Santa Claus: The Movie

An Appreciation by Richard Washington

Submitted for your approval: Wednesday, November 27th, 1985. Just another typical Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday; and in the midst of this November chill, you have me --- just another human being seeking the meaning of life, just like everyone else; and never more so than at Christmastime. In those days, I was not really sure about what Christmas meant; all I knew was that on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus would make his magical nightly journeys around the world in a single night.

But then, almost from out of the blue, a motion picture emerged unlike any that I had ever seen before. Strangely enough, it was an adventure from the producers of the Superman movies.... and most amazingly of all, it was geared to the Christmas season. Its title: Santa Claus: The Movie. Almost instantly, as had been the case with Supermovies I through III and Supergirl, I had fallen in love --- and I was certain that the Salkinds had triumphed once again.... to make the whole world believe in something that could fly. This time, it turned out to be reindeer.

But the critics, having taken Alexander and Ilya (not to mention the rest of Team Salkind) to task for simply casting Richard Pryor in Superman III, were out to throw as many brickbats as they could at this film when it first came out. No matter that it was destined to net only $23.5 million at the U.S. box office at the end of its first release. What mattered to me was that this was a movie about Santa Claus --- and, come to that, the ULTIMATE Santa Claus movie!

Even now, it's still a little bit difficult to appreciate a lot about what you have when a movie like this comes along only once every holiday season. Thankfully, Jeannot Szwarc is still around, and still directing, even if it is for U.S. series television --- something which, I suspect, may be at best, an endangered species.... and, at worst, practically unheard of in other parts of the modern media. Luckily, even now, Jeannot knows that there are others who do appreciate his body of work; indeed, there are those who have dedicated an entire nonprofit organization (along with a companion website) to his most passionate film, Somewhere in Time. These folks, like myself, know the virtue of being a filmmaker in the purest sense of the word: one who is not willing to sacrifice artistic excellence to the temple of the almighty dollar. I guess, for all the many years Jeannot spent at Universal Television, and all his features prior to these four for which Americans will continue to remember him (this film; the aforementioned Somewhere in Time; Jaws 2; and, Jeannot's previous adventure with Alexander and Ilya, Supergirl), we weren't really ready for Jeannot Szwarc to begin with.

But, having set up this site 35 or so years ago, I continue to believe that there's a generation that deserves to be ready for Santa Claus: The Movie .... and if I weren't willing to express those beliefs, this website wouldn't be here. Thus, this appreciation, wherein, hopefully, I'll share with you a few of the really important things about this very special film which have mattered to me --- and, again hopefully, to a lot of you out there as well, during the past several years.

At its basic core, Santa Claus: The Movie uses the Legend of Santa and constructs around that Legend a parable about the pitfalls into which one can fall when so innocent as an Elf (in this case, Patch) can be confronted by the forces of human greed. Yet here we have the curious case of this one unusual Vendequm, eager to bring together the worlds of the old and the new, and to develop such a union in a way whereby Santa's already heavy workload can, one hopes, be improved. Why, then, one wonders, does it reach the point where Patch can feel unappreciated by his fellow Elves? Does he see something in the future that they couldn't or wouldn't? And why would Patch feel that Santa would represent for him the one hope for "being liked" by the Elven community?

Towards the end of the film, Patch comes right out and tells Joe his reason for leaving the Pole in the first place: "I just wanted [Santa] to see what a good assistant I could be," he says. It would seem to me that, when the film was first released, we did not even see, much less understand, such logic. An Elf with emotions, human feelings, a degree of unappreciatedness: maybe American audiences could not figure that kind of thing out in November 1985. Today, however, at a time when even psychiatrists have their own daily television shows (consider, if you would, the Dr. Phil Show), exploring the inner psychosis of an Elf would be, at best, old hat. The point is, we've had time now to remember how, as children, we felt that, in times long ago, not even Santa could appreciate us, or even try to see what a good assistant we could be. It's at such times as this that we find ourselves remembering how much we are loved, even by the likes of Santa Claus. This, I think, is what lies at the heart of this movie.

I still wonder why, after so many years, we don't really appreciate the films made by Team Salkind. The Superman and Musketeer films notwithstanding, why is it that Americans tend to take big-budget features to task when so many lesser movies like this one deserve to be recognized as thoroughly and as annually as the others? Many historians of Christmas at the movies have said over the years that if a movie of this type is released domestically (or even on a global basis), the idea is to try and become a blockbuster over the holiday period, and do so until the end of the season. Many scholars have said that few such movies can make this particular leap.

In my case, however, I learned to appreciate Santa Claus: The Movie because there were people who felt that the overhanded commercialism, the overly-sweet cuteness of Christian and Carrie as Joe and Corny, and the willingness of David Newman to follow the Salkinds' magnate of 'making a movie that was just like Superman: The Movie' were something worth grumbling about. But if you've been to this site before, you know by now, having read our Alexander Salkind: In Memoriam segment, what purpose I have attempted to use in order make you folks understand .... that purpose being, understanding and exploring the filmmaking world, as seen from Alexander and Ilya's perspective. To the Salkinds, America the filmmaker equaled artistic excellence compromised by the inability to follow the heart, and to see things as they themselves would. Perhaps even now, this is how we got from Warner Communications to Time Warner.

Change, in the world of Christmas today, becomes a constant. Yet the movies of Christmas continue to endure. Fortunately, Santa Claus: The Movie will continue to be an integral part of our holiday season even after its original release more than 30 years ago, in part because there will always be people who will be interested in it. When I launched this website in 1998, I didn't know whether folks would agree or disagree with my beliefs and observations about this movie. Yet I still think that there are a lot of you Elves out there who, like Patch, want Santa to see just how good an assistant you could be. If that's the case, well, hey --- that's what, v.5 is here for. And if you appreciate what we do around here, we want to thank you for finding your way here. We know that there's still much about Santa Claus: The Movie that remains untold and unspoken; with your support, this website will continue to make every attempt that is humanly possible to bring those secrets into the light where they belong.

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