuffles, a few kicks and shoves, and a little slapstick violence involving snow shovels and wobbly Christmas trees. It seems that Santa dies when he falls off a roof. Scott whacks guys with a giant candy cane. Jack uses his arctic breath to freeze a young girl's parents, which upsets her and could upset smaller moviegoers until the couple gets freed from Frost's icy grip.
Crude or Profane Language
Mild insults and slang include "frost-face, "blubber-ball," "tushie" and "butt-like."
Drug and Alcohol Content
None, though a vending machine sells "Red Deer," a fictional beverage whose logo is intentionally designed to look like that of the high-octane energy drink Red Bull. Also, Mrs. Claus, noticing her husband's giddiness, asks if he's been hitting the cocoa.
Other Negative Elements
Flatulent reindeer giggle at their own gassiness. As the Easter bunny hops by he says, "The little pellets behind me, I'll clean those up later." Let's hope children don't take Frost at face value when he announces that a parent's love is proportionate to what they spend on presents, or that "Naughty-list people have more fun."
The first Santa Clause carried a PG rating for some mild profanity and innuendo. Too bad. The second one scored a sweeter G, but soft-pedaled the impact of divorce on children and tossed in a few lines establishing Mother Nature as the supreme authority in the universe. Frustrating. Does the third installment come with a disclaimer?
As totally secularized Santa stories go, this one keeps its dialogue as clean as freshly fallen snow, is fun for the ho-ho-whole family and actually corrects a flaw from Part Two: When Scott sees what his life would've become had the Santa gig never happened, we get a realistic glimpse of the fallout from divorce. Other great messages include the need to be honest and gracious with relatives, and persevere through trials to fulfill a calling. Parents can even use Jack Frost's ambitions and deceptions as examples of how Satan tries to tempt and distract us. And by all means, if your family decides to invoke this Escape Clause, discuss the eagerly awaited baby due at Christmas. Not just the one born to the Clauses at the North Pole, the One born in the manger. That's something Santa Clause 3 still doesn't do on its own.