Rental Corner: “Santa” is a near-perfect gift

...mostly harmless

Movies about the holiday season tend to rely on two big things. Reusing a plot like It’s a Wonderful Life or just using the “Christmas is in trouble” plot. In fact, there is rarely a big screen movie that has to deal with Christmas or any of the other holidays in our times. And most of the time its more aimed at a family friendly audience, which is fine as it ties in with the cheery season. But in the case of Santa Claus: The Movie, it’s a seasonal flick that celebrates Christmas while looking into the good and bad commercialism views which are present. But strangely it all occurs over the supposed “true” origin of the holiday icon.

In this one, Santa is depicted as a 14th century woodcutter that often delivers gifts to the villager’s children at the start. But a fierce blizzard picks up and almost freezes him and his wife to death upon travel. Luckily, they are saved and transported to a magical place where several elves reveal that his destiny was to distribute mounds and mounds of toys to all the good girls and boys. Although, the problem here is that it doesn’t go into great detail as to how he was chosen and how the elves knew he was the right choice. I find it strange how it does manage to answer questions like how does his reindeer fly and how he comes down the chimney, but yet unable to answer others as well. They do say their was a prophecy behind it, but doesn’t go into detail as to how elves made mounds of toys as their waiting for the right man to deliver them.

Still, the origin tale is handled better as the film progresses as we see Santa through the years till the 20th century. It tries to answer the basic questions that kids know and it does it well. The only fault is that there are some questions raised that it does bring up like how did a bunch of elves reside in the mystical mountains. Its creative but you can’t help that there are some other mysteries that never do get resolved. Then again there has been more than one film based on the origin tale of the famous icon, so its hard to say if this is the true tale or not.

Another oddity is how the second half switches stories as we go from a “how it all started” tale to one set on his assistant Patch (the late Dudley Moore), an elf with many ideas that he considers to be quite revolutionary. He even goes as far as trying to update the toy making with machinery that does work at first but then falls to failure. Patch then decides to seek opportunity in the real world as he makes a deal with BZ (John Lithgow), an evil business man who is more about money than spreading the joy of Christmas. As said before, this movie does take a look into both sides of the holiday’s commercialism value. The good being the tradition message of giving good to others and the negative of when one takes advantage for greedy means.

It does the job very well of showing both sides as Santa acts charitable and BZ just wants public affection and mounds of money. John Lithgow’s performance does come as cartoony from time to time, but in a good way. It’s an over the top delivery that is about as on par as Hans Conried’s Captain Hook and the chemistry between him and Dudley during the scene where BZ meets Patch for the first time is a memorable moment. But still, it feels like an entirely different movie was cut in.

The first half is nice and syrupy while the last half feels like a traditional family movie with conflict. While the way the two transition into each other is ok, there is no structure to connect the two. In fact, at the point when Patch leaves the North Pole, Santa is very much nearly forgotten as the main focus of the story as the inventive elf makes a candy that makes people fly for the desperate BZ. As said before, it really goes deep into how negative  the commercialistic view of the season can be with something so fascinating that everyone wants one and how corporate giants take a liking to capitalizing on the holiday. On a side note, I also find it strange how a movie that shows the good and bad of commercialism can manage to have product placement plugs from McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. In fact it’s no surprise that McD’s was a sponsor considering the mini-reindeer ornaments that were released during the film’s run as a promotional tie-in.

On top of that, Santa Claus is very special effects heavy with nearly believable reindeer animatronics  and continuous usage of blue screen and matt paintings. While there is no CGI throughout, there is a cheap quality to it. While it’s not bad, at times it feels like the quality of something one would watch on ABC’s Movie of the Week. But for the time, it was very ambitious and quite impressive. What’s holding it back from calling it a classic for me personally is how tends to feel close to another origin tale: Superman the Movie. They are practically identical in tone, story structure, and the main character’s motive and view of the world. In fact, it’s no coincidence to say that Santa Claus’ producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, were also behind the Man of Steel’s box office debut.

Aside from that, it’s just  a harmless holiday flick that really knows how to soften its viewers. Its one I recommend for the younger generation, but its nostalgic factor holds up a bit for older viewers. While it’s not a great film (and it shows), there are some nice and cheerful images that are great to look at like the sets of the elves workshop. While it does appear to be night and bright, I feel that it tends to be too safe at times and lacks the edge in fantasy films like The Dark Crystal or E.T. But still its a safe film for the kids to watch and worth a view for the older crowd. While lacking in structure and feeling somewhat dated, its a decent movie to watch around the season.

About moviebuffmel90

Considering my passion of films, I apprecaite reviewing them and recommending ones either some have heard of or know little about.

Posted on December 19, 2011, in Rental Corner and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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