- Movie Rating -

Santa Claus (1985)

| November 29, 1985

There is no crime in making a movie about the origins of Santa Claus, but in this case, I asked a question that I’m afraid that was not to be answered – at least not on the screen.  Why did the Salkinds, the producers of the Superman movies, want to make a movie about Santa when literally the entire Justice League seems to waiting in the wings.  The three Superman movies have made so much money that it might have benefitted them to make a movie featuring the exploits of Wonder Woman, The Flash, Batman, Green Lantern or Aquaman.  Why Santa?

Santa Claus is an odd movie.  It wants to be origin story much like the original Superman, this time about how a nice man is caught in a blizzard, dies and his brought back to life and given a new identity as Jolly Old Saint Nick.  Then we get a much more goofball story about an evil toy manufacturer who couples with one of Santa’s elves to make millions off the holiday.

That’s not a bad idea, not basically, but this movie suffers from a serious identity crisis.  The opening passages of the film reminded me of the traditional old films that I grew up watching, all about how Santa helps a wayward child who has stopped believing.  That’s not this movie, but I was caught up in how Santa came to be.  A middle-aged woodcutter named Claus (David Huddleston) is kind and generous to all the children of the nearby town, so generous that he delivers toys once a year in a blizzard.  Well, one year a blizzard catches up with him and he freezes to death only to be spirited off to the North Pole were an ancient elf (Burgess Meredith) bequeaths him the title of Santa Claus and all of the perks and valleys that go along with it.  This scene was special to me because it finally gave a plausible answer as to how Santa is able to deliver toys to all the children of the world in a matter of 12 hours.  I won’t spoil it but it’s a pretty sound explanation.

This opening passage made the movie special because it really visualized the way that I would imagine Santa’s workshop to be.  The décor and the elves’ clothing are very Victorian era and there seems to be a rows and rows and rows of toys made almost entirely out of wood – no plastics, no rubber, no modern materials.  There is something special about this place.  I could have spent the entire movie there.  We meet several of his elves who are smart and cute and efficient except for one jolly little fellow named Patch (Dudley Moore) whose mind tends to wonder.  If he had designs on being a dentist, I might have leapt for joy.

We move very quickly into Santa’s new duties and follow along with him to his first night out on Christmas Eve.  It is really quite a magical sequence.

Where the movie begins to lose me is in the second half.  Patch puts into action a process that will speed up production that results in a lot of broken toys.  So, he is asked to leave the North Pole and, arriving in America, he hooks up with a toy manufacturer whose greed would give Ebeneezer Scrooge pause.  His name is B.Z. and he’s played in a fun performance by John Lithgow that was obviously supposed to replicate Gene Hackman’s over-the-top performance as Lex Luthor.  He does a good job.  I especially liked his first scene in which he is the focus of a Senate hearing on dangerous toys.  The attorney rips the head off of a teddy bear only to find that it is filled with nails!  B.Z.’s sheepish reaction is priceless.

I liked Lithgow’s over-the-top performance but the movie never has him face-to-face with Santa.  Instead, he goes in cahoots with Patch and uses the unknowing stooge to sell his wares.  That’s the downfall.  The movie doesn’t use him efficiently.  He needs to be drawn bigger and have more of a stake in screwing up Christmas.  I mean, if Lex Luthor can blow up California in order to have beach front property in Nevada, imagine what this corporate sociopath could do.

Santa Claus is a fun little movie in fits and starts but it is kind of all over the place.  The opening is magical and exciting, but the back half of the movie feels unrealized and unfocused.  I enjoyed it way more than the depressing One Magic Christmas but I can only recommend about half of it.  It’s a holiday gift that you’ll like but won’t exactly treasure.

Note: The movie is billed as Santa Claus The Movie everywhere but on the screen.  The opening titles offer only Santa Claus so that’s what I have called it in my review.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1985) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy