Jeannot Szwarc (director)
107 min (length)
13 November 2023 (released)
13 November 2023
Yes, it’s that time of year again when nauseating Christmas ads are upon us, department stores try to outdo each other with all sorts of seasonal offers and one can’t avoid tinsel and schmaltz. But who said that tinsel and schmaltz is a bad thing? It isn’t, and as far as Christmas movies go, this enduring festive classic from 1985, starring David Huddleston, Dudley Moore and John Lithgow, looks more enchanting than ever thanks to a brand-new 4K restoration.
Admittedly, the plot is somewhat disjointed and all over the place, beginning in the Middle Ages (yes, really) and culminating with Santas’ adventure in modern day New York (1980’s NY, that is), but in between there’s plenty to admire and of course, like every Christmas movie worth its, eh, tinsel, it has a heart-warming story (perhaps even two) at its core.
Well then, back in the Middle Ages an elderly woodcutter named Claus (David Huddleston) is about to deliver his hand-carved toys to the children of a nearby village. Climbing onto his sleigh, which is pulled by two reindeers named Donner and Blitzen, Claus and his loyal wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) look forward to bringing joy and happiness to the kids. Unfortunately, they don’t get very far by way of a nasty blizzard which sees them stuck in snow and ice. Alas, unexpected help is at hand when the couple and the reindeers are saved by elves, who take them to their most wondrous workshop far, far away at the North Pole.
There, Claus and Anya make the acquaintance of leading elf Dooley (John Barrard) who explains to the bewildered couple that their coming was prophesied and that from now on, it is Claus’ destiny to deliver the many toys made by the elves in their workshop to all the children in the world, even in parts which don’t actually celebrate Christmas (didn’t the producers check on that). As a ‘thank you’, Claus and Anya will live forever – just like their new friends, the elves. The same – it goes without saying – goes for Donner and Blitzen, who are now joined by six more reindeers. Better still, the reindeers are fed with a very special and most magical hay which enables them to fly! And so it is that henceforth every Christmas, Claus – now called Santa Claus by the elves – flies through the air across continents in his sleigh which is pulled by the adorable reindeers. However, when Santa enters the second half of the 20th century, he feels overworked and no longer able to cope with his ever-increasing workload. His concerned wife, now officially Mrs. Claus, suggests that Santa enlists some helpers and sure enough, two eager elves offer their services: they are Puffy (Anthony O’Donnell), who likes to keep his toys old-fashioned and traditional while Patch (Dudley Moore), not exactly an expert toy-maker, comes up with all sorts of nifty ideas for modernising things. Since Santa is allowed only one assistant, the job, rather predictably, falls to Patch (presumably because Dudley Moore was a much bigger name than Anthony O’Donnell)! And so it is that Patch begins to increase the toy production with his specially designed machine though as it soon emerges, the machines’ design is flawed and produces toys which are also flawed… and fall to pieces!
With all this shambles going on back in the North Pole workshop, Santa has arrived in New York, where he encounters a rather cynical little orphan by the name of Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick) who doesn’t believe in the spirit of Christmas and most definitely doesn’t believe in Santa either. Can anyone blame the lad? It’s only when Santa takes him for a ride across the skyscrapers of New York that Joe has a change of heart. As it so happens, Joe has a friend who is another orphan, her name is Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim) though unlike Joe, she doesn’t live rough on the streets but in a posh place owned by her wealthy uncle B.Z. (John Lithgow) who – would you believe it – owns the almighty B.Z. toy company. Thing is, B.Z. is a bit of a scoundrel because his toys are just as flawed as Patches’ toys, if not even more! When B.Z. finds himself in court and is ordered by the Judge to withdraw his dodgy toys from the department stores, a disgraced Patch, who has left the North Pole and arrives in New York of all places, witnesses scenes of B.Z. toys removed from stores on TV. Unaware that the toys are removed due to reasons of health and safety, the naïve Patch thinks the toys fly off the shelves because they must be incredibly popular and offers his services to B.Z. Never missing a trick in the book, B.Z. is quick to exploit Patche’s skills and soon, Santa has the most questionable competition… which is when the real adventure begins, ho ho ho… As an extra present, we are treated to an appearance by Burgess Meredith as an ancient elf, though for this reviewer, the reindeers with their rolling eyes are the best thing about the film.
We won’t spoil the plot by giving too much away – only that there will be a happy ending because well, it’s Christmas!
SANTA CLAUS – THE MOVIE is available on 4K UHD Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. Bonus material includes a new interview with Judy Cornwell (Mrs. Claus), The Making of Santa Claus, Shooting the press conference, plus deleted scenes.
From November 24th, the film will return to UK cinemas!