Santa Claus: The Movie (1985): Film Review

Reviewing the Film in Its 25th Anniversary Year

I remember the excitement when this film came out in theatres; I remember watching The Making of... on TV; I've seen clips of the movie over the years. But this Christmas, marking the 25th anniversary of its cinematic release, was the first time I watched Santa Claus: The Movie in its entirety.

I have to be honest and say that this isn't the film to visit for the first time as an adult. If you were a child in 1985 and the movie holds treasured memories for you, you'll look fondly on it. Otherwise, it's likely to strike you as cheesy, sentimental and poorly written. The main story doesn't get going until halfway through, with the introduction of villain John Lithgow, and the dialogue is flowing over with twee sentiments and predictable elf puns, such as "God helps those who help their elves" and "elf-portrait."

The story begins well enough with its version of Santa's origins, in the distant past: He (played by David Huddleston) is a childless toymaker who, together with his wife (Judy Cornwell), takes Christmas gifts each year to the children of a local village. On their return one year, they find themselves stranded in the snow, and the elves of a magical place "at the top of the world" come to their rescue. They've been expected: The toymaker is the chosen one, selected to be endued with everlasting life and to bring happiness to the children of the world. Centuries go by, and Santa selects Patch (Dudley Moore) to be his assistant. But Patch bids a sad farewell when things don't go as planned. He ends up in New York, where he teams up with a ruthless toy company executive, BZ (Lithgow), hoping that success can help prove his worth to Santa Claus. BZ's only goal is money, however, and when Patch unwittingly endangers children's lives with his latest invention, it is up to a pair of children--the executive's step-niece, Cornelia, and a street urchin named Joe--to help Santa Claus rescue Patch and bring an end to BZ's evil empire.

On the positive side, the film looks quite wonderful at times. Santa's toyshop scenes are bursting with colour, reminiscent of the factory scenes in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)--and no wonder, for they shared the same cinematographer, Arthur Ibbetson, whose best work included such family films as Whistle Down the Wind (1961) and The Railway Children (1970).

But the occasional glimpse of cinematic magic didn't outweigh the overall plodding pace for this reviewer. There simply isn't enough strength or depth in the story to engage adult audiences. After more than two decades since the release, I suppose I'm glad I finally saw it and can tick it off the list, but I doubt I'll be revisiting this one.

Recommended Instead...

Scrooge (1970), starring Albert Finney
A Christmas Carol (1984), with George C Scott as Dickens's eponymous miser

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MarlonC 5 years ago

Well! Having seen it as a nipper back in the day, I can tell you that it did not cut the mustard then either - yet another in a then-already-long list of vehicles for comedians who have lost their edge. My favourite rendition of a Christmas Carol was the Blackadder version, and my favourite feature length festive flick would have to be Bad Santa!

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