Film Review: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Release Date: November 27th, 1985
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Music by: Henry Mancini, Leslie Bricusse
Cast: Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston, Judy Cornwell, Burgess Meredith, Carrie Kei Heim, Christian Fitzpatrick, Jeffrey Kramer, Christopher Ryan

Calash Corporation, GGG, Major Studio Partners, TriStar Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Now, all those within the sound of my voice, and all those on this Earth everywhere know that henceforth you will be called Santa Claus.” – Ancient Elf

I actually wrote about this movie in an old article titled How Dudley Moore Ruined My Childhood – A Christmas Story. In that article I outlined the plot of this movie from memory but I was kind of off, as I hadn’t seen the film since 1985.

Anyway, seeing this now, it’s a much better movie than I remembered and I kind of enjoyed it in spite of my complaints in the previous article and how it destroyed Santa Claus for my seven year-old brain.

This is a movie with really odd pacing and plot structure where the first act seems like it takes up the first full hour of this 107 minute movie. But I do really like the first act, which shows the fantastical origin of Santa Claus. It’s so well shot and orchestrated that the picture feels otherworldly but incredibly magical and soothing.

David Huddleston was perfectly cast as Santa and his wife and the elves were also great, especially Dudley Moore and Burgess Meredith. We also get to see Christopher Ryan in a small role as an elf, which I thought was really cool. He’s best known, at least to me, as Mike from The Young Ones and as different Sontaran commanders from Doctor Who.

After the first hour or so, we are introduced to the film’s villain B.Z., played by the great John Lithgow. As a kid, I always loved this character and sort of saw him as the Lex Luthor of Christmas. I guess I remembered his role and his presence in the film being bigger than it actually was but that’s probably because Lithgow was so solid that it left a big impression on me.

There are also two little kids in the movie but they’re kind of annoying and overly happy all the time. But I guess you need kids in a Santa movie and they’re supposed to be the narrative stand-ins for the kids in the audience, imagining themselves hanging out with Santa and the elves.

The film looks really dated though and I remember thinking that it looked older than a 1985 movie in 1985. Also, the special effects aren’t great but the matte painting work and sets kind of make up for that.

The story isn’t great either but trying to see it through the eyes of a kid, it’s fine.

In the end, this is a weird but comforting movie. I feel like it’s been lost to time and mostly forgotten but I still think that people would like it if they gave it a chance.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other family Christmas classics.

Talking Pulp: How Dudley Moore Ruined My Childhood – A Christmas Story

dudleymoore1Dudley Moore ruined my childhood. Okay, maybe not Dudley Moore specifically but he is my scapegoat because he is the person I most identify with Santa Claus: The Movie. Sure, John Lithgow was in it but he played the villain and after how this movie negatively impacted me, as a child, I side with the villain.

I’m going to try to reconstruct the plot from memory, as I haven’t seen the film since it scarred me in 1985.

Dudley Moore plays Santa Claus’ favorite elf. He’s like the best toy engineer and whatnot. Somehow he gets lured in by the evil capitalist John Lithgow. I think he wanted to use Moore’s skills to create better toys than Santa that way he can have a monopoly on Christmas.

There was probably more sinister reasons than that but I just remember him having a terrifying presence and found myself perplexed at how Moore could even entertain an offer from that guy.

Anyway, Moore works with evil cigar-chomping Lithgow and they start taking over Christmas. Santa gets all depressed and there are some snotty-nosed kids that still believe in Santa and refuse to accept evil capitalist pig Christmas.

Dudley Moore gets a change of heart, finds himself and realigns with Santa and the snotty-nosed kids. Santa flies his sleigh like a drunken maniac for some reason and I remember him doing loop de loops in the air, which was the moment where this film jumped the shark for me.

Santa wins, Darth Dudley throws evil Lithgow into an energy shaft and the snotty-nosed shits complete their Jedi training.

Before seeing this film, I truly believed in Santa Claus. He was real, there was no question about that in my mind.

Upon walking into the theater, I remember my aunt telling me that it was a movie but that it was a true story and Santa Claus in the film was the real Santa Claus. That made me even more excited.

However, even at the age of six, I was a film buff. Which kid wasn’t that grew up in the awesome 80s?

When I saw the horrible bullshit that was Santa Claus: The Movie, my life, at that time, was shattered. I knew that the real Santa would have never participated in such a shitty movie. I knew that he would’ve never done some stupid loop de loop in his sleigh because it wasn’t worth risking the loss of presents yet to be delivered. And I knew that if this film did exist, that Santa wasn’t real. How could he allow it to be shown in theaters? Wouldn’t he be suing for defamation of character?

Truthfully, I just knew it was bad and it showed me how ridiculous the whole Santa Claus myth is. Actually, it magnified it. I couldn’t accept that he was a real thing. Immediately, I questioned the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Great Pumpkin, leprechauns, Slimer, Toucan Sam and even Jesus.

Then I realized that my parents had lied to me. That was something that I never thought possible and it changed my whole outlook on the universe and how I viewed adults. Why lie about it? It seemed cruel to find out the truth, to find out I was deceived and to know that there didn’t seem to be a logical explanation for any of it other than something called “tradition”, which was just some adult word that annoyed me.

That is when I lost the Christmas spirit. After that, I just wanted people to come over, give me gifts and GTFO. I became greedy because there was nothing left to believe in. I became the evil cigar-chomping John Lithgow. He has since gone on to be one of my favorite actors. In the end, he was the only one I could relate to in Santa Claus: The Movie.

I have regained the essence of the Christmas spirit as I have aged. However, if I ever have kids, they aren’t going to be raised believing such bullshit. And I don’t hate Dudley Moore, as Arthur is a classic. But he was the focal point of the event that turned me from an innocent big-hearted child to a cold-blooded bad ass at the age of six. If Christmas was Apollo Creed, I was Ivan Drago’s killer fists.

If you lie to your kids about Santa Claus, just know that they will one day discover the truth and not believe anything you say. And they probably won’t be all that enthused about Jesus either.

Thank you, Dudley Moore. Scars heal and at least you showed me the light.