Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 23

           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. Time for number twenty-three. Let's find out what it is.

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)

           At last, we have hit another Rankin-Bass Christmas special. I can finally wash the taste of Nestor, The Long-eared Christmas Donkey out of my mouth. This special is far more of the classic type that you think of when you think of Rankin-Bass's output. While not as memorable or popular as Rudolph, it is a good story and has aired for years on either ABC or one of its cable offshoots. I know that I have seen this special multiple times over the years, but it has been a while since I last saw it and my memories of it are foggier than I would like them to be. So I'm going to quit stalling and get to this.


           Like most Rankin-Bass specials, the first character we are introduced to acts as a narrator for the story. In this case, it is S.D. Kluger, a mail man on his way to bring letters to Santa. His truck has mechanical difficulties and he proceeds to tell the story of Santa's origin. The story begins in the city of Sombertown, in the office of Burgermeister Meisterburger. His assistant Grimsley enters with a baby that has been left on the doorstep. The baby has a metal tag that reads has Claus and a note asking that the Burgermeister look after the child. The Burgermeister will do no such thing and orders Grimsley to take the baby to the orphanage. However, en route, a strong wind blows the sled carrying the baby away and brings it perilously close to the domain of the Winter Warlock. Forest animals hide the child from the Warlock and then spirit him to the Kringles, an elvish family that they know will look after him.
           The Kringles are all toy makers but, due to the presence of the Winter Warlock between them and Sombertown, they have no one to give their toys to. The child, now an adult and with the adopted name Kris Kringle, decides to brave the danger and bring the toys to Sombertown. Kris ends up with a lost penguin that he names Topper joining him along the way. When he does reach Sombertown, things seem to be going well. But, he soon find out from Miss Jessica, a school teacher, that the Burgermeister has made toys illegal. Kris is forced to flee from the Burgermeister's troops. 

Any special with a scarf-wearing penguin is alright in my book.

           On the way back to the Kingles, Kris is waylaid by the Winter Warlock. However, Kris gives him one of the toys as a present and the Warlock soften immediately. No one has ever been so nice to him before. He teaches Kris how to use magic to remote view through crystal snow balls. Shortly after this, Kris meets back up with Jessica who informs him that the Burgermeister has destroyed all the toys he brought and that the children are requesting more. Kris does bring more and what follows is a game of cat and mouse where the Burgermeister keeps making it harder for Kris to bring toys and Kris keeps figuring a way around the new impediment. By the end of these he is going down chimneys and putting toys in stockings.
           The Burgermeister finally succeeds in capturing Kris, Topper and Winter. Jessica is unsuccessful in trying to convince the Burgermeister to let them go. She then talks to Winter through the bars of his jail cell window and asks him to use his magic to extricate himself and the others. Alas, he says that he has little magic left other than corn that can make reindeer fly. Jessica uses the corn and soon Kris and his friends are saved by eight flying reindeer. They find the Kringle house destroyed by the Burgermeister's men so Kris goes in to the woods as an outlaw, grows a disguise beard, and begins to go by the name of Claus. Eventually they flee all the way to the North Pole and build a new toy factory/castle. Kris and Jessica marry. Due to demand, Kris is unable to fulfill toy requests year round so he focuses his efforts on December 24th. Over the years, the legend of Kris, now known almost exclusively as Santa, grows and he begins delivering toys the world over while the line of the Meisterburgers is broken and his anti-toy laws fade away.

The Ice King from Adventure Time resembles The Winter Warlock during his evil phase. I'm guessing this is on purpose.

Final Thoughts

           This is so much better than Nestor. The story, while cheesy, is much more fun and less emotionally manipulative. Also, even though Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is the older of the two Rankin-Bass specials we've looked at so far, it is better animated. I can understand why this special doesn't get yearly broadcast network airtime the way Rudolph does, it simply doesn't have the same level of pop culture currency.  But, it is definitely worth a watch. The music is well integrated and not overly repetitive. The protagonists are likable and you want to see them succeed. The Burgermeister is a good, if mostly incompetent antagonist. All of the pieces of a great special are there they just fail to click quite as well as they do in Rudolph. However, they do come very close to clicking and, objectively, the message of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is a better one than Rudolph has upon analysis. Overall, a good special that holds up well even after 46 years. I hope to see you all back here tomorrow. Twenty-three down and only seven left.

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