ZERO STARS/**** Image B- Sound B
starring John Goodman, Ethan Suplee, Delta Burke, Chris Kattan
written by Larry Wilson and Tom Martin, based on the book by Phyllis McGinley
directed by Ron Underwood
by Ian Pugh I'm not really sure how anyone could consider Santa Claus the cure for December commercialism in this day and age, but it appears to be a popular sentiment right now. Before I knew that the network-television abortion The Year Without a Santa Claus existed, I suffered through The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, a film that carries the same awful message in a way that's worth mentioning. Tricked by Martin Short's Jack Frost into relinquishing the job of Santa Claus to him, Tim Allen's Scott Calvin returns to the North Pole to discover that Christmas has become "Frostmas," an overwrought celebration of capitalism with all the child-screaming and toy-grabbing that implies. With Jack-Santa having literally taken the "Christ" out of Christmas, Tim Allen strangely becomes a surrogate Jesus figure attempting to reclaim his holiday from the money-grubbing fat man of false jolliness, who of course represents the holiday season as we know it in reality. The Santa Clause 3 essentially amounts to an episode of Allen's sitcom "Home Improvement", which is to say not only that it's terrible, but also that its attempt at a metaphor is crude and obvious--come on, Santa Claus saving Christmas from himself? In retrospect, though, I have to admit that its joyfully malevolent predisposition to be such a balls-out hypocrite is a real head-scratcher worthy of further dissection.
The Year Without a Santa Claus is similarly aware of its own indulgence but well and truly hates itself for it, and every single frame of it is crafted with a petulant disdain for everything it extols. Subsequently, it's a lot easier to decipher and deserves nothing. The telepic is based on "the Holiday Classic," as its DVD cover screams at me. This, of course, refers more to the 1974 Rankin/Bass Christmas special than it does to the credited children's book by Phyllis McGinley. Although it's got nothing on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", it's heralded over Rankin and Bass' other secondary efforts thanks to the ragtime ditty of pastel-coloured weather-controlling characters Heat Miser and Snow Miser--a compulsive singalong that burrows its way into your brain at age six and stays put until the day you die. No wonder Batman & Robin's Mr. Freeze used Snow Miser's version to torture his henchmen.
This distended remake bizarrely consolidates the Miser Brothers' songs into one incomprehensible synth nightmare, which would be somewhat forgivable if this horrible fable were crafted around the only reason why anyone would watch a live-action "The Year Without a Santa Claus" in the first place. And yet the Misers' scenes, along with everything else in this production, are shot, edited, and choreographed so ineptly--the nadir being a boxing match between the Brothers (Harvey Fierstein is Heat, Michael McKean is Snow)--that we're left to assume someone actually created this thing with the full intention of rendering unbearable all the relatively painless aspects of its progenitor.
The rest of its cast list resembling some NBC inter-network reunion, The Year Without a Santa Claus finds Santa Claus ("The West Wing"'s John Goodman!) compelled to take a vacation for the holidays not by a cold this time but by the generally dispiriting materialism of Christmas and his corporate CEO, Sparky ("Saturday Night Live"'s Chris Kattan!). With Mrs. Claus (special guest star Delta Burke!) pushed to the sidelines, incompetent workshop drones Jingle ("My Name is Earl"'s Ethan Suplee!) and Jangle (Eddie Griffin, affiliated with no one, thank God) decide to leave the North Pole in search of a single child who can convince Santa that his annual trip is worth the effort. Landing in snowless Southtown, USA, the two idiots decide to stalk young Iggy Thistlewhite ("Prison Break"'s Dylan Minnette, in a bit of "Battle of the Network Stars" casting)--which is a lot creepier when you've got adult-sized males doing it instead of pint-sized stop-motion elves, by the way--in hopes that he can be that child. As outlined in our own Travis Hoover's review of Kronk's New Groove, Iggy fulfills the requirements for characters in family films with a negligent father (Robert Treveiler), the Mayor of Southtown, who might tear down part of the city to make room for a shopping mall or whatever. Did I mention that Jack LaLanne, Dr. Laura, and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"'s Carson Kessley also have cameos?
Perhaps clandestinely sponsored by some Big Tobacco-style conglomerate of videogame companies, The Year Without a Santa Claus manages its unique form of self-loathing with a simultaneous condemnation and approval of cynical Christmas marketing. Santa is terrified by demos of "Mortal Kombat" and "Soulcalibur III" as examples of the kind of stuff that kids want; meanwhile, Jingle and Jangle convince Iggy they're not pedophiles by schooling a few brand-name electronics at the local arcade ("That's the most fun I've ever had," Iggy tells them following the most dispassionate game of "Dance Dance Revolution" ever played). Even as materialism is blamed directly in the dialogue, Jingle seems a little too excited as he lists off the offenders as "television, summer blockbusters, and video games that let you go anywhere and do anything!"
The whole mess ends with snow in Southtown as Iggy's dear old dad, inspired by children throwing handfuls of soap shavings at each other, decides to let go of his mayoral gig in favour of picking up a controller alongside his son. I guess it's supposed to make you feel better for dropping six-hundred bucks on a PlayStation 3 for your screaming brat by pretending it'll bring the two of you closer together when you damn well know that it won't. Commercialization is bad, The Year Without a Santa Claus tells us, but as long as you're going to willingly descend into it anyway, why not do it with us? Just ask the original broadcast version of Charlie Brown's own holiday special: "Merry Christmas from your local bottler of Coca-Cola."
Released on DVD the day after it bombed on NBC, The Year Without a Santa Claus blessedly comes without any extras but managed to irritate the hell out of me anyway with an ear-blowing, eye-piercing menu screen that features "Play Movie" as the only option. The movie itself is future-proofed for no good reason in a 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced widescreen transfer; it looks consistently soupy, but since the inherently flat cinematography practically shoots you in the face with its emphasis on white, I doubt you'll care. Side note that the image is clear enough at least to notice that Chris Kattan's left eye is apparently suffering from conjunctivitis in the opening scene. My editor Bill described the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio to me as "just really friggin' loud," and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree in terms of both soundmix and film. Originally published: December 21, 2006.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.