Holiday Hilarity For Some In Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny
Some of the first films that grabbed my interest were those of the camp variety. Somehow, I managed to never notice the 1972 movie Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny. When I saw a trailer for the RiffTrax version of the movie, I thought I'd see if I could find the movie, since I couldn't attend the RiffTrax event. That was no problem, since the movie long ago entered the public domain, and YouTube has it among the titles available for viewing.
The movie takes place in Florida, where Santa (Jay Clark) finds his sleigh stuck in the sand on the beach in the process of double checking his Naughty & Nice list. His reindeer abandoned him for colder climate, though the North Pole itself is surprisingly devoid of ice just days before Christmas. The elves have taken notice of Santa's absence, though they do their part to make sure Santa has what he needs should he return. Desperate, Santa telepathically reaches out to the kids of the city where he's stuck, as well as to the dog of one of the children, and requests their help. Somehow, these city kids find all sorts of animals to help, from a donkey to a sheep to a horse. One little girl even finds a gorilla, but none of the animals can loosen the sleigh in the slightest. As a reward for their efforts, he tells them the story of Thumbelina.
Thumbelina (Shay Garner) came into the life of an elderly spinster who desperately wanted a child. The spinster (Ruth McMahon) turns to a good witch (Heather Grinter) for help, and for twelve cents, the spinster receives a seed which she plants. Moments later, the woman has her very own two inch tall daughter. The joy is short-lived, though, as a frog kidnaps Thumbelina and plans to have the girl marry her son. A bird, though, grabs the little girl and carries her to a forest. When winter comes, she seeks refuge with a mole, who also thinks the girl should marry a mole who's a friend. As she seems resigned to marry the mole, she helps a bird who never flew south for the winter. At the completion of the tale, the kids and dog try one more thing which brings the title characters together.
Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny manages to do what few films can do. It puts two terribly inept films together for one inept feature. The Santa segment, in fact, is shorter than the Thumbelina segment. The 35 minutes of Santa seem to have been orchestrated on the fly by someone identified as R. Winer. Almost nothing makes sense in Winer's story. For starters, most of the kids in this movie, who are simply billed as the "Kids" from Ruth Foreman's Pied Piper Playhouse, would simply be too old in most neighborhoods to keep believing in Santa. Clark, who also acted under the name of Jay Ripley, seems to improvise his lines - and do this task badly. His Santa has practically no memorable thoughts, though he frets about the heat often. Of all the screen Santas I've seen, he is the laziest one, doing virtually nothing to help his own cause, even when the kids make their lame efforts to dislodge Santa's sleigh from the sand. There's certainly no back story to the Bunny, who is the color of vanilla ice cream, but drives an ancient fire truck, and definitely has no confections for the children or treats for the dog. For some reason, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have found themselves far from the Mississippi River and the 19th century Missouri they knew, but don't help the kids with Santa's situation. It should come as no surprise that this movie marks Winer's only screen credit (as well as for everybody except Clark).
The Thumbelina movie (misspelled Thumbellina in the Santa movie credits) was actually made in 1970 by Barry Mahon (1921-99), a low-budget film director of some renown. Elements of the Hans Christian Andersen story that serves as the basis for the movie are there, but seems be obsessed with the title character getting trapped in a loveless inter-species marriage. Just onelook at the sour expression on Garner's face in the opening credits gives viewers the sort of mood the movie sets on a certain level. Though Garner is supposed to be a little girl, Mahon does nothing to hide the reality that his title character is not. The costumes of the actors look cheap, especially of the bird Thumbelina helps. That poor creature looks more like a pinata than a bird. The songs show Garner has a lovely singing voice, but the tunes themselves aren't particularly memorable, except that one of them actually imagines a young woman reveling in the thought of being just two inches tall. This movie frames itself in its present day, where visitors to a pirate-themed amusement park visit an Andersen-themed exhibit and hear this story. The park closed just a few years later, perhaps because they did nothing to tie the park to any sort of pirates. Garner is the only cast member to have any other screen credits, though, like Clark, she has been inactive on the screen for years (IMDb does not list either actor as deceased as of this writing).
Those who had the good fortune of attending the RiffTrax theater event saw another 1970 Mahon film, Jack And The Beanstalk, as the insert film for Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny. Since I can't comment on that dubious double feature, I will finish commenting on the one that has made its way to home video and internet access. This movie will not suffice for parents looking for good holiday themed fare for their children, such as the original Miracle On 34th Street or Arthur Christmas. Once children have grown, they might be interested in the Santa stories they missed, like Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny, which missed the chance to possibly tie together a story where Santa gets help from another figure known to children, the Easter Bunny. Instead, the people involved with this story created a tale that would have children asking why Santa has his problems, and why nobody thought about using a shovel.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny a zero, unless someone likes unintentionally funny fare. For camp merit, I give Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny 3.5 stars. Not as campy as Santa Claus Conquers The Martians or the 1959 version of Santa Claus, but definitely laugh filled.