Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and various misadventures, relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
It’s more apparent than ever in Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups that almost everything you see, including some of the actors, is simply recycled material from other films. I can imagine that the film was greenlit for that reason alone, driving down the cost of production significantly.
The North Pole set already existed from The Search for Santa Paws, and the town of Pineville is very noticeably the same town as Fernfield, the setting for much of the Buddies films. My best guess for the name change is that it would create too much of a continuity issue to place this film in Fernfield lest the Santa Pups encounter the other Disney puppies (again). Consider the case of Kaitlyn Maher, who played Quinn in The Search for Santa Paws and returns here, playing an entirely new person. I’m sure Disney and Maher didn’t plan on her losing her two front teeth before filming began, but her adorable factor is cranked up to the max here for that reason alone. What other reason could there be to bring Maher back — rather than simply casting another reliably cute child actor — other than already having Maher on the company payroll?
What’s going on here?
I had previously observed that the original Santa Paws operated as if no other Christmas movie had ever existed, and Santa Paws 2 basically works the same way, with only a slight nod to the original film. The only existing connective tissue between the two films is Santa Claus and Santa Paws, who are largely non-factors throughout this film.
The film opens with Santa Paws’ mate giving birth to the titular Santa Pups: Hope, Jingle, Charity and Noble. Color me shocked that this film bucked conventions of virtually every other live-action talking-animal film we’ve covered by utilizing only four puppies instead of five.
The pups learn that Pineville, a small town in the middle of an unnamed state, is the beacon that supplies most of the world’s Christmas spirit because all of its residents love Christmas so much. In fact, our first glimpse of the town involves a musical number with a marching band and an incredibly enthusiastic mayor (Obba Babatunde). But Santa learns that one of the town’s biggest Christmas ambassadors has recently died and has put the world’s Christmas spirit in danger. Santa sends Mrs. Claus (Cheryl Ladd) to investigate, and the four pups sneak onboard.
The recently deceased ambassador was Mrs. Reynolds, the wife of Thomas (George Newbern), the mother of 12-year-old Carter (Josh Feldman) and 8-year-old Sarah (Maher), and the primary driving force of the town’s Christmas radio station. Carter is much less enthusiastic for Christmas — what with the recent death of his Christmas-loving parent and all — and the pups inadvertently grant his wish that people would just chill out about the holiday. This causes everyone that Carter comes in close contact with to lose their Christmas spirit, and it spreads like … well, you know (the phrase “global pandemic” is thrown out at one point).
Mrs. Claus and Sarah sing a few songs, and most of the rest of the film involves them running around town trying to find one person or another because only they can do something; the number of rules that the film establishes for its convoluted plot is enough to fill a textbook. Mrs. Claus gets thrown in jail so series mainstays Eli (Danny Woodburn) and Eddy the dog (Richard Kind) rescue them and Christmas is saved.
How much of the original is preserved?
The film does shockingly little with the voice talent on display here, including Tom Everett Scott as Santa Paws, Bonnie Sommerville as Mrs. Paws Diedrich Bader as Comet the Reindeer, and more. You may recall Bader appearing in Space Buddies and Spooky Buddies as different characters — not to mention The Search for Santa Paws. I’m not against actors doing different roles throughout an extremely fluid franchise like this, but surely even kids would recognize Bader’s very recognizable voice and have questions.
Organized religion has its most profound effect yet on Santa Paws 2 in this entire series: Sarah recites a prayer before family dinner (omitting the invocation of Jesus or God explicitly, of course), and she sings “O Holy Night” on the radio late in the film. Perhaps by this point, series director Robert Vince knew Disney just wasn’t paying attention and figured he could sneak in whatever he wanted.
Does this ruin the original film?
Much like the first Santa Paws and the bulk of the live-action films we’ve covered in this series, there is zero recognizable human behavior to be found throughout Santa Paws 2. This is evident immediately upon the film entering Pineville — and I’m not even counting the over-the-top songs.
Three of the town’s residents include the Bright sisters: Agnes, Blue and Dorothy, who spout off exposition like the football star who joined the school play to impress a girl … although their inclusion is somewhat redeemed with their musical number, perhaps the film’s most delightfully strange moment. Newbern is basically a human-shaped bag of sad expressions. At least Babbatunde looks like he believes he’s in a much better film.
Given Vince’s shameless recycling of the original film’s plot, it’s surprising that another film wasn’t made. Santa Paws may have been far from the most original film, but its scope certainly felt bigger and more urgent. By setting Santa Paws 2 in another cookie-cutter small town, Vince robs the film of some of its fun. The film never reaches the moments of profound weirdness that I’ve come to look forward to late in this series, but it’s not without its small pleasures.
Neither I nor Midwest Film Journal *wink* condone the use of illicit substances, but I have to believe this film would hit much differently if it was viewed under the influence.
- Next Time: This is the way Di$ney ends / This is the way Di$ney ends / This is the way Di$ney ends / Not with a bang but a Super Buddies.