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In Defence of: Santa Claus The Movie (1985)

December 20, 2011


I was under the impression that everyone loved Santa Claus The Movie.  What’s not to love?  Christmas, elves, reindeer, snow, Dudley Moore, John Lithgow…and SANTA!  It’s a classic, quite clearly.  Then, a couple of years ago, I made my husband watch it with me.  He hated it.  Ha, I thought.  What a freak.  And onto Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB/Wikipedia I trotted, to shove the glory of SCTM in his face.  More fool me, it seems.  I discovered that not only was the film a massive flop on release, but it has an RT rating of only 17% and is generally only appreciated amongst four year olds and those in the ‘so bad it’s good’ camp.

I have to ask: what is wrong with the world?!

Santa Claus The Movie is a Christmas classic.  Every year at first school, my class teacher would pop in the video on the last day of the autumn term, and I would be in heaven for the next 105 minutes.  Finally, no doubt after months of whining, my mam bought me the video to watch at home…and I must have watched it constantly, all year round, because I know this film well.  Really well.  I’m not quite able to recite every word (I save that for The Sound of Music), but I could probably tell the story scene by scene.  And do you know why that is?  Because it’s a BLOODY GOOD FILM!  It’s magical, it’s fun, it’s heartwarming, and it even has a message (don’t let greedy corporations ruin the true meaning of Christmas.  I mean, ok, it’s a message that conveniently ignores the actual true, religious, meaning, but hey…the sentiment is there).  Some people might argue that the whole message angle is ruined slightly by the rather blatant McDonalds and Coca-Cola product placements, but those people don’t get the genius behind those moments.  As a kid watching the film, I vividly remember Joe (the homeless boy) watching a stranger biting into a Big Mac and licking his lips, and the way he slurps down a can of coke, and do you know why?  Because when you’re six years old, you completely understand Joe’s longing.  You long for those things too.  Director Jeannot Szwarc was clearly no fool; he knew what he was doing.

Santa Claus The Movie is also the best representation on film of the legend of Santa Claus.  The first scenes are truly wonderful, telling the tale of how kindly old Uncle Claus and his wife Anya were swept away by elves (under the light of a glorious North Star) to fulfil a magical prophecy.  Admittedly, we’re not really sure who foretold this prophecy or how any of this really started, but the opening half of the film is so joyous that it doesn’t really matter.  From one scene to the next, there’s a fresh moment of excitement.  How awesome is Santa’s workshop?  Aaaw, how cute are the reindeer?  Oh, so that’s why Santa wears red (no, it’s nothing to do with Coca-Cola, thank you very much)!  David Huddleston is unbeaten to this day as the best onscreen Santa Claus, and he’s just one of a number of brilliant casting decisions.  Dudley Moore couldn’t be more perfect as an elf trying to prove his worth to Santa, Burgess Meredith adds gravitas in his small role, and John Lithgow is tremendously evil as the greedy, corporate man using Patch to destroy Santa once and for all.  Is the second half as good as the first?  No, it’s not (but then, what is, I ask you?); however, it’s still brilliant fun.  The special effects were excellent for their time (they blew me away, at least; the image of Santa and his reindeer flying over New York is a major reason for my obsession with the city from a young age) and the music.  Oh, the music.  Composed by Henry Mancini (who wrote my wedding song, incidentally), it’s one of my all-time favourite soundtracks.  You want an example, you say?  Well, gladly…


You could hear that in August, and it would still make you want to put the Christmas tree up.

Santa Claus The Movie is wonderful all year round, but watched at Christmas, it can’t be beaten.  My best friend, one of the coolest people I know, watches it every Christmas Eve without fail, and (no matter what my husband says), it’s a neccessity in my household too.  It might not have made much money, it might not have garnered good reviews…but neither did It’s A Wonderful Life, and we all know what happened there.  One day we’ll look back at that 17% tomatometer and laugh.  Santa Claus The Movie: your day will come.

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