The promotion for SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE boast that for the first time, the true story of Santa Claus would be revealed. That is unless you don't count the 1902, THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, written by L. Frank Baum. But, never mind that. The 1985 spectacular, blows the lid of of the legend and peels back to showcase a very intimate portrait of ole Kris Kringle. A huge budget and quality special effects made this film seems like a sure fire holiday classic, but as we have learned you cannot force a classic on the public. It has to happen organically, but don't tell Coca-Cola that!
The film starts somewhere in the middle of the Arctic. A gentle, bearded jolly type( the local yokels call him Uncle Claus) is dragging his put upon wife around a village to deliver toys to all the boys and the girls. His mission is to bring cheer to all the kids and not seem prevvy while doing it. One foggy night, he and the misses are guiding their sled drawn by reindeer home, but get lost in a snowstorm and freeze to death. Santa's dead. End of movie. But there must have been some magic in those snowy plains, because a northern star shines and a crack in time split the universe in two. An alternate world opens up. A world were normal sized men are called Elves and old boring toys are mass produced. They grab the two dead visitors and drag them back to their kingdom on top of the world. Once inside, they revive Uncle Claus and his wife and that is when they both learn their destiny. Burgess Meredith appears as Father Time and conducts a pagan snow ceremony and informs Claus that he will now go by his spirit name Santa Claus and will live forever. He will be forced to live with 200 men and deliver toys to the children of the world every Christmas. Mrs. Claus gets to live forever also, but gets to spend her time cleaning up after everyone and baking. Typical Male. They take the news with good stride and saddle up for a long ass winter. You may notice that Mrs. Claus is played by Judy Cornwell. She later went on to play Daisy in one of my favorite BBC shows, KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. She is given nothing to work with in this movie though. And her wonderful comedic timing is simply wasted.
So in the first 20 minutes you basically get an origins story. And the movie is starting to feel a little like SUPERMAN, but real boring. The magical flying (which isn't as good as SUPERMAN or 2, but better than 3 or 4), the icy castle, the heavy handed plot about being a loner and having everyday magic are all worked into the film. Suddenly, the reindeer are talking and the elves are making horsehead bookends. Everyone seems stoned out of their minds. Instead of hiring actors of the correct stature, they opted to go another route. I am all for height blind casting, but they keep shoving it in our faces that the elves aren't right. They make numerous references to the size of elves, but they all can look Santa in the eye and some are taller than Mrs. Claus. And where are the women? Elvettes? It's stupid. But the sets are all built extra big, which only exaggerate everyone's height and makes you feel like someone slipped some LSD in your egg nog.
Xmas hits and it hits hard and fast. Santa Claus is ready to pounce on the shit. A little magic sprinkles on the heads of the reindeer and Santa himself and they are off! He is delivering toys to all the children of the world, focusing heavily on New York City. In SUPERMAN movie fashion, he flies past just about every landmark known to man and even tries a double header triple scooper sled trick, but the reindeer just miss nailing it. Santa's reply, "We'll try it again sometime!" A CLUE!!!!!!
Years turn into Centuries and Santa Claus has everything down to a fine science. He can magical appears anywhere, go anywhere and eat all the cookies he wants! But even Santa has his crosses to bear. Did you know a cat started the entire naughty and nice list? It's true! Now you have to be nice all year to get shit and Santa is going to check it twice. That's what he said at least. Santa gets his first review in the form of a poem called "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and is immediately put on a strict diet because he is referred to as chubby and plumb! See! CHARMING! WHIMSY!! Christmas Magic!!
We flash forward to Christmas 1986 and the elves perform a big musical number called, "THANK U SANTA". I like to think Prince wrote it. Things are changing. The baby boomers are in full swing and popping kids out like crazy and Santa needs an assistant. Two elves battle it out for the job. The challenge? Who can make the most toys in the least amount of time? Patch, played by a sorta short Dudley Moore, wins by using a technique that would later be adopted by Kathy Lee Gifford and Wal-Mart. Xmas is on and Santa, with Patch's help, delivers all the toys to all the kids of the world again. It starts to get old quick, but this time it is different. Santa meets two very special children. One, a hobo kid with a hipster haircut and a rich orphaned girl who enjoys drinking NEW COKE while writing Dear Santa letters. She just wants a friend and she finds one in the hobo kid. They are both kinda creepy.
Just when you are so bored with the movie that you are biting off the heads of all the gingerbread men, the most remarkable sequence of SANTA CLAUS:THE MOVIE happens. You will want to rewind this 20 seconds of gold. Kids, worldwide, are playing with their new toys on Christmas day and they get schooled in a harsh lesson of quantity over quality. All of Patch's toy start to fall apart!! We get to see total mayhem! Kids are falling off tricycles, wheels are flying off of wagons and toys crumbling. Lots of tears and great parent reaction shots! Xmas literally goes to pieces! It's movie magic!
Well, Santa is not happy and he has to fire Patch as his assistant. Disappointed with his work, Patch leaves the North Pole with a big bag of Christmas magic dust and moves to NYC to prove to Santa and himself that he is a good toy maker. Because if you can make it there.....This is when he meets Lex Luthor. The head of BZ toys.
A year passes and Patch is the toast of the town. He has created a new toy, The Lollipop, using his know how and a little magic dust. It is the must have item of the year! And to everyone's SHOCK, once you eat it you can levitate. One woman becomes Mary Poppins, an inner city youth can slam dunk with the best of them and one naughty little red head uses his powers to get at the cookies on the top shelf. He even gives his startled mother and good "F you" stink eye, as he chomps down on a handful of cookies. The build up for the lollipops was so suspenseful. I was hoping for some Halloween 3 action, but no such luck. Santa is bummed that no one wants his toys anymore and wants to call it quits. But when BZ TOYS announces they are going to launch a new holiday called CHRISTMAS 2 that will happen every March and the world seems thrilled. It even gets on the cover of TIME magazine. Santa is through and sets out to put an end to it. Little does he know that BZ TOYS has created a brand new candy cane with a higher dosage of the magic dust that will allow kids to FLY! Patch is crowned the new Santa and is sent to deliver the new candy to the world, but some lowly factory worker discovers that the candy canes will explode if they are too close to heat! TEN MINUTE WRAP UP!!!
Orphan rich girl discovers that her Step-Uncle (Lex Luthor) has kidnapped the hobo kid, cuz he overheard secrets. Patch is flying a sled full of dynamite candy canes and all the reindeer are sick! GO SANTA GO!! I think only the double scooper triple header donkey punch trick can save CHRISTMAS 2 now!!
All the references to SUPERMAN are warranted and just. The director, Jeannot Szwarc, made the leisurely paced SOMEWHERE IN TIME and the often overlooked gay classic, SUPERGIRL. Which explains all the flying and John Lithgow's go as Lex Luthor. SCTM has the same feel as both films. Overlong, but just interesting enough. The film fails in it's sad attempt to become a holiday classic like CHRISTMAS STORY or GREMLINS or even BLACK CHRISTMAS. I can't imagine a family gathering 'round the TV to watch this film without there been genocide. Next time, Santa needs to enlist the help of the Silver Shamrock company.