Movie: "Santa Claus: The Movie"
Year: 1985
Rated: PG
Genre: Kids & Family
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Writing credits: David Newman, Leslie Newman

Reviewer: Kitsa
Posted: 12/21/2010

Plot: Patch, a disillusioned elf, leaves the North Pole to seek his fortune in New York City. An evil toy baron named BZ snaps him up and plans to exploit his talents at any cost. It's up to Santa and two determined kids to thwart BZ's plans for "Christmas II" and save the day.

Review: This is the first Christmas movie I remember being marketed bigtime as a kid. I still have one of the storybooks that came out in McDonald's Happy Meals. It had a huge budget and the animation was cutting-edge for 1985. Some of it's a bit hokey now, but at the time the suspension of disbelief was there, man.

The movie starts out by establishing the legend of how the Santa Claus we know came to be. A kindly peasant travels around a snowy and vaguely English village on a reindeer-drawn sleigh, distributing carvings of "vendigum", or elves, to children. As he (David Huddleston) and his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell, who plays Daisy in "Keeping up Appearances") are en route to the next house, a blizzard overtakes them. The reindeer stagger and fall; the peasant and his wife lose consciousness. As a kid I was sure they were dead, although the storybook reassured us that their frozen and lifeless forms were in a "deep sleep". They awake to a dazzling light from the North, and hundreds of tiny lights that bob toward them. Each light is an elf, holding a candle and welcoming Santa to his new home.

Santa and his wife give up their old life without much complaint or regret and quickly learn the routine of the elves' home and factory. We meet Patch (Dudley Moore), an ambitious elf who cares for the reindeer and has big ideas for modernizing the facility. He frequently uses phrases like "elf-made", "elf-aware", and "elf-evident". Burgess Meredith makes a cameo as The Ancient One, who informs Santa of his toy-delivering mission and the fact that he and Mrs. Claus, like the elves, are now immortal.

As a kid, seeing that workshop was confirmation of anything you'd ever imagined about the North Pole. Everything was exactly right, from the whirling wooden Rube Goldberg doodads to the bright clothes, patchwork quilts on the elves' beds, and the wooden bowls of stew that Mrs. Claus ladled out to each elf. It was perfect. And as they do the montage through the centuries of Santa delivering toys and come to the modern day, you didn't even question why the elves were still churning out wooden horses and not NES consoles and Dream Glow Barbies.

Cue lonely rich girl Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim) and her street urchin friend Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick), two oddly Dickensian figures for mid-eighties New York. Both children meet Santa and agree to check in with him every year at Christmas. I always thought Santa was a bit of a bastard for leaving starving, shivering Joe on the street and saying, "I'll see you next year." Where the hell is he going to put a present in his non-home, there, Santa? What if there isn't a next year, you unfeeling chump?

At about the same time, Santa begins to fall behind and it's decided that he needs an assistant. Patch and his rival Puffy vie for the position. They head competing production lines, and Patch churns out the biggest pile of wooden knickknacks the fastest, so he gets the job. Problem is, the quality's lacking and the toys end up falling apart on Christmas Day, injuring toddlers and enraging parents everywhere. Santa gets his first-ever "returns"... a hail of broken parts down the chimney of his workshop. Patch hangs up his apron in shame and runs off to the big city, hoping to redeem himself.

Being an elf, he naturally looks for a toymaker he can apprentice to, and he ends up before the dazzling window display of BZ Toys. BZ (played brilliantly by John Lithgow) is an all-around terrible person whose initials may or may not stand for Bastard Zillionaire. You may remember seeing him in I-Mockery's Favorite Christmas Movie Assholes article. Patch wants to join BZ's team and, after some quick calculations, BZ is only too happy to oblige. With some of the reindeers' magic flying dust smuggled out of the North Pole, he and Patch fabricate "Puce Pops", which give children the power to walk on air. This, naturally, turns out to be wildly popular and distracts the public from BZ's dangerous-toys scandal. Even though BZ is known to distribute flammable dolls and glass-shard-stuffed teddy bears, people don't hesitate to pop his newest creation right into their mouths.

(Here's a fun tidbit: "puce" is French for flea. "Puce", which is sort of a fleshy shade of fuchsia, describes the color of a flea's belly when it's fully sated on a blood meal. That sort of description is destined for candy, if you ask me.)

Cornelia (who is also BZ's step-niece, which explains her massive wealth and general alienation) and Joe both see Patch's flashy television ads, and both view BZ's new campaign skeptically. Santa gets wind of Patch's betrayal and worries how he will compete with the gimmickry... probably a legitimate concern, seeing as his main products are wooden hobby horses and carvings of elves. BZ is over the moon about the Puce Pop's success and sets his sights even higher... he wants Patch to crank up the magic dust and make a stronger formula, which will be molded into candy canes and marketed the following March as "Christmas II".

Problem is, it turns out that the new punched-up mixture is highly volatile and explodes when exposed to heat. Unaware of the imminent danger, Patch unveils his snazzy new flying car and loads the trunk with the explosive candy canes, planning to fly around the world like Santa and deliver them all on Christmas II. BZ, true to form, knows Patch is in danger but plans to pocket the cash and make his escape. Will Santa, Cornelia and Joe catch up to Patch in time to avoid catastrophe?

True, some of the movie is sketchy. Even as a kid, it struck me as odd that the Puce Pops were always referred to as "the new toy" and never as "candy", which they obviously were. Not only that, but they were apparently the weirdest-textured lollipops imaginable, as evidenced by the large bites that Cornelia's governess was taking out of hers. But, hell, the lollipops could make you float, so I was willing to grant them some leeway in that department.

This is also one of the mid-eighties films that was really, really heavily into product placement. Soda stopped being fictional nonspecific and was actually recognizable as Coke. There was a lengthy scene of Joe staring wistfully through the window of a McDonald's as patrons munched french fries. That made it even more relatable to kids, who easily recognized Coke and McDonald's and came out of the theater with a strange hankering for both.

This movie didn't do so hot at the box office, but I think it's vastly underrated. It never fails to give me warm fuzzies and is right up there with National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for 80s nostalgia value. By all means, if you can lay hands on the 25th anniversary DVD floating around a Christmas movie display, do so. I've heard it's now out of print.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWholeWholeWhole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

Cranberry Everything
Dec 22nd, 2010, 01:02 AM
I never understood why this one is so underrated. Good review!

The Santa in this one never acted like I thought Santa would, and he reminded me of a Viking for some reason.
But my eight-year-old self didn't know the difference between a Viking and a yeti, so now in my family this Santa is forever known as Yeti Claus.
teacup of sunshine
Dec 22nd, 2010, 02:25 AM

Another interesting thing about the 25th anniversary edition is that it includes the hour-long "making-of" special, which is about half an hour longer than it needs to be but is interesting nonetheless. Not because of any technical stuff they reveal, but because Santa Claus stays in character the entire time, telling audiences that he wanted to take part in this biopic to make sure they got the story straight. All of the other actors play along.
Dec 22nd, 2010, 07:27 PM
Quite possibly the best live action christmas movie ever!
Forum Virgin
Dec 23rd, 2010, 10:17 PM
I've still got one of the books, too. The one that talks about how the elves make they toys. I remember clearly that one poor little guy who was painting with his beard.
Dec 26th, 2010, 12:11 AM
Strange enough. The actor playing Santa, is none other than Jeff Labowski from The Big Labowski.
Sympathizes with the foo'
Dec 28th, 2010, 02:48 PM
Strange enough. The actor playing Santa, is none other than Jeff Labowski from The Big Labowski.
Never mind that shit; here comes MONGO!! David Huddleston has been in quite a few pictures, including Blazing Saddles. But yeah, he was the old guy played Mr. Lebowski.
Billy Champman's Friend
Feb 9th, 2011, 05:58 PM
I see that no one has posted on the movie for awhile, being it is February and this is a Christmas movie... BUT, for the record - this movie has and always will SUCK! My parents took me to the movie theater to see this film when it first came out back-in-the-day. I have never struggled so much in my life to stay awake during a movie. The reindeer do not fly on Christmas-Spirit, but are fed "magical" feed that makes them fly... Kinda like the "magical brownies" I used to eat in college. Then, all I can see is a "drunk" Arthur running around with his artifical Christmas-Spirit. Skip this movie... You'll thank me.
teacup of sunshine
Jul 24th, 2012, 11:48 AM
I just finished Judy Cornwell's (Mrs. Claus') autobiography, Adventures of a Jelly Baby, and while she doesn't really go too in-depth with her work on this movie, there are a couple of interesting anecdotes.

I guess during the "snowstorm" scene the fans were blowing the plastic snow into their mouths while they were trying to talk and damn near choked them.

Dudley Moore's dressing room was opposite hers and every morning he ate a huge dinner, then ate increasingly smaller meals throughout the day, as a means of staying thin. He was presented as odd, but affable.

On David Huddleston's birthday during filming, Dudley Moore hired a stripper and hid her amongst the elves to surprise him.

Between takes, elves shouted at her to show them her boobs.

At the end of filming, Dudley Moore told her he respected her because she could appreciate a good fart joke, and gave her a mix tape of fart sounds. Because her agent was being strict about getting a cut of everything, she made him a copy of the tape but didn't tell him what it was. He put it in while driving through a crowd with the windows open and reportedly "never forgave" her.