Seeing is Believing: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

I’d like to think that everyone has that special Christmas film, you know the one that means Christmas has officially arrived. The one that is as much a part of your Christmas traditions as the turkey, the Christmas crackers and terrible gift sets of perfume/cologne that you are never going to wear (not even in emergencies.) It’s the film that you used to get ridiculously excited over as a kid. The one that you continue to sit down and watch as an adult even when you have a zillion holiday related issues to sort out.  For me, that film was and continues to be a cheesy 1980s fantasy with the above highly imaginative title.

As you might expect, Santa Claus: The Movie is in part a retelling of how the seasonal character of Santa Claus came to exist. The first part of the film focuses heavily on the development of the Christmassy legend that we have all come to know and love. It may not quite be the tale that you are used to.

Santa Claus (David Huddleston), starts off as a humble toymaker who along with his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) travels around the local villages and gives out wooden cravings to all the children on Christmas Eve. One Christmas Eve, there is a terrible snowstorm, Claus, his wife and their beloved reindeer almost die only to be rescued by a team of elves who live in the North Pole. (Look, were you seriously expecting a backstory that made sense?) Many centuries of service later and Santa is feeling the strain of working all year around to protect the spirit of Christmas. He decides to appoint an elf as his new assistant to help share the burden. And who better than the adventurous inventor Patch (Dudley Moore)

However, when Patch’s attempts at modernisation of the elf workshop fail spectacularly, the elf feels he has no choice but to hand in his notice and head off into the real world to somehow prove his worth to Santa. Cue misadventures with a corrupt toy manufacturer B.Z (played by a rather deliciously over the top John Lithgow), a dastardly plot to take over Christmas and a touching friendship between a rich orphan and a homeless boy who are determined to help Santa Claus save the day.

Now, you have pretty much guessed that the plot isn’t going to win any major awards. Truthfully, neither is the rest of the film. The costumes and sets are garishly colourful, my particular favourite monstrosity is Santa’s bright yellow shirt with big green spots and ruffles. The dialogue is pure cheese especially when Santa orders the elves to prepare a Naughty or Nice list and warns he will be checking it twice.  The special effects have definitely not dated well although some of the flying sequences with Santa’s sleigh still fire the imagination. The reindeer are quite possibly the least convincing robotic animals to have ever graced a film.

So why then Red, I hear you cry, are even trying to convince us that we should make time to watch this film when there are so many festive offerings out there? Well, to put it simply, the film is just good old fashioned fun. Huddleston makes a perfect Santa Claus – all red cheeked and cheery with a beard that would make most imitations green with envy. His indignant reaction to the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ is priceless and he finds himself going on a strict diet at the description of ‘his little round belly’.

At the other side of the scale, the friendship and parallel lives of Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick) and Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim) add a poignant element to proceedings. Joe, a homeless child trying to survive on the streets of New York, has lost all faith in Christmas and Santa Claus. Cornelia in comparison has a life of relative luxury in a fancy townhouse but it is clear that she is lonely and isolated. Their odd but sweet friendship highlights how a small act of kindness can flourish into something more.

On a lighter, more humorous note, the scenes between Patch and B.Z. alone make this film worth watching. I often wonder if Elf (2003) got any of its inspiration from the hilarious confusion that takes place when Patch encounters the world outside the North Pole and somehow manages to align himself with the most corrupt businessman in the toy market. “Money eh? I don’t know much about that,” muses an innocent Patch. Villainous delight and much cigar puffing from B.Z.: “Good. Let’s…um keep it that way.” Lithgow in particular is an absolute scene stealer and to be honest you won’t see him being this wonderfully evil until he voices a certain Lord in Shrek.

This film is pretty much the personification of a 1980s Christmas. The effects are no longer anything special. The fantasy element verges on the silly. The costumes are so retro they are almost kind of cool in an ironic way – except they’re not. The amount of product placement is frankly quite amazing –  for example you could play some pretty interesting games with the number of times that Coca Cola makes an appearance. However, all of the cast thoroughly immerse themselves in the cheese and give it all they’ve got. And perhaps most importantly, it leaves you with that warm indescribable Christmassy glow. Of course, I am incredibly biased – this is after all my Christmas film.

I would give this film three stars out of five because you can’t beat a sense of nostalgia.

Red Hamilton (will be attempting to make eggnog at this rate)

This entry was posted in Film/Movie, Issue Thirty-Nine, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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