Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town 8.0
eyelights: its unique take on Santa Claus’ origin. the detailed production.
eyesores: it’s a musical. the lack of continuity with the other Rankin/Bass productions.
“Today, children everywhere are making preparations for an event of world shaking significance: the annual visit of Santa Claus. Informed sources report that legions of junior citizens are making monumental efforts not to cry and not to pout. Meanwhile, letters by the thousands have been flooding postal facilities at the North Pole.”
‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town’ is a 1970 stop-motion animated television special featuring Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney. It is loosely based on the classic Christmas song by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, which has been popularized by Perry Como and interpreted by countless others.
This hour-long special takes a different path from the other Rankin/Bass films, in that it eschews much of the song’s lyrics (aside from a few nods here and there) as well as the many version of Santa Claus’ story. What it does is to create an alternate mythology that is specific to this production.
It doesn’t even follow the plots of the previous Rankin/Bass films, in that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is already in this one from the start, whereas in their other film he’s born well after Santa’s been around. Still, it tries very hard to answer many questions that people might have about Santa:
Why does he wear red and white?
Why does he give out toys?
Why does he go down chimneys?
Why does he put the toys in stockings?
Why does he have flying reindeer?
Why does he wear a beard?
Why is he called Santa Claus?
Why does he put gifts under the tree?
Why does he live in the North Pole?
Why does he come only once a year? and
Why does he come on Christmas eve?
After the opening newsreel that tells us about the kids from around the world awaiting Santa’s visit, we are introduced to our narrator, Santa’s mailman, who is voiced by Fred Astaire. He will recount the story, prompted by kids asking questions from time to time.
According to this legend, Santa was an orphan and ended up at the home of the Kringle elves, who were toy makers (and who happened to dress in that iconic red and white suit). They gave him his name, Kris Kringle, but the name that was on his basket was Claus – hence why he takes it up later on.
Kris is taught the toy trade by the elves, and begins to distribute toys in Sombertown even though its ruler, Burgermeister Meisterburger forbids it. This causes all sorts of problems, of course, but he befriends a Winter Warlock and ends up overcoming all adversity to become the Santa he is today.
It’s contrived as all get-out, but they do try, and it kind of works, in an awkward way. I suspect that most kids wouldn’t mind this one bit. But I wonder if it plays as well as the other Rankin/Bass films, if only because it takes such liberties with the story most of us know; this may strip away some of its charm.
The production is pretty amazing considering that it’s a TV special, and in light of the time in which it was made (i.e. they didn’t have access to today’s technology). I was impressed with it: the sets and characters are detailed and it’s embellished with a lot of traditional cel animation. It looks very nice.
The stop-motion animation is pretty good too. It’s no ‘The Nightmare Before Xmas‘, of course, and the movements are sometimes really clunky (especially if they’re supposed to be dancing – because, yes, this is also a musical. With awful songs, of course), but all things considered they did a decent job.
‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town’, like ‘Sint‘, takes some grand liberties with the myth (?) of Santa Claus, but it tries very hard to make it work. It’s no masterpiece but it’s such a well-made production that it shines in its own way. Frankly, I was veritably surprised by how much I enjoyed it, all things considered.
It’s pretty good, for goodness’ sake!
“Hey, it’s getting late, and I’ve got these letters to deliver. You better be getting home, too. And remember, behave yourselves, because Santa can still look into his magic snowball and see just what you’re up to. And now that you know all about him, you can be darn sure that come snow or high water, Santa Claus is comin’ to town!”
Date of viewing: December 12, 2013