The prophecy has come to pass; that there will come to us a chosen one and that he, having no child of his own, will love all children everywhere. And that he himself will be an artisan, a craftsman and a skilled maker of toys... From this day on, now and forever, you will bring our gifts to all the children in all the world, and all this will be done on Christmas Eve. Know this; time travels with you... an endless night for you until your mission is complete. This is your legacy, your gift, as is the gift of flight... Henceforth you will be called Santa Claus.
– Ancient Elf, Santa Claus: The Movie
Santa Claus: The Movie was the first film to explore the story of how Santa Claus came into being, and also is one of the cheesiest films of the 1980s. Ignoring all previous religious explanations for Christmas and containing no reference at all to St Nicholas, Santa Claus: The Movie reinvents the character of Santa Claus as a big-hearted toymaker rewarded for his love of children by being transformed into the character of Santa Claus, in accordance with a prophecy held by elves.
The film has two distinct acts, the first of which deals exclusively with the origin of Santa Claus. The second act concentrates on the story of a corrupt toy manufacturer in New York over the course of a year in the early 1980s.
Act I: North Pole
The film begins at Christmas at some point before the XIIIth Century in an unknown frozen land, quite possibly Lapland, though this is never actually confirmed. A pleasant present-giving peasant named Claus, assisted by his wife Anya, is delivering toys he has made to the children of nearby villages. They are in a sleigh pulled by his reindeer Donner and Blitzen. However they are trapped in a snowstorm, freezing to death and when all hope is lost, find themselves transported to the North Pole, the Top of the World, surrounded by elves. The elves take them to their home where they learn from an Ancient Elf that Claus' coming has been prophesied, that he will live forever, give toys made by the elves to all the children of the world each Christmas night, and be known as Santa Claus.
Among the many elves that help Claus is one called Patch. An ambitious elf, he desires to do more than simply look after the reindeer and longs to prove himself...
Act II: New York
Passing through New York on Christmas Eve in the early-1980s, Santa befriends a homeless boy named Joe, as well as a rich orphan called Cornelia, who lives with her uncle, crooked toy manufacturer BZ. BZ is interested in making money, not children happy, and his toys are made cheaply and lethally.
At the North Pole, Patch's attempts to mechanise Santa's workshop meet with disaster. Still hoping to prove his worth, he leaves the North Pole and heads to New York, where he visits a toyshop. He assumes that the BZ toys he sees are flying off the shelves due to popularity, when in fact they have been recalled due to health risks. He seeks BZ out and proposes to make him something magical. Facing the ruin of his business, BZ agrees. Patch manufacturers a lollipop made from the same magical powder used to feed Santa's reindeer. This, when consumed, allows the eater to hover. He places one beneath every Christmas tree, hoping to impress Santa.
After Christmas, BZ is suddenly successful again and persuades Patch to make a more powerful version – candy canes that will give the eater the power to fly. BZ's crony Towzer accidentally discovers that the stronger recipe is highly dangerous and explosive at high temperature. This secret is kept from Patch, but overheard by Cornelia. BZ plans to take over Christmas and launch a new holiday; Christmas II. With Joe and Patch's lives in danger, and BZ likely to escape to South America rich, will Santa Claus be able to save the day? Can he bring Joy to the World, Peace on Earth and ensure a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year?
|Santa Claus||David Huddleston|
|Anya Claus||Judy Cornwell|
|Cornelia||Carrie Kei Heim|
|Ancient Elf||Burgess Meredith|
The film was written with Dudley Moore in mind. Dudley had starred in 10 and had been Oscar-nominated for his role in Arthur, in which he was described as being 'Santa's Little Helper'.
John Lithgow is famous for being the voice of Lord Farquaad in the Shrek series, being in comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun and had been twice Oscar-nominated in 1982 and 1983. David Huddleston is best known for being Jeffrey the Big Lebowski in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski. Judy Cornwell would later play Daisy in television series Keeping Up Appearances and was the cannibal Maddy in the Doctor Who story Paradise Towers, who sadly is killed before being able to eat annoying companion Mel, played by Bonnie Langford. Burgess Meredith had previously played The Penguin in the 1960s Batman television series and Ammon in the original Clash of the Titans, as well as being in the Rocky film series.
The Making Of Santa Claus: The Movie
Santa Claus: The Movie was made by the Salkind Corporation; father and son team Alexander and Ilya Salkind, with their partner producer Pierre Spengler, a childhood friend of Alexander Salkind. They had previously produced the action-adventure films The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, directed by Richard Lester in 1973 and 1974, and had followed this up with the first three Superman films as well as Supergirl. The Salkinds then decided to make something different, but utilising the skills and techniques that they had developed for the Superman series.
Ilya Salkind decided that, having made audiences believe a man could fly, the techniques they had perfected would make audiences believe a man and eight reindeer could fly. The character of Santa Claus had worldwide appeal and had only appeared in modest productions such as the original 1947 Miracle on 34th Street2. A film showing him travelling the world, flying behind his reindeer and delivering toys to every child on the planet had not been attempted, and Ilya convinced his partners that they could be the first to succeed with such an ambitious task. Director Jeannot Szwarc, who had worked well with the Salkinds on Supergirl, unreleased when the project began, was re-hired to direct.
Santa Claus: the Making of the Movie
During the filming the Salkinds produced a making-of documentary entitled Santa Claus: the Making of the Movie. In this, David Huddleston stays in character as the real Santa Claus throughout, saying that this film was based on his life story. The documentary also reveals that in order to make the film, 20 reindeer from Norway were specially trained as a team at the 007 Soundstage at Pinewood Studios. The Making Of also draws attention to the incredible detail of the set and carved decoration on the sleigh. Many of these details appear only briefly in the film and the audience is not given a chance to appreciate the skilled crafting involved in making the film. A large focus is on the sophisticated animatronic reindeer used for close-ups and scenes in snowstorms when the real reindeer could not be used.
In this, Alexander Salkind reveals that Santa Claus: The Movie cost $50,000,000 to make and that all the toys seen in the film were, after filming finished, donated to needy children. It's nice to think that some were carefully looked after and are now being played with by the children of the children who played with them after the film was released. Dudley Moore also reveals that the name of the character he plays, Patch, is the nickname of his son Patrick.
Santa Claus or Santa Claus: The Movie?
This film is known both as Santa Claus and Santa Claus: The Movie3. Although the on screen credit at the start of the film simply says Santa Claus, to date all VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the film have Santa Claus: The Movie on the cover. This is because the Salkinds wished to make sure that people knew that their advertisements were advertising their film, and not Santa Claus as a whole. To ensure that this point was fully clear, their advertising campaign made a point of referring to Santa Claus: The Movie to distinguish it from any other Santa-related subject. Similarly all film tie-in material, such as the original soundtrack and the novelisation, has been labelled with Santa Claus: The Movie. After all, 'Santa Claus' cannot be trademarked, whereas Santa Claus: The Movie can be.
The Film's Interpretation of Christmas
There is no doubt that Santa Claus: The Movie is based very strongly on American Christmas traditions. The main character, Santa Claus, is always referred to as Santa Claus and never by other names such as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas etc. He also only dresses in the American tradition of bright red clothes, red hat, white linings and big white beard. At no point does he dress in a Bishop's clothes in accordance with many European traditions, ride a white horse or wear green or a bright Union Flag waistcoat, as frequently portrayed in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. The only indication that Santa Claus visits any part of the world outside America after the vague opening of the film is a blink-and-you-miss-it shot of letters arriving at the North Pole written in many different languages.
One key influence is the poem A Visit from St Nick, better known by its opening line 'Twas The Night Before Christmas'. This can be seen in the name of Santa's reindeer, which match the names of the reindeer in the poem4. Another influence is Charles Dickens, who frequently wrote about Christmas in many of his novels, such as The Pickwick Papers, as well as most famously in A Christmas Carol. Dickens was born in 1812 during the period nicknamed the 'mini Ice Age', as London experienced a white Christmas every year between 1812-20. Dickens' descriptions of white Christmases in his novels have since become a key part of Christmas tradition despite their increased scarcity; Britain only had four official white Christmases in the 20th Century. A lot of the greed and selfishness of Ebenezer Scrooge can be seen in BZ. As Scrooge had one living relative, a good-hearted nephew who is unaffected by Scrooge's ways, BZ has a pure, innocent, caring niece. However, unlike Scrooge or the Haunted Man, BZ remains unrepentant.
In the film Santa Claus lives at the North Pole with his elves, immortal beings who look like men. His magical home is hidden within the aurora borealis, and the coming of Christmas each year is marked by a special conjunction and alignment with the North Pole and North Star.
The elves live in a home which is very wooden, which is quite odd considering there are no trees at the North Pole5. Even in the 13th Century they have a fairly advanced technology. They understand pneumatic principals, as evidenced by their use of bellows, can construct complex optics, including for a giant telescope with which they can predict astronomical events to the second, and utilise clockwork technology. By the 1980s they even have television6. Their economy appears based around toy manufacture, and after completing a toy they store them in a vast warehouse hidden behind King Kong-like gates, known as the toy tunnel, waiting for Santa to deliver them.
Living at the North Pole they do not have the same day/night routine the rest of the world enjoys; they sleep in shifts with each bed used by different elves at different times of the day. There are large numbers of elves, all under five feet tall, and all apparently male; no female elves are seen at all during the film. We never learn how elves breed. This might explain why Patch is always feeling so frustrated...
As well as the elves, all of Santa's reindeer are also male. Although only female reindeer in the Northern Hemisphere have antlers at Christmas, Santa's reindeer, by living in a magical transdimensional realm, are clearly unaffected by Earth's seasons.
Many elves have beards, which they like to use as paint brushes when decorating their toys. Elves are also very fond of music and dancing, normally communal with people arranged in a giant circle. The head elf is Dooley. As well as Patch, who believes in progress, another key member of the elvin community is Puffy, a conservative who constantly conflicts with Patch. Another elf is the Ancient Elf, who appears only once. His hobbies seem to be growing his enormous beard and spouting prophecy to anyone who will listen. Considering how no other elf ages at all between the 13th and 20th centuries, it is unclear how he came to be of such an advanced age.
Similarity with Superman
As well as the special effects techniques, Santa Claus: The Movie shares numerous themes, motifs and imagery with the Superman films. Considering the film was made by the producers of the first three Superman films and Supergirl, the director of Supergirl and the husband and wife writing team of David and Leslie Newman, who co-wrote or were involved in developing the scripts for the first three Superman films, this is not entirely unsurprising. The films were also shot at the 007 Stage in Pinewood Studios, where the first three Superman films and Supergirl had all been made.
Just as Superman begins with an Origin storyline on Krypton and in Smallville before the second half is set in Metropolis, Santa Claus: The Movie begins in a small village and at the North Pole before the second half is set in New York.
Both Superman and Santa Claus have a secret home at the North Pole.
The character of BZ is based on Lex Luther.
Santa flies around New York with Joe just as Superman flew around Metropolis with Lois Lane7
Patch's toys break, leading to resignation and his journey to Earth. This is similar to Kara journeying to Earth after her losing the omegahedron in Supergirl.
Supergirl was in part inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a story which seems to influence the relationship between Anya Claus and the elves.
Patch's difficulty in trying to fit in in New York is like Kara trying to ingratiate herself in Midvale.
Patch's toy maker in which toy parts are assembled on a conveyor belt is reminiscent of the conveyor belt car-crusher Clark is placed on in Superman III.
The final shot of the film shows BZ floating away around the Earth, just like the last shot in each Superman film shows Superman flying and orbiting the Earth.
- Death and resurrection. Claus and his wife freeze to death, yet Claus returns to life before being transported to the top of the world, to beneath the North Star. This can be seen to mirror Jesus Christ's resurrection and ascent into Heaven.
- Santa's coming to the North Pole was foretold by Prophecy, just as in the Bible Jesus' coming was foretold by various prophets.
- The Ancient Elf's role echoes that of St John the Baptist.
- Santa Claus is a skilled woodcarver, just as Jesus was a carpenter.
- Prophecy. The Ancient Elf stating 'they shall call you Santa Claus' echoing the angel telling Mary 'And you shall name him Jesus'.
- Santa Claus enjoys eternal life, just like Jesus.
- Santa Claus saves those who believe in him, namely Joe and Patch, just like Jesus.
Despite this religious symbolism, at no point during the film is the Nativity story or churches mentioned.
Like Supergirl, Santa Claus: The Movie was entirely financed by the Salkinds but released by TriStar, a film company then owned by Coca-Cola. One of the chief methods to raise the $50 million that the film cost to make was product placement, a method that the Salkinds had previously used in the Superman films8. One of their principle clients was Coca-Cola9. Product placement can be seen when Cornelia leaves Joe a meal including the famous soft drink. No matter what angle the camera is at or where the characters are, the soft drink's logos are clearly visible at all times. The bright red can is framed in the pure white of the snow, which makes the can's red colour stand out even more. All the food is gulped down instantly, but Joe lingers over drinking the beverage, savouring every mouthful, complete with a satisfied sigh and a burp10. Similarly, in the scene in which BZ's factory has been emptied of all his employees and workers, leaving only an empty, grey abandoned warehouse, the only colour remaining in the room is the bright red of a Coca-Cola11 vending machine. With no staff, the vending machine is surely superfluous for all purposes except product placement.
Santa Claus: The Movie continues the tradition of the Salkinds' use of fast-food product placement12. One scene is pure McDonalds product placement. Joe can be seen outside the window of the fast-food restaurant, framed in the middle of the famous golden arch logo, drooling over every burger and chip being eaten inside.
The Santa Claus: The Movie soundtrack is by Enrico 'Henry' Mancini. In his career, Mancini was nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning four13. He was also nominated for 72 Grammys, winning 20, and a Golden Globe Award. He is rightly considered one of the greatest film composers of all time. He began composing music in the early 1950s for films such as Ray Harryhausen's It Came From Outer Space. Mancini is perhaps best remembered for his collaboration with director Blake Edwards, scoring the Grammy-winning theme for Peter Gunn. Probably his most famous film score is the theme for The Pink Panther.
Although the score was by Henry Mancini, the words to the songs in the film were by Oscar-winning composer and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, who had written the songs for the 1970 Albert Finney musical Scrooge as well as Doctor Dolittle and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He had worked with the Salkinds previously on Superman and with Mancini on Revenge of the Pink Panther and Victor/Victoria, for which they won a joint Oscar. His other work includes the lyrics to the song 'Goldfinger' of the James Bond film of the same name.
Despite the talent behind it, the excellent soundtrack has not been re-released. The soundtrack contains many Christmas songs, including one, 'Every Christmas Eve', sung by Aled Jones14. The song over the end credits, 'Christmas All Over the World', is sung by Sheena Easton15 and is the only song not written by Mancini and Bricusse, but instead is by Bill House and John Hobbs.
Songs on the soundtrack include:
- 'Christmas All Over the World'
- 'Every Christmas Eve'
- 'Making Toys'
- 'It's Christmas Again'
- 'Patch! Natch!'
- 'Thank You, Santa!'
In a certain time, in a certain land once there lived and once there was...
- Certainly a strange way to begin the Santa Claus: The Movie novelisation.
The novelisation is by Joan D Vinge based on the screenplay and story by husband and wife team David and Leslie Newman. It is 214 pages long with 21 chapters. The book includes more background regarding the elves; minor characters like Groot the cook, Gooba the tailor and Patch's friends Honka, Vout and Boog have a larger role. The rivalry between Patch and Puffy is clarified. The novelisation does still contain product placement, particularly in Chapter 6:
Joe stood outside the window of McDonald's with his nose pressed against the glass... as he watched the people queuing up inside... all ordering hamburgers and fries and shakes, slathering their steaming McNuggets with ketchup and hot sauce. He swallowed and swallowed again... imagining the smell of the burgers frying, the sizzle of potatoes plunged into hot oil, the icy, prickly tang of a cold fizzy drink...
Santa Claus: The Movie is a cheesy Christmas film that combines the corruption of commercialism, the horror of homelessness, religious representation and rhetoric with blatant product placement.
There is no denying how cheesy the film is. Two of the main roles are played by child actors who, unsurprisingly, have failed to find careers since in the acting profession. Their performance, while adequate, is not helped by the fact that between the first Christmas we see them and the next they have not aged at all, or even, in Joe's case, changed clothes. There are frequent minor points like that which have not quite been thought through. Why is it that after raining heavily through the January night when BZ kidnaps Joe and learns the truth about the exploding candy canes, when we see BZ the next morning a thick blanket of snow is on the ground?
Also how does Patch manage to carry enough of his secret magical formula to make a lollipop and candy cane for every child on Earth in his one little handkerchief bindle bag, especially as he presumably uses some of the magic to get to New York16? Patch on his arrival in New York demonstrates an ability to teleport which no other elf displays at any point during the film. The reason behind this is never explained.
The character of BZ is in many ways a pantomime villain, an anti-Claus ideal for children to laugh at. Sadly, the highly developed art of pantomime is now often derided. His highly-flammable toys are stuffed with glass, nails etc. His laughable lofty ambition is to take over Christmas and launch 'Christmas II'. John Lithgow is camp and over-the-top, but a perfectly-pitched performance for children at Christmas.
The climax of the film comes when the lives of Patch and Joe, flying in the Patchmobile while carrying an explosive candy cane cargo, are in danger of imminent destruction. Santa in pursuit concludes that the only possible way to save them is by doing the Super-Dooper-Looper, a visually exciting 360° loop that his reindeer have never been able to do before. Really? It seems easier if Santa simply came alongside to take them off, or advise them to pull over and switch the engine off. Instead, he decides to do an extremely dangerous, untried, complicated stunt and assume that the split-second timing needed to rescue Patch and Joe who are falling from the exploding Patchmobile17 will work out fine in the end. As this takes place in January, he can't even rely on Christmas magic.
The film failed to find an audience and was a financial disaster. So much so that executive producer Alexander Salkind would not make another film until his last in 1992, instead concentrating on television. Despite this, the film has influenced other Christmas films that have come along since. Particularly Elf, a film in which a mistake-making elf leaves the North Pole carrying only a bindle, travels to New York and spends time with a corrupt businessman who makes books for children who had been on Santa's naughty list. The Grinch ends with everyone holding hands and dancing in a circle, just like at the end of Santa Claus: The Movie.
To conclude, this is a film which, even if briefly, raises awareness of the very serious issue of homelessness at Christmas. If this film has helped to inspire good work not only at Christmas, but all year round, then it has been a force for good.