Saturday, 15 January 2011

And Then There Was The Time I Lost A Bet And Had To Watch 'Santa Paws'.

As you may have just about figured out from my blog thus far, I am ever-so-slightly competitive. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to you that I am engaged in ongoing contests with online friends, with forfeits to the loser of each individual game. After a close-run defeat at Internet Scrabble recently, I had the misfortune to lose a game where the forfeit was for the loser to watch Santa Paws. Or, to give it its full, weighty title, The Search for Santa Paws. I think the IMDB blurb sums it up beautifully: "Magic dogs and an elf team up with two children to rescue Santa who has lost his memory".

This is a (poor) artist’s rendering of my feelings upon learning I had to watch this movie: The horror. The horror. Now, strictly speaking the actual wording of the forfeit I proposed (yes, I was very much hoist by my own petard on this one) was, “If you Friend lose this game [which would be a second loss in a row], then you have to watch Santa Paws.” However, generous to a fault (ahem) I decided not to quibble over semantics and to step up, watch the film, and take some notes for your amusement.

Firstly I prepared myself thus: Be prepared.
Then I attempted to take notes on my reactions to the film, whilst simultaneously numbing the pain with alcohol. I also roped in my friend D. to endure share this experience with me. Note, our DVD player is pretty old and doesn’t show time, therefore I can’t give you time notes for my comments; they’re just in consecutive order.

For ease of understanding, my notes are in this font and explanations of the plot are in this font.

It begins….

Credits and opening number:
We’re introduced to the location and characters who live at the North Pole through some cheesy exposition-heavy song that has mercifully been erased from my memory.

My first reaction was disappointment that they didn’t have a paw-print as one of the letters in the title; c’mon, Disney, that’s basic stuff right there.

I also see that in order to save on costs they’ve stolen the set from Santa Clause: the Movie.

We see our first talking dog: a Jack Russell terrier dressed in an elf outfit.

The terrier we see looks abused; I mean he is straight up looking out through the camera with a desperate plea for rescue/the sweet release of death in his eyes. Should we be calling the RSCPA…?

And here are Mr and Mrs Claus!

First shot of Santa: and it’s horrific. He is possibly the scariest Father Christmas I have seen in my life.
Ho ho ho! I will haunt your nightmares!
Thoughts so far: “I wish I wasn’t doing this.”

Act One:
It’s apparently Santa’s birthday and all the elves (including Talking Terrier) are gathering to celebrate and give him gifts. One of the gifts is from a Mr Hucklebuckle – who has just died, as the head elf informs everyone. There’s even a note from Mr Hucklebuckle, in which he says that he hopes to live long enough to see Santa open his present – but he doesn’t. He’s died. And the gift is a plush toy dog.

The effects are poor; like really, truly shoddy. I could do a better job of CGI-ing that terrier’s mouth moving.

And woah, abrupt change in tone! Opening this kind of cutesy movie with news of a death seems like an odd touch for Disney. Still, gotta drive the plot forward somehow, I guess.

Cut to New York City, where Mr Hucklebuckle had his toy shop. His grandson and the grandson’s wife are let into the shop to claim their inheritance. They live in Los Angeles but a condition of Mr Hucklbuckle’s will is that in order to be able to legally own and then sell the toy shop, his inheritors must keep the toy shop open, and profitable, through one Christmas season. It’s revealed that the grandson has changed his name to “Huckle” (and who can blame him? I would’ve gone with “Smith”) and that the couple can’t have children, but desperately want them. I smell a plot device…Anyhoo, the couple are then left to look around the toy shop; which, despite being covered with dust sheets, Mrs Huckle can apparently tell is quaint and adorable. They find a “Santa Chair”.

Sidenote: this all looks shot in green-screen, like anywhere outside of the Santa Claus set they’ve stolen they just couldn’t afford to film in. New York City was certainly way out of their filming budget.

Wait, does everyone know about “Santa Chairs”? Is this some cultural gap? Do all Americans know what these are?

Heavy-Handed Plot Point: They are poignantly childless.
-->D.’s thought: “Get a dog.”

New scene, in which we’re introduced to ... Y'know, I have genuinely erased her name. We'll call her Generic Orphan. So Generic Orphan, a quiet little girl, is just being handed over to an orphanage. [There is some geunine poingancy about the way she describes her parent's death by saying, "They didn't make it", something the writers clearly intended her to have picked up from adults trying to explain the situation to her. It's one of the few things in the film that actually works.]

The lady running the orphanage is obviously Stock Disney Villain number 2: the secretly heartless money-grabber who uses the kids as unpaid labour. How the lady from the social services, there to hand Generic Orphan over, manages to miss this when it's laid on thick enough for young children to pick up on, is somewhat beyond me.

Cue token Evil Bitch who will either be redeemed at the end; or defeated by the magic talking dogs.

Next we meet Wilhelmina, the “rebellious” older orphan (whose name I wrote down hence I remember it), looking with longing at the red bike in the window of Hucklebuckle Toys. Which store, by the by, now has stock in its window and is open for business. Lord knows how much time is supposed to have elapsed since Mr and Mrs Huckle took on the store. Mrs Huckle is putting a sign up in the shop window, sees Wilhelmina and waves to her – at which point Will runs like hell.

That’s why the couple don’t have kids; they scare ’em off.

Sidenote: baaaaaad acting. Painfully bad. So bad it’s like an insult to the profession.

Now we meet the rest of the orphans and learn about the true horrors of Evil Bitch’s merciless regime: she doesn’t like singing; she doesn’t let them have toys; and she hates Christmas. What a monster.

Heavy-Handed Plot Point: I’m guessing one or all of these kids are gonna get adopted by the Tragically Childless Couple.

Villain with hatred of Christmas? Check. Cutesy child actor with saccharine lisp? Check. Am I ready to die? Check.

Back to the North Pole! Where Santa is inconsolably miserable after the death of his friend – so miserable that Head Elf decides that there's only one way to cheer him up: they’ll turn the toy dog from Mr Hucklebuckle into a real dog! They take the toy to a cave, wherein hangs a giant stalactite/crystal/freakishly phallic icicle. The icicle/Freudian symbol glows then shoots (or ejaculates, if you will) a stream of light into the toy dog, and the toy morphs (badly) into an admittedly adorable fluffy Golden Retriever puppy.

I figure the effects in this film cost three, four hundred dollars at least. I wonder how much of the budget was spent on this rather phallic “magical icicle”? Is this supposed to be a visual metaphor for the sexual act that brings most mammalian life into being..?

Montage time! Santa names the dog “Paws” (nice; real imaginative) and then we get a series of scenes of Santa and Paws doing what this film would probably refer to as “bonding” but which seems to me to be a succession of scenes in which they torment the poor puppy and seriously trespass on a dog’s naturally forgiving and loving nature. There was, however, one montage-scene where Mrs Claus had made some cookies and candy-canes and leaves them to cool down on the table; then Paws takes one and Santa sits up, shoves his face into the plate and gobbles them all up while making “nom nom nom” noises and it was so surreal and vaguely frightening (due to Santa’s alarmingly inhuman behaviour) that I laughed and laughed and laughed.

And now they dress him. I’m witnessing animal abuse again, aren’t I? Should this film be reported to the FDA? That dog’s eyes scream desperation when he’s so clearly trapped in that box; and the mocking laughter of the human actors just makes his suffering all the more tragic. The worst part is that they make Paws complicit in this, giving the illusion that he’s choosing his own outfit; like a dog would choose to wear clothes and the only reason they generally don’t in real life is because we don’t understand them.
Witness animal-abuse.

Back in Fake New York City, Lil’ Orphan Annie Generic Orphan is singing about the tragic situation she now finds herself in, what with her parents being dead and all. She has a ceramic angel, a Christmas tree decoration, that is the last thing she has of her mother’s. Will warns her that if Evil Bitch sees it, Generic Orphan will lose it. Evil Bitch arrives on cue – Geneic Orphan manages to hide her angel behind her back oh-so-subtly, whilst another, less fortunate orphan makes shoddy work of attempting to hide a teddy under her pillow. Evil Bitch reminds her about the “no toys” rule and takes the teddy down to the basement. Where she has an incinerator that she burns the toy in.

Oooh, and now it’s time for Generic Orphan ‘Please Love Me’ number – with weird CGI background. What, they couldn’t afford to film in an alley?!

Sidenote: tenner says that angel gets smashed or stolen. …And who the hell has a toy-burning furnace in their basement? Okay, seriously, do orphanages like this even exist in the West anymore? Is this orphanage a wormhole into 1930s Stock Stereotype Number 4? But hey, that furnace looks happy to be burning the toys! ...Alas, I don't own the film so can't get a screen cap and a Google search hasn't turned up any photos of the incinerator: but basically it's got two holes and a grill in the front that pretty much ensures it looks like a smiling face.

Act Two:
Back in the North Pole, Santa is gearing up for a trip to New York – where, after Mr Hucklebuckle’s death, levels of Christmas cheer are dangerously low. What’s so dangerous about this is left ambiguous; the film also fails to resolve the horror inherent in the thought that, if this is NYC with levels of Christmas cheer, what would it be like with none?! Anyway, Mrs Claus packs him off with his “special North Pole pin” (that’s a badge to UK readers) and tells Santa and Paws to take good care of each other. Because of course Paws is going, he’s Santa’s best friend.

Santa tells Mrs Claus that he loves her; at which point D. interjected the following:
“No, she doesn’t love you, she’s f-ing the elves.”

Santa and Paws land in Central Park and tell the reindeer (who also talk) to wait for them as they won’t be too long. Santa takes a big bag containing his Santa outfit (he’s wearing a marginally different kind of suit at this point) and is, naturally, spotted by a mugger. Who looks straight out at the camera and tells us that bag looks promising to rob.

Who was the mugger talking to?! Don’t break the fourth wall!!

It was at this point that my sanity really began to feel the strain. Meanwhile, the "plot" shambles on and Santa and Paws are exploring New York City. I kind of forget why they go and how their visit is supposed to rectify the "low Christmas cheer" problem. Santa warns Paws that only people who believe in Christmas or something can understand North Pole animals talking, so not everyone will be able to understand Paws.

As they walk along they're followed by the mugger (who is literally hiding behind lampposts as he stalks them) who has his eyes on Santa's sack (ha ha) and the magic crystals that Santa and Paws are wearing. Santa and Paws then literally bump into Evil Bitch, who can't understand Paws (see? Because she hates Christmas!) and she reveals the depths of her moral bankruptcy by swearing at Santa. Of course this is still a Disney film, so when I say "swearing" I mean she says "heck" a couple times.

Love Disney’s representation of Evil Bitch swearing: “heck”, yes, language like that’ll show the audience just how rude she is!

Disaster strikes! Evil Bitch's hat gets blown into the road and Paws runs out into traffic to get it back, hindered by the fact that no one can understand him. Santa tries to stop him and also steps into the road, at which point, with numbing inevitability, Santa gets hit by a car, temporarily knocked out, and when he wakes up moments later he's lost his memory. The mugger seizes his chance and, telling onlookers that he's a doctor (which they all believe, despite him being dressed as a wino and looking dodgy as hell), he pretends to assume care for Santa whilst actually robbing him and taking the magic crystal. The police arrive on scene and the mugger makes a hasty exit; Santa stands up and wanders off, confused. He makes his way to a subway station where he stops a young boy to ask where he is.

How long before Santa would get arrested for paedophilia out in the real world? That kid looks deeply suspicious, at least.

Paws is lost, too; Santa's not there when he returns with Evil Bitch's hat (and neither is Evil Bitch; clearly the hat didn't mean that much to her) and he can't get anyone to help him because all the people around him hear is a dog barking. At one point Paws sees a little person and thinks he's an elf, which is kind of uncomfortable viewing in a lot of ways, and Paws follows the guy into the subway; when the guy freaks out because he's getting pestered by a dog, Paws runs away.

Cut to Hucklebuckle Toy Shop - which is now all lit-up, decorated for Christmas and full of toys. The Huckles decide they need a store Santa to make their Christmas season complete.

Wow, that store sure cleans up good in two freaking days, huh? The unfolding plot hurts me with its contrivances.

Santa, naturally, finds himself outside the store and, after spending a night sleeping at a bus stop, he decides to go in the store because something about the name seems familiar.

How did Santa even get there? He had no money! How did he pay for the subway?!

Santa goes into Hucklebuckle Toys in the morning and meets the Huckles, who immediately decide he's from the agency they called earlier and that he'd make the perfect store Santa; despite the fact Santa clealy can't remember his own name and tells them to call him "Bud".

Tips For Store-Owners Hiring Those Who Will be Working With Children, no.7: Anyone who hesitates over their own name is not on the up-and-up.

Back at Bleak Stereotype Orphanage, Evil Bitch is out for a date with her boyfriend - leaving the orphans unattended for the day.

Aaand Evil Bitch’s love-interest is a dog-catcher. Quelle surprise.

Paws, meanwhile, has been sleeping under parked cars and is all alone and lost in the city.
-->Bam. From nowhere, this is the point at which D. suddenly and unexpectedly becomes emotionally involved in the film and starts to care what happens.

Back at Hucklebuckle Toys, Santa/Bud is settling in well, loving the job (because he's the real Santa, you see?) and getting on great with the Huckles.

I can see that Santa’s beard is stuck on. I mean full-on see the glue and the weave where the hair is sewn together.

Generic Tragic Orphan is taken by will to see the shiny bike; Generic Orphan sees that Santa's in store and goes to sit on his lap. Santa asks what she wants for Christmas...

Oh Christ, this is heavy-handed. Asking for a puppy, give me strength…

Mrs Huckle then asks Generic Orphan where her parents are; when Generic Orphan replies, "They didn't make it" Mrs Huckle presumes she means "didn't make it to the store" and think Will is Generic Orphan's older sister. This naturally means Will has to drag them both out of there and run off again.

Back to Paws and he's just spotted an Oliver and Company stylee gang of three dogs: an American Bulldog type, a West Highland White terrier and a black Komondor. Which is a dog that appears to have dreadlocks, for those not in the know. Paws follows these dogs to ask them if they've seen Santa or can help him look; and the dogs street-talk back at him. Disney style. Which means the bulldog (called T-Money and I am not even making this up) talks like he's from L.A. (despite being in New York); the Westie has a Scottish accent (again, still in New York; and I really mean bad American impression of a Scottish accent); and the Komondor....The Komondor has a bad fake Caribbean accent. Still not making this up.

Oooh, and the black dog with dreadlocks is voiced in a bad Jamaican accent. Did … did this film just get racist? I mean, more so than the 90% white casting?

The dogs refuse to help Paws, even though he knows their names and tells them they're already on the Naughty List and helping find Santa could get them off it. The gang won't listen; and then surprise, surprise, they get captured by Evil Bitch's dog-catcher boyfriend. With one big net for all of them - obviously the best way to catch dogs. Paws uses his magic crystal to escape and then goes back to help the other dogs; who then believe that he's really a friend of Santa and decide to help try and find him.

In orphan-land, Will and Generic Orphan race back to the orphanage - but not before Evil Bitch finds they've been out all day and decides to punish Will (as the ringleader) by sending her to spend the night down in the basement.

Hmm, spend the night next to the warm, obviously happy incinerator – what’s the problem here?

Also, sidebar – why are dog wardens always evil in films? They’re villainised as badly as the English! The dog wardens I’ve met have all be friendly, animal-loving people who want to get strays off the streets, ensure they have proper food, vetinary treatment and shelter, and hope to get them re-homed as soon as possible. What does Disney have against this?
-->The more I think about it, the more I think this film was originally supposed to be set in the 1930s (the nasty orphanage, the evil dog-catcher, the childless couple who, despite their apparent wealth, apparently can’t afford fertility treatments) but due to the obvious budgetary constraints it had to be set in the present day. But with no re-writes; they couldn’t afford those, either.

Paws then heads into the alley near the orphanage and is found by Generic Orphan who takes him in and hides him in a cupboard. Naturally. She also hides with him.

The restrictions of the cheap speech effects on the dog clearly mean they have to use a static image to manipulate. Quality.

Back at Hucklebuckle stores, business is booming. Like, line out of the door booming.

How did they get all this business? Where did all the stock come from?! When did they even get the power turned back on?!

Paws tells Generic Orphan that "this place needs some Christmas cheer" and promptly uses his magic crystal to decorate the place. Decorate it with low-budget store-bought Christmas lights, that is.

That is “Christmas cheer”? Cheap-ass decorations? Rubbish.

There's some mention of Mr Hucklebuckle having been an "Ambassador for the Santa Cause" here, but to my relief a combination of rum and time has helped erase sections of the plot.

“Ambassador for the Santa Cause” - great way to work in the wider conceit and add extra levels to the terrible puns based around “Claus”. Just when I think this film's hit rock-bottom...

At Huckle Central, Santa/"Bud" says that he's not feeling great and Mrs Huckle shows concern, chastising her husband who seems more immediately concerned with who will be the "store Santa" if Bud's too sick to work. Santa/Bud insists he's fine and goes to get ready to start work. Oh, and he's been staying with the Huckles, apparently, because that's obviously normal, just what regular employees do. And he has red and white themed pajamas on.

Why does he have Santa-themed pajamas? At a place that is not his home?! Santa was mugged and his bag stolen, where the hell did this outfit even come from?!!

Act Three:
North Pole time! Mrs Claus and Head Elf are getting worried about Santa and Paws; they said they were only going to be in New York for a bit and they've been days. Head Elf says that they can use Santa and Paw's magic crystals to track them (but remember, Santa's crystal got stolen by the mugger) so Head Elf and Talking Terrier (who I keep wanting to call
Eddie) decide they'd better go to NYC to try and find them. This obviously necessitates turning the Santamobile (because now it turns out they have a car as well as the sleigh - again, Santa Claus: the Movie) into a yellow New York taxicab - and the Head Elf and the Talking Terrier dressing up as cabbies.

My personal favourite note:- That poor terrier can’t even walk in those fucking shoes; jesus, this is awful.

Orphan-time now, and Generic Orphan introduces the group to Paws. They can all hear him talk, except for Will, who thanks to callous reasons like the death of her parents and her being stranded in this hellish orphanage, doesn't "believe" in Christmas. Paws uses his magic crystal to decorate the place (a bit better than he did with the cupboard), put a Christmas tree in there, get toys, and put the girls in matching pretty dresses. After all this Will starts to believe and can then hear Paws talk. The girls all join in a song that, alas, I do remember, and dance around the room singing "I believe in Christmas".

Of course! This is Lil’ Orphan Annie’s All-Singing Musical Orphanage, where all the orphans have had training in singing and dance! …Not great training, obviously; but that explains their poor acting, their parents died before they could finish paying for the course.

Pretty sure Evil Bitch will hear all this singing.
-->At this point, I had to wipe up spilled rum off my notes.

When did the orphans learn and rehearse this impromptu number?
D.: “I think it’s a bit staged, myself.”

Naturally, Evil Bitch comes in, finds them, blames Will for some reason, freaks out that there's a dog in there and steals the crystal from around Paws's neck.

Where the puppy came from would not be my biggest concern at this point. Where all the dresses and Christmas decorations came from and how the hell the girls decorated the place in under 5 minutes would be a little higher up my list.

Evil Bitch then throws Will and Paws into the basement with the incinerator.

Happy furnace feeds on your pain!

Shock horror, Evil Bitch finds the Christmas angel that Generic Orphan was trying to hide from her, and throws it into the incinerator to burn in the morning.

Bam. As predicted, the Christmas decoration/last physical memento of her dead mother is stolen.

Cut to Hucklebuckle Toys, and Santa/Bud collapses and is rushed to hospital. There's a news report shown and this story "spreading all across the globe".

Err, why would that be a story “spreading all across the globe”? I mean seriously, world-wide?! A random store Santa getting sick? Global news?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

Head Elf and Eddie Talking Terrier have found Santa's crystal on the mugger - who now has a real beard, apparently because they magic crystal has "Santafied" him. When the mugger hears Talking Terrier talking, he naturally immediately believes they're from Santa, changes his ways instantly for some reason, and agrees to help find Santa and Paws.

Oh that’s a bad miss. Only people who believe in the magic of Christmas can hear North Pole animals talking. So how the frick does a mugger hear the dog talk?

Head Elf and Talking Terrier, with the mugger's help, find the sleigh and reindeer. The reindeer are starving because they feed on sugar plum pudding and candy canes and Christmassey things like that, so the mugger heads off to find some food for them.

Let me get this straight: eight magic talking reindeer and a sleigh have just stayed there, in Central Park, unhidden, without getting stolen, graffiti’ed, or in any way vandalised – for days? How?!

Musical Orphanage time, and Will wakes up to find that Paws has turned back into a stuffed toy overnight. Evil Bitch gets angry that the puppy has vanished and blames Will, again; she then throws Paws onto the conveyor belt that leads into the furnace and switches it on, despite Will and Generic Orphan's cries.

Yaaaay! Happy Furnace!

Head Elf and Talking Terrier find the orphanage; Generic Orphan crawls onto the conveyor belt and manages to get Paws back before he burns; they get the crystal back from Evil Bitch and put the crystal back on Paws, just in time - if he'd been without his crystal for too long, he wouldn't be able to come to life again. They find out that Santa's in hospital, because without his crystal he's turned mortal and will be aging.

Why did it take days for Santa to get ill without his magic crystal, yet Paws turned back into a toy overnight?

Boy Scout Child, part of a tertiary plot I've not been arsed to go into, helps them find Santa and wrap up the plot and is then sent off home. Alone. At night.

And why do they let a young child run off home, alone, at night, in New York City?

Mr Huckle and Mrs Huckle meet everyone, find out it really was Santa, helps them get Santa out of the hospital and get his crystal back on him. They show no concern or surprise at any of this.

Why is he happily talking to dogs?!

Head Elf places a call to Social Services, who come to investigate Evil Bitch. The woman from the start of the film is at the orphanage and finds Evil Bitch coming home drunk with Dog Catcher; woman from the social services tells Evil Bitch that her license has been revoked and that she needs to leave. Yay, the orphans are saved.

I’m pretty sure kicking someone out of their home and taking away their license to care for children would at least take days, not under an hour.

Wait, how have I not thought of this before: Why is Santa’s best friend a stuffed dog?! Why not, say, the head elf or his lady wife?

Despite having his crystal back, Santa's been without it for so long that he's not getting better. Paws says to put his crystal with Santa's, despite the risk that Paws might not come back from stuffed-toy-dom again, because that's what best friends do for each other; and besides, they can't imagine a world without Santa!

Yes, yes I can imagine a world without Santa.

Mr Huckle looks like the illegitimate love-Muppet-child of Ryan Reynolds and Miss Piggy.

Reyiggy? Pigryan?

The combination of crystals eventually manages to "heal" Santa and help him wake up; but Paws has turned back to a toy. The North Pole lot rush off back to the North Pole - so they're done with the New York lot now and completely cut them off.

Santa and Mrs Claus take Paws to the giant magic icicle/phallus, but its magic doesn't work and Paws is still a toy. Santa starts to cry because he's lost his best friend - but wait! What's this? Santa's magic tears have magically healed Paws and he's turned back into a living dog!

...But now he's a fully grown retriver for some reason. And he says, "Now I can really be your best friend forever!" Which makes no sense; what, as a puppy his friendship would've had to be terminated? Anyhoo, the end is in sight now.

Santa’s tears conquer death. So if we just make Santa cry enough, all world illnesses will be cured.

Surprise surprise, the Huckles end up adopting Will and Generic Orphan.

Apparently, adoption is piss-­easy. No wonder Madonna does it so often.

The three "gang" dogs have hitched a lift on the sleigh and are now in the North Pole too, where they join in with the elves. And also get clothes.

Oh. My. GOD – and the racism extends to the dog’s outfits. Black Dog has a Rasta hat and the Westie has a kilt. Nice.

The Huckles decide to keep the toy shop and they've somehow ended up making a profit of just 1 cent; I think they maybe give some money away to the orphanage, too, but the plot details blur together at this point. Oh and they also change their name back to "Hucklebuckle".

And they even changed their f--ing name back. F-- you.

The End.

I survived. I feel like D. and I have been through ’Nam together or something.

Surprise extra at the end – all I can say is, WTF? Did I dream this?! I don't have the heart to go into detail, but it involves some teen pop sensation's music video for a "rawked up" MTV version of 'Deck the Halls', and a short film narrated by one of Paw's puppy-sisters about the adventures of T-Money and the Racial Stereotype Gang learning to integrate with the North Pole crew. Gods willing, one day I won't be able to remember any of this.

I hope you're happy.