Ernest Saves Christmas

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Ernest Saves Christmas
Ernest Saves Christmas Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John R. Cherry III
Produced by Joseph Akerman
Screenplay by Ed Turner
B. Kline
Story by Ed Turner
Music by Mark Snow
Cinematography Peter Stein
Edited by Ian D. Thomas
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • November 11, 1988 (1988-11-11)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million
Box office $28.2 million

Ernest Saves Christmas is a 1988 Christmas comedy film directed by John R. Cherry III and starring Jim Varney. This is the first film to feature Gailard Sartain's character, Chuck along with Bill Byrge as his brother, Bobby. They made their first appearance in the television series Hey Vern, It's Ernest! which was in production at the same time as this film. It is the third film to feature the character Ernest P. Worrell, and chronicles Ernest's attempt to find a replacement for an aging Santa Claus. Unlike the other Ernest movies, Ernest Saves Christmas is the only one that does not feature a villain.


A man who claims to be Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) arrives at the Orlando International Airport in Florida. Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) is working as a taxi driver. He takes a passenger to the airport, but speeds and the passenger falls out of the taxi. Ernest later picks up Santa Claus, who tells Ernest that he is on his way to inform a local celebrity named Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) that he has been chosen to be the new Santa Claus. Carruthers hosts a children's program named Uncle Joey's Treehouse in the Orlando area similar to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood or Captain Kangaroo with emphasis on manners and integrity with the catchphrase "They never get old. They always stay new. Those three little words, Please and Thank You".

While they are driving, a runaway teenage girl (Noelle Parker) who says she is named Harmony Starr joins Ernest and Santa in the cab. When they get to their destination, Santa possesses no legal currency (only play money), so in his giving Christmas spirit, Ernest lets him ride for free. The decision gets Ernest fired from his job. Back at the taxi garage, Ernest discovers that Santa left his magic sack behind in the cab, and Ernest begins a quest to find the old man and return it to him.

Santa arrives at the Orlando Children's Museum to talk to Joe, but is rudely interrupted and rebuffed by Joe's rude agent Marty Brock. Marty misunderstands Santa's name, thinking he said "Mr. Santos," and continues to call him by that name, even when Santa tries to correct him. Santa begins to worry as he then discovers he lost his sack, and becomes more discouraged as he realizes he is becoming forgetful in his old age (he's 151 years old, indicating he was born in 1837). Santa tries to explain his predicament, but Joe does not believe him and Marty has Santa arrested. Meanwhile, Ernest goes over to his friend Vern's house to put up a Christmas tree, much to Vern's distress (as with the original commercials that first introduced Ernest, the audience never sees Vern's face and only his point of view). Ernest poses as Astor Clement, an employee of the governor and Harmony as the governor's niece Mindy, and the two help Santa escape from jail by convincing the police chief that Santa believing that he is Santa Claus is "infectious insanity" and he must be taken to an insane asylum. Santa later explains to Ernest and Harmony that he was handed down the job of Santa Claus in 1889 from a German chap and has enjoyed it ever since but also explains that as time passes the magic grows weaker like a battery running out of energy. The only way to recharge it back to full strength is to pass it on to someone else which is why he must find Joe and make him the new Santa Claus and he must do it by 7pm or all hope is lost. Ernest disguises himself as an Apopka snake rancher (Lloyd Worrell from Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It's My Family Album) who sneaks Santa into a movie studio and speaks to a security guard about delivering the snakes to people who direct horror films. Meanwhile, Marty presses Joe to quit his children's job, shave his beard, and instead land a part in a horror film titled Christmas Slay, a movie about an alien which terrorizes a bunch of children on Christmas Eve, which offends Santa so deeply he punches the director in the eye.

Santa tracks down Joe at his home. He explains about passing the position of Santa Claus over to him because if it's not, the magic will eventually die. Santa also explains that from Orlando, Joe must leave to deliver the presents by 7pm, if he leaves any later, he'll run into daylight before he finishes. Joe finally tells Santa, " thanks." Later on, however, Joe is overcome by conscience when the director of the movie wants him to use foul language, which he refuses to say in front of the kids on the set.

Ernest and Harmony (whose real name is later revealed by Santa to be Pamela Trenton) discover the magic power of Santa's sack, and immediately Pamela starts to abuse it. She steals the sack, and attempts to run away yet again. On Christmas Eve, however, her conscience prevails, and she rushes back to find Ernest and Santa and return the sack. Ernest meets up with Santa's helpers at the airport and they retrieve the reindeer and sleigh from the holding dock. Because they're short on time, Ernest decides to fly the sleigh to the children's museum, much to the helpers' objection. Having trouble controlling it at first, the reindeer and the sleigh fly all over the sky. While at the meeting, Joe looks out the window and sees the reindeer and sleigh flying and it convinces him that everything Santa told him is real and knows what he has to do. Joe turns down the acting job and leaves to find Santa.

Eventually, Joe hunts down Santa on Christmas Eve at 6:57 pm at the children's museum and tells Santa that he wants the job. Santa very pleased extends his hand to Joe and Joe takes Santa's hand, accepting the job, and is instantly transformed into the new Santa Claus. Joe uses his magic to make it snow in Orlando. Ernest and the helpers arrive at the children's museum at 6:58. Pamela has called her mother and has decided to come home. The new Santa decides to have Pamela be his special helper and then take her home and allows Ernest to be the driver for one night. The old Santa resumes his old identity, Seth Applegate and spends Christmas Eve with an elderly woman named Mary Morrisey who works at the children's museum. The new Santa takes off at 7 pm exactly to deliver the gifts. For the first year, however, Ernest gets to drive the sleigh.


Filming locations[edit]


The movie was not a critical success,[2][3][4] although it earned back its costs. In the opening weekend the film opened at #2 at the box office and grossed $5,710,734 from 1,634 theaters. Its final domestic grossing was $28,202,109[5] against only a $6 million budget. It currently holds a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


  1. ^ "Orlando Looking Good As 'Ernest' Hits Screens". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  2. ^ Wilmington, Michael (1988-11-15). "Not Even Christmas Can the Save New 'Ernest'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  3. ^ "Jim Varney Is Good For Some Laughs". Chicago Tribune. 1988-11-14. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  4. ^ "Ernest Saves The Day When Santa Needs Help". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  5. ^ "Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 

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