Sunday, 6 December 2015

Film Review: Santa Claus (1985)

© TriStar Pictures | Source:
UK, USA; 104-107 min; adventure, family, fantasy, holiday
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Writing: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Cast: Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston, Judy Cornwell, Burgess Meredith


There have been many versions of where Santa Claus came from and almost as many find themselves on the big or small screen as a movie. Most are family comedies that run on the visually impressive and heartwarming, yet slightly silly side. The 1985 attempt Santa Claus: The Movie is a little bit more mellow and fairytale-like, which might stem from the fact that it was a British-American co-production. But let’s take a closer look:

Santa Claus tries to do a lot in its 104 minutes runtime: It goes all the way back to the origins of the man with the white beard and red hat. Sometime in the late middle ages a generous, yet poor, woodcutter and his wife are on their way back from delivering presents to children in the surrounding villages when they get caught in a blizzard. Facing almost certain death these two good and giving people are rescued by a community of elves, who take them in. From that moment onwards the woodcutter takes on the role of Santa Claus and rewards nice children with presents every Christmas Eve. 

In a swirl of time, presents and journeys around the globe, that is meant to establish the mythological figure of Santa Claus, the movie takes us to the present day. Here we are suddenly caught in a mix of modern story and festive fairytale.  An ambitious elf is wooed by a money-mad entrepreneur to make toys for him and get worldwide credit for it, but has to leave behind his values along the way. At the same time we have a children’s Romeo and Juliet situation, when Cornelia, the daughter of the previously mentioned rich entrepreneur, takes a liking to orphaned, homeless boy Joe. By a lucky incident the two run into Santa and together they save Christmas and its values from the greedy modern society of adults. All’s well that ends well and in the end Joe is even adopted by Santa and his wife. Lovely.

Even if it’s slightly clichéd, you can’t really fault a holiday movie for its overwhelming cheer that it wants to spread. This movie especially does a nice job of drawing you into Santa’s cozy North Pole home and, even after years of watching, we are still filled with the same excitement upon entering the elves workshop that we felt the first time. And, come on, even if it is slightly tacky, we do want that all encompassing happy ending, where the poor boy is given a family, the elf gets a promotion, and evil is banned from earth (quite literally in this movie). Also, the classic feel of the movie might stem from its underlying criticism of progress for progress’s sake. We see this in the story and it just might have influenced the making of the movie, motivating the creators to omit any unnecessary, in your face special effects.

Like so many Christmas movies Santa Claus tries to remind us of what is truly important in life. And even now, 30 years later, the story seems pretty relevant to our own reality. The only slight drawback is that the movie does not only want to tell a modern story, but wants to keep coming back to Santa’s origins as well. This is especially ambitious considering the slightly peculiar fun fact that there does not seem to be one official version of the movie. IMDB lists the runtime as 107 minutes, Wikipedia as 108 minutes, while my German DVD says the English original version is about 104 minutes long and the German version an even shorter 91 minutes… Imagine my wonder, when (after years of watching the German version) I got to experience some never before seen scenes, when I watched the English version for the first time! So who left what on the cutting room floor and what were we really meant to see?

While Santa Claus may be a bit too dense in storylines, it comes along with a fitting main cast that excels in its roles. David Huddleston makes for a superb Santa Claus that delivers kindness and fills the famous suit well. Dudley Moore plays experienced and eager, yet always cheerful elf Patch, who even in his ambition always remains slightly blue-eyed and nice. Finally, John Lithgow is perfect as B.Z., the greedy and ruthless toy magnate.

In my household, as in many others I am sure, Santa Claus is a Christmas classic and any verdict therefore must be slightly tainted with personal feelings of nostalgia. While the movie is not perfect and there are some scenes that I didn’t really need to see, it still is a holiday gem that forgoes any unnecessary special effects for the creation of an atmosphere of warmth and Christmas joy. Happy St. Nick’s Day, everyone!


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