Santa Claus: The Movie
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jeannot Szwarc|
|Produced by||Pierre Spengler
|Screenplay by||David Newman|
|Story by||David Newman
|Music by||Henry Mancini (Score)
Leslie Bricusse (Lyrics)
|Edited by||Peter Hollywood|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|November 27, 1985|
|Box office||$23.7 million|
Santa Claus: The Movie (known on-screen as simply Santa Claus) is a 1985 British-American Christmas film starring Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, and David Huddleston in the title role. It is the last major fantasy film produced by the Paris-based father-and-son production team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind. The film was directed by Jeannot Szwarc and released in North America on November 27, 1985, by TriStar Pictures. The 2005 DVD release was released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, now known as Starz Home Entertainment, under license from the film's current owner, StudioCanal; however, the current, 25th Anniversary home video release (which also now includes Blu-ray) is by Lionsgate Home Entertainment, again under StudioCanal's license.
Santa Claus: The Movie is a straightforward attempt to explore the mysteries of Santa Claus with the key objective being to answer some of the basic questions many children have about the Santa mythos, such as how his reindeer fly, how he and his wife made it to the North Pole, and how he ascends chimneys, among other things.
The film chronicles the origins of Santa Claus, who, along with his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell), goes from being a simple working man to becoming an international icon of Christmas. At the same time, the film also tells a contemporary story in which one of Santa's elves (alternately referred to as the "Vendequm" onscreen), a visionary named Patch (Moore), sets out to employ Santa's toymaking methods on his own, unaware that he might be ruining the magic of Christmas in the process.
The film was a financial failure at the time of release and received mostly negative reviews from critics. Since then it has gained a cult following and has become one of the most watched Christmas movies of all time.
Sometime in the 14th century, Claus is a woodcarver in his mid-50s who, with his wife Anya, delivers his gifts to the children of local villages. One night, Claus, Anya and their two reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, are caught in a blizzard and succumb to the cold weather. In death, they are transported to the vast "ice mountains, way up at the top of the world." Their expected arrival is heralded with the appearance of several elves, or as Claus's people call them in their legends, the Vendequm, led by the venerable and wise elf named Dooley. Claus and Anya also meet inventive elf Patch, and the more down-to-earth Puffy. Dooley tells Claus it is his destiny to deliver toys to the children of the world every Christmas Eve, which the elves will make in their large workshops. Donner and Blitzen are joined by six other reindeer and fed magic food that allows them to fly. When Christmas Eve comes, Claus is approached by the oldest of elves, the Ancient One, who renames him as "Santa Claus".
Centuries pass as the mythology of Santa is created, until the 20th century, where Santa is exhausted by the continuous workload he must do every year due to the world's increasing population. Anya suggests he enlist an assistant, to which Patch and Puffy compete to earn via a competition to produce the most toys in a limited amount of time. Patch uses a machine he has invented, and although he wins, it begins to produce shoddy works without his knowledge (due to putting the machines on a faster speed). During his annual deliveries, Santa befriends a homeless 10-year-old orphan boy named Joe in New York City and takes him for a flight around the skyscrapers of Manhattan in his sleigh. Santa lets Joe take the reins, who flies the sleigh underneath the Brooklyn Bridge much to Santa's horror, who then playfully gets his own back on Joe by having his reindeer perform the "Super Duper Looper", around the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center - an aerial trick that involves them doing a complete 360 degree turn, but Donner always fails due to acrophobia. Santa takes Joe on his deliveries where they meet 9-year-old Cornelia, a wealthy child and also an orphan who fed Joe one previous night.
On Christmas Day, Patch's toys begin to fall apart, prompting him to quit his job and let Puffy take over. Traveling to New York, Patch meets B.Z., Cornelia's step-uncle and a scheming executive of a toy company that faces a total shutdown by Congressional investigation due to unsafe products. Believing B.Z.'s toys are popular due to witnessing several toys being removed from a shop window, Patch decides to help B.Z. make better toys, using some of the reindeer feed to create lollipops which can make people fly and giving them to children for free (the latter fact causing B.Z. to sputter and yell, "FOR FREEEEE?!"). Patch also constructs a hovercraft called the Patchmobile to deliver the products like Santa and helps create a new holiday on March 25, which B.Z. deems "Christmas 2". Santa disapproves of Patch's actions (unaware the plan is to make Santa appreciate him again) and feels disheartened about continuing his job if the children of the world do not care anymore. Meanwhile, Patch is disturbed when B.Z. plans to turn himself into the face of Christmas, and asks Patch to develop candy canes which enable flight.
While Patch works at night, B.Z.'s assistant, Dr. Eric Towzer, appears at his house and reveals the candy canes will explode if exposed to heat. B.Z. proposes they flee to Brazil and let Patch take the fall for their criminal neglect, which Towzer eventually approves of, despite initially urging B.Z. to reconsider his actions as children are involved. Joe and Cornelia eavesdrop on the conversation, but Joe is caught and locked up in the basement of B.Z.'s factory. Patch finds Joe and discovers Santa made a carving for Joe that resembles him (which was unintentional, but pointed out by Anya). Thrilled that Santa remembers him, Patch and Joe set off in the Patchmobile to the North Pole. Cornelia sends a letter to Santa informing him of the situation. Despite Comet and Cupid having the Flu, Santa gathers up the other six reindeer and he arrives to pick Cornelia up. Santa and Cornelia pursue the Patchmobile, which is carrying a huge supply of candy canes on the verge of exploding. Santa convinces his reindeer to perform the Super Duper Looper in order to catch Patch and Joe as the Patchmobile explodes. Meanwhile, B.Z.'s crimes are uncovered when Cornelia calls the police. As Dr. Towzer and B.Z.'s chauffeur, Grizzard, are arrested, B.Z. attempts to evade the cops by eating several candy canes and tries to fly out of his office window only to fly up into the sky.
The film ends with the inhabitants of the North Pole celebrating the triumph with a joyous dance party, where Cornelia and Joe have been adopted by Santa, his wife and his elves, whilst B.Z., in spite of his pleas for help, is doomed to float off into the depths of space, among the equally-affected remains of the Patchmobile as the end credits roll.
- David Huddleston as Santa Claus, the Christmas figure who delivers presents to every child in the world on Christmas Eve.
- Dudley Moore as Patch, a creative, inventive elf whose passion for and faith in the 20th Century is put to the test throughout the story.
- John Lithgow as B.Z., the main antagonist – an unscrupulous toy manufacturer who uses Patch in a larger scheme to take over Christmas.
- Judy Cornwell as Anya Claus, Santa's caring and supportive wife.
- Burgess Meredith as the Ancient One, the oldest and wisest of the elves.
- Jeffrey Kramer as Dr. Eric Towzer, B.Z.'s head of Research & Development.
- Christian Fitzpatrick as Joe, a homeless 10-year-old orphan boy living on the hard streets of New York who befriends Santa and becomes Cornelia's best friend and conscience.
- Carrie Kei Heim as Cornelia, B.Z.'s 9-year-old step-niece and orphan, who becomes Joe's conscience and best friend.
- John Barrard as Dooley, Santa's #2 at the North Pole.
- Anthony O'Donnell as Puffy, a bearded elf whose methodicalness foils against Patch's more radical progressiveness.
- Melvyn Hayes as Goober, head of the Sewing Department.
- Don Estelle as Groot, the elves' Senior Chef.
- Tim Stern as Boog, first of Patch's three best friends.
- Peter O'Farrell as Honka, second of Patch's three best friends.
- Christopher Ryan as Vout, third of Patch's three best friends.
- Keith Hayden as an Elf.
- Shannon Spruill as Bratty Kid at Ballet Class
- Nigel Paterson as bass-playing Elf in 'Season's Greetings' scene.
Development and Filming
Conceived by Ilya Salkind in the wake of the apparently waning critical and U.S. box office success of 1983's Superman III and its immediate follow-up, 1984's Supergirl, Santa Claus: The Movie was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who had directed Supergirl, from a story by David and Leslie Newman. David Newman, however, took sole screenplay credit. Pierre Spengler, Ilya's longtime partner, and the third key element of Team Salkind, joined Alexander's son as the project's producer. John Carpenter was originally offered the chance to direct, but also wanted a say in the writing, musical score and final cut of the movie. Carpenter's original choice for the role of Santa was Brian Dennehy.
Among the original choices to direct the film other than Carpenter were Lewis Gilbert, who, despite initial interest, could not agree with the Salkinds over certain aspects of the script. Robert Wise was also offered the chance to direct, but Wise had a different approach to the story. Guy Hamilton, who'd had to withdraw from directing Superman: The Movie in 1976 (because he was a tax exile, and, as such, could only spend 30 days in England, where the movie would be filming), was very interested in directing and lobbied hard for the chance to do so, but only on the condition that the film be shot either in Los Angeles, Vancouver or Rome. Ultimately, the Salkinds chose Szwarc because of their excellent working relationship on Supergirl which many executives at TriStar Pictures believed was a masterpiece and would also become a mega hit.
Santa Claus: The Movie was filmed in Buckinghamshire, England at Pinewood Studios, between August and November 1984. The film was photographed by Arthur Ibbetson, whose credits, among others, included the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Santa Claus: The Movie was his final feature film. Serving as film editor was Peter Hollywood.
The production was designed by Anthony Pratt, with costume design concepts by Bob Ringwood. The visual effects unit, as well as several of the production staff, were Salkind stalwarts from the Superman films: Derek Meddings, director of visual and miniature effects; Roy Field, optical visual effects supervisor; and David Lane, flying and second unit director.
The documentary, Santa Claus: The Making of The Movie, which chronicles the film's production, is introduced by David Huddleston, speaking straight to the camera in character as Santa, with Dudley Moore serving as on-screen host. The voice over commentary is performed by Ted Maynard, who had also done voice-overs for the film's original UK trailer. The documentary originally aired in the United States on ABC, on Christmas Eve, 1987. Anchor Bay Entertainment's now-out-of-print 20th anniversary DVD of the film included this documentary as a bonus feature; the Lionsgate DVD and Blu-ray versions currently feature the 50-minute feature as well. The Blu-ray version, however, also features a brief chronicle of the filming of the " 'Christmas II' Press Conference" sequence, as well as additional deleted scenes cut from the original theatrical version.
Moore had always been the top choice to play the lead Elf in the movie, Ilya Salkind having remembered a scene in Arthur in which Liza Minnelli's character asks Moore if he is Santa's Little Helper. Moore was attached to the project virtually from the outset, and therefore had a say on both scripting and choice of director. Originally, David Newman's first-draft script called for the character to be named Ollie; but Moore decided instead that the name should be changed to Patch, Patch being the nickname of his own young son, Patrick. Moore was briefly considered to play the role of the 5th dimension imp "Mr. Mxyzptlk" in the Salkind's aborted original script from Superman III and for the role of Nigel in Supergirl. He turned down that role, but suggested his long time friend and comic partner Peter Cook for the part. Ilya Salkind, from the very beginning, had wanted an American actor to portray Santa Claus because he felt that the movie focused on a primary piece of Americana in much the same way that Superman: The Movie did. Brian Dennehy was the top choice of John Carpenter when he discussed the possibility of directing the film with the Salkinds. Jeannot Szwarc, however, felt that he needed an actor with more warmth than Dennehy, and toward that end, he had screen-tested such actors as David White (who, being in his late 60's, was considered too old for the role), and Moore's Arthur co-star Barney Martin. For a while, Ilya Salkind actively pursued Carroll O'Connor for the role before Szwarc showed him David Huddleston's screen-test, which won Salkind over.
For the role of B.Z., the producers wanted a star with a similar stature to Gene Hackman when he had played Lex Luthor in Superman: The Movie. To this end, they offered the role to Harrison Ford who turned them down. They made offers to Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds and Johnny Carson --- all of whom, for one reason or another, turned the part down. Eventually, John Lithgow was settled on after Salkind watched Terms of Endearment and realised that he had a Grinch-type look to him. The role of the Ancient Elf was written with James Cagney in mind; however, with Cagney being very weak in his old age, the legendary actor could not adequately assume the role, despite the fact that he liked the film's overall idea. Nonetheless, Cagney had no other choice but to turn the offer down, so Fred Astaire was considered. When this eventually came to nothing, Dudley Moore suggested his friend Burgess Meredith for the role, which he in the end won. At the time of the movie's announcement in the middle of 1983, the British Press carried reports that diminutive actors such as David Jason, Patrick Troughton and Norman Wisdom would be cast alongside Dudley as fellow Elves. This ultimately came to nothing.
The elves in the film are portrayed as legendary beings known as the Vendequm. According to the Santa Claus: The Movie novelization written by science fiction/fantasy novelist Joan D. Vinge, the elves keep watch over all that happens in the world that borders their own magical realm. The Vendequm are described as being extremely fond of children since, after all, only children can see them, due to the innocence of their youth. The elves are fond of making things for children, and so they often journeyed out into the children's world, leaving their newly crafted toys where children would find them. According to the novel, with the passing of each new century, and as civilizations continued to rise and fall, it became more and more difficult and dangerous for the elves to venture too far out into the human world. Thus, the vast majority of the toys the elves made could not be given out, and were left to gather dust in their magnificent storeroom, the Toy Tunnel.
The novel also describes how, on a certain long-winter's night, the oldest and wisest elf of all, the Ancient One, foresaw the arrival of a man whose love for children would be equal to that of the elves. The Ancient One believed that this man would be the one to whom the elves would grant full immortality, along with the ability to deliver the elves' gifts to children all over the world.
In addition to Patch, Dooley, Puffy, Boog, Honka, and Vout, the film's screenplay and cast listing features three additional elves: Groot, the Elves' Senior Chef; Goober, the head of the Elves' tailoring shop, who crafts Santa's full red robes; and Goobler, who trains several of his fellow elves in the art of painting toys with their own beards.
Santa Claus: The Movie received negative reviews upon release, with a rating of 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, from the 17 reviews counted. Box Office Mojo lists the film's total United States box office gross as $23,717,291, less than its $30–50 million production budget.
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert noted some positive points to the film, writing that the film "does an interesting job of visualizing Santa's workshop" and Santa's elves. He also praised the film's special effects, particularly the New York City fly-over sequence involving Santa. Ebert also had some praise for Lithgow's "nice, hateful performance", but wrote that "the villain is not drawn big enough." He ceded that young children would probably like most of the film, but that older children and adults are "likely to find a lot of it a little thin."
Vincent Canby of The New York Times was less positive than Ebert, calling the production "elaborate and tacky". He described the film as having "the manner of a listless musical without any production numbers". Unlike Ebert, he offered little praise for the film's production design. Canby quipped that "Santa's workshop must be the world's largest purchaser of low-grade plywood" and that the flyover sequences with Santa "aren't great." The only praise he had for the film's acting was for John Lithgow, who Canby wrote "(gave) the film's only remotely stylish performance." A more recent review by William Mager on BBC.co.uk's review section echoed Canby and Ebert's comments.
In his book Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas, critic Alonso Duralde lists Santa Claus: The Movie in his chapter of worst Christmas movies ever. His reasons include weak plot, garish production design, blatant product placement (particularly for McDonald's, though Coke and Pabst Blue Ribbon are also prominent), and scenery-chewing overacting on the part of Lithgow. Duralde ultimately concludes that the film is "a train-wreck of a Christmas movie that's so very wrong that you won't be able to tear yourself away from it."
Despite all this though the film has developed a cult following amongst those who have grown up with it, and become one of the definitive films to watch at Christmas, often being a seasonal television staple.
The soundtrack score was composed and conducted by Henry Mancini, composer of the themes from The Pink Panther and Peter Gunn, with veteran lyricist and screenwriter Leslie Bricusse contributing five original songs. The song "It's Christmas (All Over The World)" was written by Bill House and John Hobbs with Freddie Mercury in mind. While it is known that Mercury recorded a demo for the House/Hobbs song at Pinewood Studios, he was never to make a full commitment to the project, as he and his Queen bandmates had already committed themselves to the Highlander soundtrack. In the end, Mercury turned down the project, stating that he felt that Queen had become overcrowded with requests to work on film soundtracks; as a result, Sheena Easton was ultimately chosen to record the tune. As mentioned on the DVD commentary of the movie by Jeannot Szwarc, Paul McCartney was asked to compose songs for the film. It is unknown why he did not do so in the end, but his song "Once Upon a Long Ago" had been indeed originally composed with the movie in mind.
- Track listing
- "Main Title: Every Christmas Eve 1 and Santa's Theme (Giving)" (Mancini/Bricusse)
- "Arrival of the Elves" (Mancini)
- "Making Toys" (Mancini/Bricusse)2
- "Christmas Rhapsody: Deck the Halls/Joy to the World/Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/12 Days of Christmas/O Tannenbaum/The First Noel/Silent Night"
- "It's Christmas Again" (Mancini/Bricusse)2
- "March of the Elves" (Mancini)
- "Patch, Natch!" (Mancini/Bricusse) 3
- "It's Christmas (All Over The World)" (Bill House, John Hobbs)5
- "Shouldn't Do That" (Nick Beggs, Stuart Croxford, Neal Askew, Steve Askew) 4
- "Sleigh Ride over Manhattan" (Mancini)
- "Sad Patch" (Mancini)
- "Patch Versus Santa" (Mancini)
- "Thank You, Santa" (Mancini/Bricusse) 2
1Sung by Aled Jones
2Performed by the Ambrosian Children's Choir.
3Performed by the Ambrosian Singers
4Produced by Ken Scott and performed by Kaja
5Produced by Keith Olsen for Pogologo Corporation, and performed by Sheena Easton.
The soundtrack was originally released on record and cassette by EMI Records in 1985. Soon after, it went out of print and remained unavailable until 2009 when it was released on CD by Singular Soundtrack of Spain. This was a limited run of 1000 copies which sold out immediately upon release. In a rare situation for the label, this production suffered from several issues, most notably a master which had been subjected to heavy noise reduction resulting in a loss of sound quality. Additionally, the left & right channels had been erroneously flipped, a superficial re-edit had been performed on "It's Christmas (All Over the World)", and the song "Shouldn't Do That" by Kaja (Kajagoogoo) had been omitted due to licensing issues. These issues necessitated a replacement pressing to correct many of the problems, save for the licensing issue. The replacement pressing had the unfortunate side-effect of introducing the lossy copies into the secondary market. (To differentiate, the original lossy edition has SER 808 #1 stamped in the center. The replacement disc has SER 879 #1 stamped in the center.)
At the time of the 2009 release, Singular Soundtrack became merged with Quartet Records, allowing the label to produce increasingly high-profile projects. Though problematic, the Singular edition had been well-received and had garnered enough ongoing interest to warrant an expansion. In 2012, following a run of successful releases, Quartet Records revisited the earlier release of Santa Claus: The Movie, this time with an ambitious goal: a complete score release from the original scoring tapes.
The resultant December 2012 release was an unlimited deluxe three-disc set including sixty-four tracks totaling just under three hours of music, and a 32-page analysis by celebrated historian Jeff Bond. Every piece of score music used in the film was included, as well as several outtakes and alternates. The original soundtrack, which differs from the music recorded for the film, was remastered from the original source material, and the pop songs found on the original soundtrack were all represented, including the Kaja song "Shouldn't Do That."
Comic book adaptation
- "Santa Claus: The Movie - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
- "Santa Claus: The Movie total gross". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
- Harmetz, Aljean (November 29, 1985). "At the Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- Ebert, Roger (1985-11-27). "Rogerebert.com - Santa Claus: The Movie review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
- Canby, Vincent (1985-11-27). "FILM: 'SANTA CLAUS,' WITH MOORE AND LITHGOW". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
- Mager (2000-12-01). "BBC - Santa Claus: The Movie film review". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
- Duralde, Alonso (2010). Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. Limelight Editions. pp. 186–187. ISBN 0879103760.
- Soundtrack: Santa Claus: The Movie soundtrack at Amazon.com
- Soundtrack:  at QuartetRecords.com
- Friedt, Stephan (December 2015). "Santa Claus: The Movie". Back Issue!. TwoMorrows Publishing (85): 62–64.
- Marvel Super Special #39 at the Grand Comics Database
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