Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

The Prophecy has come to pass, that there would come to us a Chosen One, and that he, having no child of his own, would love all children everywhere, and that he himself would be an artisan, and a craftsman, and a skilled maker of toys.
From this day on, now and forever, you will bring all our gifts to all the children in all the world, and all this to be done on Christmas Eve.
The night of the world is a passage of endless night for you, until your mission is done. This is your legacy, and your gift, as is the gift of flight. Now, all those within the sound of my voice, and all those on this Earth everywhere know that henceforth, you will be called...Santa Claus. And now, everyone, Merry Christmas.

ANOTHER Santa Claus movie? Well, if it's Christmas...

Yes, conceived by the production team who gave you the first three Superman movies and directed by Jeannot Szwarc, whose name I still haven't learned to pronounce since I reviewed Supergirl last spring, it's Santa Claus: THE MOVIE. That's right. You can forget Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. You can forget the mystical train wreck that was Mexican Santa Claus. You can forget both the original Miracle on 34th Street AND its remake. You can forget every holiday special you've ever seen. Nope, this movie is it. The DEFINITIVE Santa Claus movie. I'm fairly certain they wouldn't have added "THE MOVIE" in the title if it weren't so.

Don't let the above title card fool you. This is Santa Claus: THE MOVIE. Finito. The end. Done.

Now then, the best way to approach this movie I've found would be to split it into two parts, since the first part of the film is very loosely connected to the second. As it's a movie about the origins of Santa Claus, I'm thinking a nice ITALIC font will suit it wonderfully. Also, you might want to bring your children closer to the screen and pretend that I'm reading this to them out loud in a warm, friendly voice.

Here we go...*ahem*

Once upon a time, many years ago somewhere in northern Europe, there lived a kindly old toy-maker and his wife (played by David Huddleston and Judy Cornwell) in a village deep in the forests. This toy-maker was particularly fond of children, but not in the kind of way that gets you sent to prison, and every year around the winter solstice, he and his wife would ride around in their reindeer-driven sleigh and give out toys to all the children of the village.

One year, there was a terrible blizzard, which did not deter the toy-maker and his wife from giving away their toys as they did every year. But while they were out there, the snow blew so hard that the reindeer could not continue, and it looked like the old couple would freeze to death in the blinding snow. Luckily, some unseen force rescues them and deposits them at the North Pole, where they are greeted by a clan of short-statured people known as "Vendequm" (or elves, if you like) who take them back to their big house sitting at the top of the world.

"It's only a model."

The elves, as it happens, are toy-makers themselves, and have been seeking a middle-aged childless couple who love children dearly to help them give their toys to all the children of the world. With the help of some magical reindeer feed, he and his sleigh driven by eight tiny reindeer will fly all over the world to distribute all of the toys in one night, the shroud of nighttime travelling with him until his job is done.

Finally, the big day arrives, and as the toy-maker is about to set off, he, his wife and the elves are visited by a wise and ancient elf, played by Burgess Meredith, who gives him the name that the whole world will know him by--Santa Claus.

And so, throughout the centuries, every Christmas Eve Santa Claus and his reindeer flew all over the world giving toys to all the children, and his legend was spread to the four corners of the Earth.

All time zones meet at the North Pole, and it's always 4:20 somewhere, dudes!

Of course, over time some minor adjustments were made to the system, including the introduction of "naughty" and "nice" lists to make sure that only the good children received gifts, and Santa at one point was put on a diet after a certain poet described him as having a belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly, but nonetheless Christmas cheer was spread throughout the planet.

Well, except for the Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim households, but I'm sure their children were still very happy.

*cough cough* Ullggh. Never doing THAT again.

Part two takes place when we finally get to the late 20th Century and involves two children named Joe and Cornelia. Joe is a homeless boy who mostly hangs around Cornelia's house and stares through her window (this is not creepy in the slightest), and Cornelia is a rich little girl who frequently leaves some food out for him and would later go on to star in The Parent Trap II. It also helps to know one of the elves whom we were introduced to in part one - the one named Patch (Dudley Moore), an inventive elf who's all about technology, modernity and bad elf puns.

And now we meet the villain of our story, a evil cigar-sucking businessman (oh, what other type is there?) named B.Z., played by 3rd Rock's John Lithgow. He makes toys too...only his aren't built as well. In fact, as a Senate hearing scene teaches us, his dolls are more flammable than napalm and his plush toys are stuffed with glass shards, nails and sawdust. Not like he cares or anything; the more profit he makes the better. He's evil, after all.

"Now let's find Donald Trump and spit on his head! Ho ho ho!"

It seems that after centuries of making and delivering toys, the parents of the world are making children too fast for Santa to keep up, so he decides to make one of his elves his assistant. The top two elves for the job are Patch and some other guy whose name I can't remember, and Patch easily wins thanks to a factory-style toy making machine he builds. While delivering these toys, Santa finds Joe, gives him a joyride in his sleigh (NOT CREEPY), tries to impress him with a reindeer trick known as the "Super Duper Looper", a 360-degree loop-de-loop trick but can't when one of his reindeer has a touch of acrophobia, then drops him off at Cornelia's.

Unfortunately for Patch, his machine doesn't prove to be as efficient as he thought, and when his new toys are returned in pieces, Patch, sensing he is to be fired, not only resigns his post, but runs away from the workshop in shame. He arrives in New York City, finds B.Z., and having no knowledge of such things as recalls, lawsuits and product safety regulations, offers to make him some money--I mean, TOYS, make him some toys--to prove himself to Santa somehow.

Five seconds of that commercial and suddenly you're too old to believe in Santa Claus. B.Z. is an evil GENIUS.

Patch's idea is to make lollipops sprinkled with reindeer feed that will make whomever eats them float in the air a la Ed Wynn from Mary Poppins. (Yeah yeah, "you should hear about what they put in hot dogs", I know.) He also builds himself a silly-looking rocket-powered sleigh to deliver them to children. B.Z. reluctantly agrees to give these lollipops away as long as he get to use the classic dope-dealer "first-batch-is-free-the-second-one-will-cost-ya" business model.

Ehh, I prefer happy thoughts and pixie dust. Organic ingredients, fewer calories and no added sugar.

Despite the lack of FDA tests for possibly harmful ingredients, and the fact that the kids are basically eating reindeer chow, the lollipops are a big hit and people all over the country are floating several feet in the air. In fact, they're so popular that apparently the police forgot all about those unsafe toy claims and B.Z. is contemplating starting a second Christmas in March to market some reindeer chow-sprinkled candy canes (I think you'd have to talk to the church about that), while back at the North Pole word of Patch's success sends Santa into a bit of a depression.

Well, maybe kids would like you more if you didn't make all of your toys out of wood. I mean, nothing against wood, it has its charm, but it's the late 20th century and I think most of the major toy manufacturers have moved on to plastics now. I mean, wood DOES have its disadvantages--it's more flammable, it doesn't break as easily, there's a risk of splinters...

Meanwhile, Cornelia wishes a merry Christmas to her step-uncle:


One night, while Cornelia brings a sickly Joe inside to warm up, B.Z.'s lackey Towser (Jeffrey Kramer) makes an urgent late-night house call conveniently within earshot. The kids listen as B.Z. vocally anticipating overthrowing Santa Claus and taking over Christmas to where kids will be writing to HIM for presents. Sadly, Joe sneezes, gets caught and is dragged away by the chauffeur to be bound and gagged in the toy factory (apparently the kid's movie equivalent of cement shoes), so he misses the part where Towser mentions that the candy canes explode when exposed to heat.

Cornelia, however, does not.

As they leave, B.Z. is entertaining the idea of covering up this "minor" defect, running away to Brazil and letting Patch take the fall.

It's nice and all, but do the rims keep spinning when it stops?

Patch finds Joe at the factory, discovers Santa gave him a wood carving of himself as a gift (whereas I'm sure a loving family would have sufficed in a heartwarming holiday story such as this), he takes Joe with him to the North Pole on his rocket sleigh to take the candy canes to Santa to deliver for next year. Cornelia contacts Santa for help, and the two of them chase after the rocket sleigh, which is riding along blissfully unaware that the candy canes in the back are starting to get hot.

Meanwhile, at B.Z.'s toy factory, Cornelia has tipped off the police and they've come to arrest him. After snarfing down a handful of his candy canes hidden in his desk drawer, B.Z. attempts to fly out the window to elude the cops...and quickly floats straight upwards into the Earth's atmosphere.

I think we'd better recall those Fizzy Lifting Drinks.

Back to the chase, eventually the rocket sleigh explodes in midair, sending Patch and Joe flying through the air towards certain doom, and only resolving the slightly hinted-at subplot of Santa's reindeer overcoming their fear of heights and pulling off the "Super Duper Looper" can save them!


The story ends back at the workshop, where Patch is welcomed home, the Clauses adopt Joe and Cornelia is allowed to stay until next Christmas. Then they all dance around in celebration.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Except for B.Z., who will eventually die of asphyxiation in the vacuum of space while his lifeless body enters a low orbit around the Earth.

"You will bow down before me, Kringle! You and one day your heirs!"

Since its release, many film critics have called Santa Claus: THE MOVIE as one of the worst Christmas movies ever, accusing the thin plot and so-called "garish" production design, while those who grew up with the film consider it a holiday favorite.


Well...I liked the first part. The filmmakers honestly try to pull off a decent Santa Claus origin story, and for the most part, it's actually pretty solid. David Huddleston does a pretty good Santa, and the special effects and the interiors of Santa's workshop certainly don't hurt. There were some things they don't really explain, though, like why all the elves gathered in one spot directly underneath a telescope and waited for a snowfall for something they called "season's greetings" which came off as kinda superfluous, but it still had its charm.

As for the second part, I can't really make up my mind about it. It is nice in places, like the parts with the kids, but as demonstrated there were some bits and pieces I couldn't help but nitpick. And John Lithgow's B.Z.--good grief. There's over the top, and then there's...that. There's evil, and then there's stuffing teddy bears with nails and sawdust and not giving a damn. There's overacting, and then there's...John Lithgow's B.Z. He comes right out of a freaking cartoon. His character is so typecast that they honestly forgot to give him some other motive than "overthrow Santa Claus."

Regardless, Santa Claus: THE MOVIE isn't really a bad film to sit through at the yuletide season. It's a little bit silly, but not to the extent of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and I can say a considerable amount of effort was put into it. It's a gentle, mostly harmless film, at least for children.

And the best part is we're in international waters - no adoption papers to sign!

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