Christmas films to watch: Santa Claus – The Movie (1985)

David Huddleston is Santa Claus in the Christmas movie that finally answers those nagging questions about Santa...
David Huddleston is Santa Claus in the Christmas movie that finally answers those nagging questions about Santa…

So far in the trek through Christmas movies we’ve looked at contemporary London, battled incompetent burglars through Chicago and New York and considered the Muppets’ adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Now we go further into Christmas tradition and consider the origins of Santa Claus – as explained by the 1985 self-titled movie. Starring David Huddleston, Judy Cornwell, Dudley Moore and John Lithgow this is a movie I have viewed every Christmas since I was young – and I’ll be honest, Santa Claus: The Movie is regarded as one of the worst Christmas films of all time. Costing $50 million to make, it only grossed around $25 million at the box office. Its ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ rating is just 18%, and it has been held up as being so bad it’s almost good. So does this film live up to the hype?

In short, yes. This is a film that you can very easily have on whilst wrapping Christmas presents or doing something else Christmas related. Younger children will love it, but it probably wouldn’t hold the sole attention of any child over the age of about 9 or 10. The plot starts off with a peasant woodcutter (Huddleston) and his wife (Cornwell) who make presents for local children every Christmas. When they get lost and ‘die’ in a blizzard on their way back home one Christmas Eve, they find themselves transported to an ice mountain where the title ‘Santa Claus’ is bestowed on the woodcutter, and the childless couple are told that the world’s children are all theirs and they will live forever – delivering Christmas presents to every child every Christmas Eve.

If any child wishes to know the truth about Santa, then this is possibly the movie for them. Santa manages to get round all the children in time because Christmas Eve lasts as long as it needs to for him to get all his presents delivered – this is just one of the truths revealed in the film. The scenery is well realised with a heavy atmosphere on bright elves costumes, and a traditional wooden workshop. This film plays heavily on the idea of a ‘traditional’ Santa where everything is handmade, so in many ways this film, released in 1985, came out just in time – the question of how Santa coped with the technological explosion of the 1990s and today is a question left unanswered.

Given the focus of the film’s first section on getting the truths about Santa Claus straight and true it is almost jarring but predictable that this plot needs more than a little padding out. Therefore after the film’s first forty minutes or so the action suddenly switches to 1980s America and delves into a sub plot that teams up disgraced children’s toy manufacturer ‘B.Z.’ with the rather innocent elf ‘Patch’ (Dudley Moore) who has left the North Pole after a disastrous Christmas. Throw into the mix two children in the form of B.Z.’s niece Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim) and homeless child Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick) and the change of pace jars tremendously, with Patch trying to ‘prove himself’ to Santa by delivering his own present to every child on Christmas Eve, and B.Z. seeing this as the ideal opportunity to get rid of Santa then subsequently charge people for Christmas. Naturally the children are there to stop these events from happening – but the upshot is a very confusing plot.

Now I can hear people now wondering, if this film is so bad, then why do I watch it every year? The answer is simple. There is a lot to love about this film, aside from the plot. The dramatic special effects as Santa rides his sleigh through America is brilliantly done, and realisation of the workshop is so good that you could almost believe it was the real thing. In addition, the cartoon-esque characterisation of the main villain B.Z. is quite amusing and appealing to my sense of humour is an almost cynical (dare I say, realistic…) view of how many businessmen may operate.

This is also accompanied by a solid music track, a classical medley of Christmas carols plays as Santa Claus travels through the centuries whilst other tracks offer a classical, playful background to the plot. I also have a sneaking admiration for the title track ‘It’s Christmas (All Over The World)’ released by New Edition (think Bobby Brown) but sung by Sheena Easton for the film. An incredibly 80s track, you could argue that for many this is the film’s high point.

To summarise, Santa Claus: The Movie, is not the greatest Christmas film of all time, it is however worth a watch – just make sure there’s something else to do whilst you’re watching it. Young children will love it – and you never know, if you hark back to your childhood, you might just find a little bit of love for this film too…

Santa Claus: The Movie will be screened on ITV this Christmas Eve at 4.05pm, and again on ITV3 at 8.35am Christmas Day and 3.45am Boxing Day. Ho, ho, ho – Merry Christmas!!