CHRISTMAS CINEMA: Santa Claus the Movie (1985)

After the father-and-son production team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind finished up with Superman III and Supergirl, what else was left but to explain the mysteries of Santa Claus to children all over the world?

Who should direct should an endeavor? How about John Carpenter? No, really. However, the auteur wanted to have a hand in the writing, musical score and final cut of the movie. Plus, he wanted to cast Brian Dennehy as Santa.

Other directors included multiple James Bond series director Lewis Gilbert, The Sound of Music director Robert Wise and again, another James Bond series director (and the man in the chair for Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins ), Guy Hamilton.

Finally, Supergirl director Jeannot Szwarc was selected. He’d also directed Jaws 2 and Somewhere in Time. He had a great relationship with the Salkinds and TriStar Pictures.

The result? A movie that got horrible reviews and made half of its budget back.

But hey — sometimes bombs are great. So let’s get into it.

Back in the past, Santa (David Huddleston, The Big Lewbowski himself) is a woodcarver who takes his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?) and reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, into the snow to deliver gifts to children. One night, though, the snow is too much and they all die. The end.

The movie would be pretty depressing if this is where it all ended. Instead, they are transported to the ice mountains at the top of the world, some Shangri-La type place where Dr. Strange and Iron Fist got his powers. They meet a whole bunch of elves, including Dooley (one of the blind men in 1972’s Tales from the Crypt), the inventor elf Patch (Dudley Moore, Arthur) and Puffy (Sean Combs). Our hero learns that his destiny is to deliver gifts every Christmas Eve, along with an entire team of reindeer. Finally, as the holiday approaches, the Ancient One (Burgess Meredith, The Devil’s Rain!)  — I told you this was Dr. Strange — renames our hero as Santa Claus.

PS — Anthony O’Donnell really played Puffy.

Fast forward to modern times and Santa is exhausted. His wife suggests he get an assistant and a competition between Patch and Puffy ends with Patch winning, but his modern machine makes work that isn’t up to Santa’s standards.

Santa meets some kids — a New York City orphan named Joe and a rich girl named Cornelia — and Patch quits his job and starts working for B.Z. (John Lithgow, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension), an unsafe toymaker that Congress is trying to shut down. Patch takes reindeer feed and makes lollipops that allow children to fly, allowing B.Z. to create a new holiday on March 25 — Christmas 2. This all makes Santa pretty sad, as Patch is becoming the new face of Christmas. Or Christmas 2. Look, I don’t know.

The newest toy for Christmas 2 will be candy canes that allow kids to fly (why a different product shape is needed is never really discussed), but when they are exposed to heat, they explode. B.Z. and Towzer (Jeffrey Kramer, Graham from Halloween II), his head of R&D, decide to let Patch take the fall. Joe and Cornelia get involved, Patch tells them he never wanted to take over for Santa and they all take the Patchmobile to the North Pole.

The reindeer — despite Comet and Cupid having the flu and who knows why this is even a plot point — help save Patch and everyone has a dance party because of Return of the Jedi. Santa and Mrs. Claus adopt Joe and Cordelia, keeping them away from the rest of the world and certainly adding the kids to some kind of Code Adam list, Meanwhile, B.Z. has eaten too many candy canes and flies into space, where one assumes he dies in the cold vacuum of space. Santa does not care, laughing heartily as he has crushed Patch’s spirit for good and kidnapped two human children to do his bidding. Or maybe it’s a happy ending.

For a movie that’s all about the magic and meaning of Christmas, the product placement for McDonald’s, Coke and Pabst Blue Ribbon — this is a kid-centric film — is problematic.

Marvel even did a tie-in comic, which at least has Frank Springer art.

These are the kind of movies I hated as a kid — message films that told me how to feel, act and behave. This is why Godzilla and King Kong are my idea of holiday films — beasts condemned by the world who only want to destroy the works of man! Feliz navidad!

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