Synopsis: This dazzling, heartwarming Christmas classic is the story of a master toymaker who discovers a magical kingdom of elves at the North Pole and becomes Santa Claus. But when Santa’s most rebellious elf Patch (comedy legend Dudley Moore) leaves the North Pole for the big streets of New York City, he becomes mixed up with a dastardly toy tycoon (John Lithgow) and wreaks havoc upon the holidays! Can Santa fix Patch’s mess in time to save Christmas? Find out in this must-see classic from the writers of Superman that is adventurous, hilarious holiday fun for the entire family.
eyelights: John Lithgow. its lavish production. its score by Henri Mancini.
eyesores: its blandness. its lack of magic. its generic third act.
“We’ve been expecting you for a long, long time.”
I don’t know about you, but, I’ve never really wanted to know Santa Claus’ backstory. Whether he’s Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Krampus or even Billy Bob Thornton, I couldn’t care less – I didn’t care as a kid, and I don’t now.
Aside for the fact that he’s been incredibly influenced by Coca-Cola in the mid-20th century (something that seems patently absurd at first), there’s little else that I need to know. All the rest is pure BS given that he’s merely a mythological character.
(Oh, snap… the cat’s out of the bag now, ain’t it?)
But, in the mid-’80s, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the team behind the Christopher Reeve ‘Superman‘ films and ‘Supergirl‘, took it upon themselves to explore and define Kris Kringle’s origins in an elaborate and lavish motion picture.
The plot is simple: at some point in olden days, some guy named Claus goes around in his sleigh giving all the village kids gifts at Christmas. He’s adored and his visits are anticipated eagerly. But, one Christmas Eve, he gets caught in snowstorm.
He nearly freezes to death, along with Ms. Claus and his reindeer, Donner and Blitzen.
Luckily for him, elves show up. They not only rescue him, but tag him with the responsibility to deliver their toys all over the world every year on Christmas Eve. Though initially taken aback, the newly-dubbed Santa Claus takes on his duties in earnest.
But he has to contend with Patch, a well-meaning elf whose inventions promise more than they deliver. After a major incident, Patch leaves the North Pole and makes magic toys for the unscrupulous B.Z. Toys, who go head-to-head with Santa.
Can Santa save Christmas?
I still remember when this came out: I was twelve and I couldn’t possibly be less enthused about a movie that boasted being the definitive Santa Claus tale – plus which it starred Dudley Moore, who I never really warmed up to. I didn’t go see it.
I wasn’t alone: the picture flopped.
The key problem is that, ironically enough, ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ has no magic. Oh, it tries: it force-feeds us what the filmmakers think will marvel kids. But it feels fake and what little could have stuck is easily dispelled by the movie’s crassness.
(The obtrusive product placement alone was enough to keep me disenchanted)
It doesn’t help that this Santa is affable, but not especially charming or charismatic. I mean, he seems like a nice dude. But is he the jolly ol’ Saint Nicholas who is impossible to dislike? Not really. He’s just a guy – nothing more, nothing special.
In fact, he’s too real: he’s frequently shown exhausted from all the work, feeling threatened by Patch and B.Z. Toys or being depressed. I mean, this is a neurotic Santa Claus who has an existential crisis! Seriously! Does anyone want to see that?
Plus which, the plump, red velvet-cloaked old man is a friggin’ idiot: it’s clear as day that Patch’s work is of terrible quality, but when Santa has him compete with Puffy to be his assistant, he can’t see what’s right in front his nose. Yep, he picks Patch!
Argh! (this makes him about as dumb as Scott/Santa in ‘The Santa Clause 3‘)
Of course, the third act wouldn’t exist if Patch hadn’t ruined Christmas with his crappy toys and then left the North Pole in shame. But it’s a contrivance that gives this Santa Claus another strike. By this point, it’s impossible to like or respect him.
And if you don’t like your protagonist, then you’re kinda screwed – especially if it’s Santa.
The picture tries to make him likeable by pairing him up with Joe, a homeless orphan boy, taking him in his sleigh on Christmas Eve and trying to impress him with failed stunts, but it feels forced and the chemistry between the actors is non-existent.
Plus which, one can’t help but wonder why Santa would leave Joe behind afterwards, knowing full well that he has to struggle on the streets on his own in order to survive. I mean, it’s really nice to have treated him to a sleigh ride, but it won’t feed him.
Or keep him warm.
Um… what kind of heartless !@#$ is this Santa, anyway?
“Hey, kid, come take a ride in my sleigh! Having fun? Alright, I’ll see ya next year!”
“I hope you make it.”
The third act is, without a doubt, the most exciting part of the picture – but it’s also the most conventional (and by ’80s standards, that’s relatively crappy). Here we find Santa saving Joe from B.Z., and preventing the villain from destroying Christmas.
Literally – he has explosive candy canes!
(and he’s not afraid to use them)
John Lithgow incarnates B.Z. and he’s a lot of fun playing a megalomaniacal, sociopathic businessman. Granted, he chews the scenery, but in that way which is appropriate for kids’ movies. And, anyway, he gives the picture its only signs of life.
Meanwhile, Dudley Moore is enjoyable as Patch, but the character is a doofus and his performance isn’t always convincing. He counterpoints Lithgow’s edge well, but he’s more likeable than David Huddleston’s Santa, which can be problematic.
I mean, he outshines Santa himself!
(But only because the bar is set so low).
What’s most impressive about this picture is how it fails at the big production pieces: the sets are massive and lavishly decorated, but they look like sets, and the special effects are weak, even failing miserably at making Santa’s sleigh fly realistically.
And, coming from the team that made us “believe a man can fly” in 1978, it’s dumbfounding.
How could they get this so wrong?
In any event, it doesn’t matter: ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ didn’t enamour audiences or critics whatsoever. It’s a dull, unspectacular, lifeless product that was designed especially for Holiday consumption – it’s no wonder that it’s been largely forgotten.
It’s probably a good thing that it wasn’t a hit, though: can you just imagine what kind of sequels we’d have gotten in ‘Santa Claus II’, ‘III’ and ‘IV: The Quest for Peace’? Yikes, it’s something that might keep me up all night when I should be sleeping soundly.
…waiting for Santa bring me my gifts.
Ho ho no.
Date of viewing: December 10, 2017