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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Disney’s The Search for Santa Paws Blu-ray Review

When I watched this movie, I didn’t realize that it was the ninth (!) entry in a long running franchise that began with Air Bud and evolved in the “Buddies” series.  It seems that they keep re-inventing the franchise to keep it fresh.  This movie is a spin-off of it’s own from Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws which was a spin-off from Santa Buddies, so you get the picture and I’ll stop the chain right there.

My family and I are big fans of Disney movies, but I’ve never seen any of the movies in this series before this one.  Although I looked into what happened in the movie before this one, you don’t need to have seen any of the other movies as this is a self-contained story.  There are some concepts carried over but nothing that you really need to know in advance.

Film  (2 1/2 stars out of 5)

When Santa Claus (Richard Riehle) has his birthday party interrupted by news that one of his ambassadors (a store Santa) has died, he is very sad and sees that the Christmas spirit in the New York area is dropping because of the man’s death.  To make matters worse, along with the bad news he also receives a birthday gift from the dead man which is a stuffed dog.  Trying to cheer him up, the elves and Mrs. Claus take him to the Christmas Icicle which makes the dog come alive.

Writing this, I am struck by how ridiculous it all sounds but it plays better on the screen and perhaps the icicle part would make more sense if I had seen the previous one.  In any case, the dog comes to life and is named Paws.  Santa, newly re-energized decides to go to New York to somehow raise the Christmas spirit of the area, so he and Paws jump in the sleigh and land in Central Park.  Not long after-wards, Paws runs into traffic and Santa saves him from an oncoming car (think McFly, think!) but hits his head and falls unconscious which allows him to be robbed by lowlife who steals his icicle necklace which we later learn is what keeps him immortal.

At this point, when Santa wakes up he has lost his memory, but fortunately he is right across from the store where his former ambassador worked as an in-store Santa which now have a opening for a new Santa.  Since he looks the part, Santa gets hired to be Santa.  The couple who just inherited the store (they took their relative’s store but changed their name) have to keep the store open through one holiday season and make a profit as stipulated by the will before they can sell the store.  They are the traditional yuppie stereotypes that need to learn the lessons of Christmas and they also trying to have a kid but it hasn’t worked out for them yet.  Cue the little orphan girl looking for parents named Willamina (Madison Pettis) who is outside the store window wishing she could have the bike on display inside.

It turns out that Willamina has snuck out of the orphanage run by the tyrannical Ms. Stout (Wendi McLendon-Covey) whose character and the entire orphanage story-line seemed to be lifted from The Rescuers, another Disney movie which also had an orphanage story-line and an evil tyrant named Medusa.  Really the only difference between the villains comeuppance is that in this movie it happens because of dogs instead of mice like in the Rescuers. In any case, Ms. Stout likes to gather all of her ward’s toys and doesn’t just throw them away but incinerates them.  All of the girls under her care are terrified of her and she thinks nothing of leaving them alone so she go out on dates with the local dogcatcher.  Hmm…a dogcatcher boyfriend…I wonder where this is going…

Meanwhile, Paws the dog, has been looking for Santa ever since they were split up after the accident.  He runs into some city dogs and the usual hi-jinks ensue and sure enough they are captured by the aforementioned dogcatcher. Paws uses his magic icicle that’s on his dog collar to rescue them and they all continue to search for Santa which ends up leading Paws to the orphanage because a little girl there named Quinn (Kaitlyn Maher) had ventured into the store along with Quinn and had met the in store  Santa who had turned out to be a natural for the role of Santa.  I’m pretty sure you can see where all of this is going. Suffice it to say that everyone helps everyone and they all learn some valuable lessons about the spirit of Christmas.

Video  (5 out of 5 stars)

Although the script might need work, the visuals are very appealing.  The movie is framed at 1.78:1 and is a very nice looking 1080p transfer.  The detail is always sharp and the colors are pleasing.  Flesh-tones are natural and consistent throughout the movie.  Black levels are as dark as they should be and the many scenes of snow show off the nice contrast this Blu-ray offers.  I didn’t notice any digital defects in this nice clean picture.

Audio  (4 out of 5 stars)

The DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix is a pretty good one but not as good as I would have liked.  Dialogue is clear and front channel heavy and the satellite speakers don’t get a lot of action except for the movie’s soundtrack and the occasional sleigh flyby.  The sub-woofer is only really used for the soundtrack as well but when it is used, it sounds good.  I would have liked to have heard more ambient atmosphere in the satellite channels but overall this was a satisfactorily mix.

Special Features  (1 out of 5 stars)

A disappointing mix of extras but the animated pop up book is in 1080p and it stars one of the dogs from the earlier “Buddies” series.
An interactive Animated Pop-Up Book – ‘Buddies’ puppy star Rosebud reads a holiday story featuring new canine friends from The Search For Santa Paws.
Sing-Along Mode –  A mode that allows lyrics to be added to the film’s song sequences, so audiences can sing along with the movie.

Music Video – Debby Ryan (Disney Channel’s Suite Life on Deck) performs ‘Deck The Halls.’  I really wish Disney would stop trying to cross-pollinate their stars but if I was one of them, I would love working for Disney.

Deleted scenes – A bunch of unfinished scenes that were deleted for a reason.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars)

Normally, I like these kind of movies but this movie has been done before many times.  If you combined Elf and The Rescuers, this is the movie you would get.   I didn’t mind it as much when I was watching it with my son, but after writing this review I went back and adjusted my rating of the movie because I was no longer willing to overlook the easily predicable plot and cliches that litter this movie throughout.   I am not the target audience of this movie however, and my 2 1/2 year old son seemed to like it well enough, so if your kids liked the earlier movies, then they will most likely like this one too.
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