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Case Number 20110: Small Claims Court

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Santa Claus: The Movie

Paramount // 1985 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 14th, 2010

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All Rise...

Alexander Salkind and Judge Clark Douglas present Santa Claus: The Movie: The Review: The Movie

Editor's Note

Our review of Santa Claus: The Movie, published October 12th, 2000, is also available.

The Charge

An enchanting, heartwarming tale the whole family will enjoy!

The Case

He's been around for a very long time. He wears a distinctive costume. He's been in love with the same woman for ages. He has the ability to fly. He's warm-hearted and kind. The entire world regards him as a role model, particularly children. His life was turned into a feature film produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind. I'm referring, of course, to Superman…and to Santa Claus.

The Man of Steel and Old Saint Nick have a surprising amount in common; at least enough for the Salkinds to believe that the latter could kick off a franchise as successfully as the former did with Superman: The Movie. Alas, Santa Claus: The Movie is now widely regarded one of cinema's more noteworthy flops, despite the fact that it made more than enough worldwide to cover its massive $50 million budget. At the very least, the film fared quite poorly in the U.S. and was generally disliked by critics, meaning that the would-be franchise began and ended with this film.

Our story begins in the 14th Century, where we meet an aging woodcutter and toymaker named Claus (David Huddleston, The Big Lebowski). Every year, Claus and his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell, Keeping Up Appearances) deliver toys to the children of a local village. Alas, this year's journey to the village leaves Claus and Anya stranded in a snowstorm. Under normal circumstances, they would surely have frozen to death. Fortunately, fate has other plans in store for them. A group of elves rescue the freezing couple and transport them all the way to the North Pole. There, Claus is informed that his generous spirit has earned him the title of "Santa Claus," a magical man who gets to live forever and deliver toys to all the children of the world each and every year. Awesome sauce, right?

The opening 40 minutes of the film offer pure, unadulterated big-budget cheer, as jolly Santa and his jolly elves go about their jolly business in the jolliest manner possible. There's not much going on from a plot standpoint, as much of this time is spent explaining some of the puzzling elements of the Santa Claus mythology—how letters get to the North Pole, how Santa flies, how he's able to deliver all the toys in one night, etc. Don't worry about complicated metaphysics; the answer to every one of these questions is, "It's magic! Jolly, jolly magic!" So we tour the workshop, watch Santa fly around the world, watch children laugh and smile and assume that we're in for the single most cheerful motion picture in the history of the medium.

Alas, things turn more conventional as the movie proceeds. Just around the corner are two subplots that soon overwhelm the film. The first involves a homeless boy named Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick) and a wealthy girl named Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim) who become friends despite their dramatically different social backgrounds. The second involves an endlessly corrupt toy manufacturer named B.Z. (John Lithgow, 3rd Rock From the Sun), whose products include a teddy bear stuffed with nails and glass. B.Z. takes advantage of a misguided but well-intentioned elf named Patch (Dudley Moore, Arthur) and begins making plans to launch a corporate takeover of Christmas.

>From this point onward, the film devolves into a predictable tale of good vs. evil, as the noble Santa Claus takes on the villainous B.Z. and attempts to return the holiday to its rightful place. Alas, the conflict between the characters never becomes half as interesting as the one between Superman and Lex Luthor, and the whole affair runs out of steam by the conclusion. This isn't the fault of John Lithgow, who goes over-the-top to enjoyable effect, but even the energy boost he gives the film can't compensate for the conventional plotting and direction. One can only wonder why Jeannot Szwarc (the man responsible for such underwhelming blockbusters as Jaws 2 and Supergirl) was placed at the helm of a film intended to launch a mega-franchise.

David Huddleston is appropriately warm and charming in the title role. He has more screen time than any other character in the film, but nonetheless receives third billing (just as Christopher Reeve received third billing in Superman: The Movie). The second-billed role goes to Lithgow, while top billing goes to Dudley Moore. While I'm sure Moore was the biggest draw for many moviegoers, the actor has little of interest to do in the role of Patch. The character is sweet and likable, but not particularly memorable. Burgess Meridith (Rocky) has an amusingly pretentious appearance as The Ancient One (who offers a long-winded speech about how Claus is "The Chosen One").

The disc presentation appears to be the same as the Anchor Bay DVD release from 2000, containing what appears to be exactly the same transfer (a somewhat underwhelming, soft effort) and audio track (which is mostly warm and robust). The supplements are the same, too—a 50-minute documentary on the making of the film, a commentary with director Jeannot Szwarc and Scott Michael Bosco, some talent files and some trailers.

The Verdict

Guilty, but just barely.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (CC)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Adventure
• Christmas
• Drama
• Family
• Fantasy

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Documentary
• Talent Files
• Trailers


• IMDb

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