Santa Claus in film
Motion pictures featuring Santa Claus abound and apparently constitute their own sub-genre of the Christmas film genre. Early films of Santa revolve around similar simple plots of Santa's Christmas Eve visit to children. In 1897, in a short film called Santa Claus Filling Stockings, Santa Claus is simply filling stockings from his pack of toys. Another film called Santa Claus and the Children was made in 1898. A year later, a film directed by George Albert Smith in titled Santa Claus (or The Visit from Santa Claus in the United Kingdom) was created. In this picture, Santa Claus enters the room from the fireplace and proceeds to trim the tree. He then fills the stockings that were previously hung on the mantle by the children. After walking backward and surveying his work, he suddenly darts at the fireplace and disappears up the chimney. Santa Claus' Visit in 1900 featured a scene with two little children kneeling at the feet of their mother and saying their prayers. The mother tucks the children snugly in bed and leaves the room. Santa Claus suddenly appears on the roof, just outside the children's bedroom window, and proceeds to enter the chimney, taking with him his bag of presents and a little hand sled for one of the children. He goes down the chimney and suddenly appears in the children's room through the fireplace. He distributes the presents and mysteriously causes the appearance of a Christmas tree laden with gifts. The scene closes with the children waking up and running to the fireplace just too late to catch him by the legs. A 1909 film by D. W. Griffith titled A Trap for Santa Claus shows children setting a trap to capture Santa Claus as he descends the chimney, but instead capture their father who abandoned them and their mother but tries to burglarize the house after he discovers she inherited a fortune. A twenty-nine minute 1925 silent film production titled Santa Claus, by explorer/documentarian Frank E. Kleinschmidt, filmed partly in northern Alaska, feature Santa in his workshop, visiting his Eskimo neighbors, and tending his reindeer. A year later, another movie titled Santa Claus was produced with sound on De Forest Phonofilm. Over the years, various actors have donned the red suit (aside from those discussed below), including Monty Woolley in Life Begins at Eight-thirty (1942), Alberto Rabagliati in The Christmas That Almost Wasn't (1966), Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places (1983), Jan Rubes in One Magic Christmas (1985), David Huddleston in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), Jonathan Taylor Thomas in I'll Be Home for Christmas (1998), and Ed Asner in Elf (2003). Later films about Santa vary, but can be divided into the following themes.
Origins in film
Some films about Santa Claus seek to explore his origins. They explain how reindeer fly, where elves come from, and other questions children have generally asked about Santa. Two Rankin/Bass stop motion animation television specials addressed this issue: the first, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970), with Mickey Rooney as the voice of Kris, reveals how Santa delivered toys to children despite the fact that the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger had forbidden children to play with them; and the second, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985), based on L. Frank Baum's 1902 children's book of the same name, follows Santa's being reared by a collection of mythical creatures who grant him immortality. Another animated version of Baum's book was made by Glen Hill in 2000, and the book also served as the basis for an anime series, Shounen Santa no Daibôken (Young Santa's Adventures) in 1994 and The Oz Kids video, Who Stole Santa? (1996). None of these films focus on Santa Claus's saintly origins.
Questioning and believing
Another genre of Santa films seeks to dispel doubts about his existence. One of the first films of this nature was titled A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907) and involves a well-to-do boy trying to convince his poorer friend that Santa Claus is real. She doubts because Santa has never visited her family because of their poverty. Miracle on 34th Street (1947), starring Natalie Wood as Susan Walker, revolves around the disbelief of young Susan, whose mother (Maureen O'Hara) employs a kind old man (Edmund Gwenn, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) to play Santa Claus at Macy's; he later convinces Susan that he really is Santa. This film was remade in 1994 and stars Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle and Mara Wilson as Susan Walker. The television special, Yes Virginia There Is A Santa Claus (1991), follows the true story of a young girl, Virginia O'Hanlon, who writes a letter to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897 after her friends tell her there is no Santa. The newspaper editor tells her that indeed there is a Santa: "He lives, and he lives forever." Francis Pharcellus Church was the real-life editor and is played by Charles Bronson in the film. The Polar Express (2004), based on the children's book of the same name, also deals with issues and questions of belief as a magical train conducted by Tom Hanks transports a doubting boy to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus.
Santa as a hero
Some less-than-serious films feature Santa Claus as a superhero-type figure, such as the 1959 film titled Santa Claus produced in Mexico with José Elías Moreno as Santa Claus. In this movie, Santa allies with Merlin the magician to battle the Devil, who is attempting to trap Santa. In the Cold War-era film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), Santa Claus is captured by Martians and brought to Mars, and ultimately foils a plot to destroy him. The Night They Saved Christmas (1984), starring Art Carney as Santa, likewise chronicles how Santa Claus and Claudia Baldwin (Jaclyn Smith), the wife of an oil explorer, have to save the North Pole from explosions while Baldwin's husband is searching for oil in the Arctic. Santa Claus: The Movie also contains a subplot in which Santa Claus rescues Joe (Christian Fitzpatric) from his best friend Cornelia's (Carrie Kei Heim) evil step-uncle B. Z. (John Lithgow). Santa is a hero in The Nightmare Before Christmas, held captive by Oogie Boogie, although he is spiteful and enraged at Jack when freed. The latest films to depict Santa Claus in such a manner are The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), and the Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians. In the Chronicles of Narnia film, Father Christmas (James Cosmo) supplies the Pevensie children with the weapons and tools they need to battle the White Witch (Tilda Swinton). In Rise of the Guardians, where he referred often to as North (Alec Baldwin), is shown as one of the main characters and leader of the guardians, who are the heroes of movie. In the show South Park, Santa is often depicted with firearms; in the episode "Red Sleigh Down", he battles Iraqis to try to bring Christmas to Iraq. In the episode "A Woodland Critter Christmas", he uses a combat shotgun to blast away satanic animals who try to give birth to the AntiChrist.
Succession of Santas
One genre of movies suggests that Santa Claus is not historically a single individual but a succession of individuals. The feature film Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), starring David Huddleston as Santa Claus and British actress Judy Cornwell as his wife Anya, shows how Santa and Anya are discovered by a clan of elves called the Vendequm. (Dudley Moore portrays Patch, the central character and main focus of the story; Burgess Meredith portrays their wise leader, the Ancient One, who reveals that Claus represents the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, whereby he has been designated as "the Chosen One", whose mission it will be to deliver the elves' toys to children all over the world. The film's prologue features Claus and Anya performing Santa-like duties in their home village, and strongly suggests Santa's saintly origins. In Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) joins the challenge of Santa Claus, alias Seth Applegate (Douglas Seale), to convince Florida kids' show host Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) to become the next Santa. In The Santa Clause (1994), Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, who accidentally causes Santa Claus to fall off the roof of his house. After he puts on Santa's robes, he becomes subject to the "Santa clause" (like a contract), which requires him to become the next Santa. Despite his average appearance, over the next year he grows fat, his hair whitens, and he grows a beard by magic to look the part. Reluctant at first, he falls in love with his newfound role. This film spawned two sequels. In 2002's The Santa Clause 2, he must find a wife (the "Mrs. Clause") and in 2006's The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, he must battle Jack Frost for control of the North Pole. A recent and unique television special also draws upon the succession theme. In Call Me Claus (2001), Lucy Cullins (Whoopi Goldberg) is an African American woman destined to become the next Santa Claus. She, too, is reluctant to take on the role. In The Hebrew Hammer (2003), the role of Santa Claus is traditionally passed down from father to son. The system is disrupted when the reigning Santa is murdered by his son, Damian, who then uses the position to attack the competing holidays of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
The animated film, Arthur Christmas, portrays being Santa Claus as a dynasty. The first "Santa", Saint Nicholas, established the North Pole workshop and passes the title and responsibilities to his son after 70 Christmases, after which his son will pass them on to his son, and so on. In the film, the current Santa initially refuses to retire due to worry about what he will be if he isn't Santa.
Several films have been created which explore the consequences should an impostor Santa take over. Probably one of the first films featuring a fake Santa Claus is the 1914 silent film, The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus, written by Frederic Arnold Kummer. In this film, a bogus Santa steals all the Christmas presents and amateur detective Octavius (played by Herbert Yost) tries to recover them. Arguably the most notorious impostor appears in the 1966 cartoon based on Dr. Seuss's children's book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, wherein the Grinch attempts to rob the Whos in Whoville of their Christmas, but has a change of heart. This animated feature was made into a live-action movie in 2000, directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch. Another less-than-friendly impostor appears in A Christmas Story (1983) as a disgruntled mall Santa at Higbee's Department Store (a real store in downtown Cleveland, Ohio) in the fictional town of Holman, Indiana. Played by Jeff Gillen, Santa is depicted as a larger-than-life figure who terrifies, rather than amuses, children. Gillen's performance lends credence to the theory that the mall Santa is not quite genuine. Another recent devious mall Santa was played by Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa (2003), a film which gained normally family-friendly Disney "bad press". Tim Burton's stop-action animated musical film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), depicts Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, wanting to become Santa Claus after an accidental visit to Christmas Town. After the mostly well-meaning but clueless Halloween citizens capture Santa, they try to take over Christmas with disastrous results; the real Santa is almost killed by the Oogie Boogie Man. Santa is voiced here by Ed Ivory, and in the video game spin-offs, Corey Burton. Other darker impostors have appeared in slasher films such as the Silent Night, Deadly Night series, Santa Claws, Santa's Slay, and in the short ". . . All Through the House", part of the Tales from the Crypt (1972) movie and later remade as episode 1.2 and directed by Robert Zemeckis for the HBO series of the same name. Both were inspired by the Tales from the Crypt comic book.