J. Schmidt

The stop-motion style animated Christmas films by Rankin/Bass are both classic and endearing to this day, they yank a grouchy bunch of Black Friday shoppers and retail drones and students suffering from finals week back into childhood (where such a thing as Christmas break exists). The Rankin/Bass cartoons such as Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are origin stories, answering those age-old questions that surround Christmas legends. While each film is charming, there is one Rankin/Bass story to examine in particular.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town gets grand-scale points for cleverness. The opening scene of the film portrays live action children and an ominous voice announcing the worry that letters to Santa may not reach the North Pole in time. Transition into fantasy world and we are introduced to none other than the special postman who delivers those letters to Santa. While he is a snoop who willfully opens children’s letters before he hands them over, he is a cheerful fellow and is voiced by none other than Fred Astaire. Not a bad start to a film, eh? Additionally, the letters from children that S.D. reads address questions that most have when concerned with the jolly old elf: “Why do you wear a red suit?” “Why do you come down the chimney when I’m asleep?” “Why do you live at the North Pole?” Why, why. WHY?! (Dang kids and all their dang questions…)

Baby Santa is a foundling known only as Claus, and when his little life was in danger a gathering of woodland creatures saved the infant from the terrifying hermit known as the Winter Warlock. (Is he sounding a bit like a Disney princess? Maybe…) The little critters take the orphaned Claus to a family of elves by the name of Kringle, and they take him on as one of their own. (Kringle, you say? Ahhh, the double name of Santa Claus/Kris Kringle is all starting to make sense!)

On the other side of the mountain lies Sombertown, with it’s grumpy leader, Herr Burgermeister Meisterburger. I don’t know that I can properly convey how great this bumbling villain is. I’m guessing he is like a chubby German version of Squidward, drunk with power: “Ah, a perfect day. Everybody is glum.” Meisterburger not only has a great name and a surly attitude, but he is set on keeping Sombertown somber: no laughing, no merriment, and definitely no toys!

Kris Kringle grows into a jolly ginger, with a giving heart and a way with the ladies. The highlight of this little film is the fact that Kris’s best friend is an adopted penguin named Topper. (Topper got lost trying to get to the South Pole, wears a scarf, and honks like a bicycle horn when he wants something.

The unusual thing about Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is that there is legitimate character development, especially when it comes to Jessica, the future Mrs. Claus. (Jessica is quite a looker, with eyelashes any woman would kill for.) She learns to loosen up and Kris grows a beard. Boom: character development.

This Rankin/Bass movie is going to remain a classic, even though it may need to elbow Rudolph and The Year Without a Santa Claus out of the way to get some breathing room as old animation gets buried in yesteryear’s snow. There are enough puns to bring a wry smile to your face, and as soon as “One Foot in Front of the Other” begins to play, you’re swept away into happy holidays.

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