Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Father Of All Christmas Movie Nights

On Friday we had our Special Christmas Movie Night and I've finally got the will power together to write about it. Three children's films about Santa Claus: Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Claus the Movie and The Santa Clause.

Miracle On 34th Street (1994, Dir: Les Mayfield) is a remake of a 1947 film of the same name, and stars Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle, a white haired man who replaces a drunk Santa Claus and goes on to be the best Cole's store Santa ever. There's a little girl who is the daughter of the marketing manager of the sore who doesn't believe in Santa, so they try the experimental method: she asks Kringle for a father, a house and a brother. Meanwhile the evil store across the road uses every means, both fair and foul... actually, they just use foul means, which is probably why they're the evil store. Frankly, the boss of the evil store ("Shopper's Express") doesn't seem to have a very good handle on marketing, or even on how capitalism works. He seems more interested in destroying his competitors than, say, making money. Meanwhile, after Kringle advises a customer that they can get a certain toy cheaper elsewhere and they swear undying loyalty to Cole's, Cole's come up with a compromise: If they don't have it, they'll track it down for you. It's a great bit of PR, and the best part is, they didn't have it, so they wouldn't have sold it anyway.

Still, enough economics. Let's get to the heart of this film: the court case. Heckler, who has some experience of being in court, was surprised by the events in the courtroom, and most importantly by the fact the court was sitting a all on Christmas Eve; in this country judges are too work-shy to hold court on Christmas Eve (exception: to my knowledge magistrates will hold hearings to determine bail). There's much amusing evidence (a reindeer as a witness; the prosecutor's son identifies Kringle as Santa Claus etc.) Eventually the little girl bribes the judge with a $1 bill, which happens to have "In God We Trust" circled on it, and he makes this the slightly incoherent precedent for ruling that Santa Claus exists, and also exists in the person of Kringle.

Anyway, kid's film based on a 1947 film. I've not seen either film before, but after about 10 minutes I started describing the changes each character would go through until Beretta told me to stop. But the predictability is part of it's charm, and despite everyone getting their Christmas wishes at the end, and a court ruling to that effect, the question over whether Santa Claus exists or if he just exists as the Spirit of Christmas in all of us is left open-ish. 8/10 Humbugs (That's good by the way).

No such ambiguity in Santa Claus The Movie (1985, Dir: Jeannot Szwarc); we begin with the Santa Claus origin story. A big jolly bearded guy called Claus who likes giving gifts to kids on Christmas Eve finds that he's been prophesied to become a big jolly bearded guy who gives gifts to all the kids on Christmas Eve, only some elves will make the toys and look after the reindeer and stuff[1]. All goes well until the 20th century when an elf called Patch (Dudley Moore) tries to automate the toymaking. All the toys fall apart and the bratty kids unfortunate children all burst into tears. Patch leaves and decides to make a toy so good that Santa Claus will have faith in him again. He falls in with an evil toymaker[2], who, by coincidence, is the uncle of our female child lead, the only friend of our male child lead, a streetkid who has been befriended by Santa Claus.

Of course the evil toymaker makes Patch's toys explosive, but eventually good triumphs and evil is punished and Christmas is safeguarded forever hooray! Anyway, pleasant enough, but I saw it back when I was 12? 13? something like that and felt it was for younger kids. 4/10 Humbugs (disappointing)

Finally The Santa Clause (note final "e") (1994 Dir:John Pasquin). I'll note that I voted for some Muppet Christmas nonsense before every film, but no, Heckler had to keep on with the theme. Tim Allen is giving his son a rubbish Christmas, when he scares Santa Claus, who falls of his roof and dies. Allen fails to read the smallprint, gets into the sleigh, dresses in the clothes travels to the North Pole, delivers all the gifts etc. etc. His son loves this. His ex-wife thinks he's going crazy and has Allen's visitation rights terminated[3]. Allen grows a beard and gets fat. Eventually he convinces even his ex-wife and her new partner, a psychiatrist, he is Santa Claus by giving them the gifts they didn't get when they were children the Christmas they stopped believing (The Dating Game board game and an Oscar Meyer wiener-whistle). Frankly, why is this the film that spawned two sequels? Heckler suggested we watch the sequel (it was what, 1 in the morning by then?). I said if we do, we have to watch Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause immediately afterward. He folded. 3/10 Humbugs (Bah!)

Anyway, we've fulfilled our contractual requirement to have a Christmas special, and that's the important thing. Best part: Mulled Cider (If I say so myself). Luckiest viewer: Beretta who saw half of Miracle and about a quarter each of Claus and Clause as she fell asleep, poor thing; I suspect that that was a much more interesting film, albeit a less coherent one, than any of the films we saw. She was unamused to wake up with the Santa Claus beard and hat on.

Have we learned anything from these films? Firstly, you can have too many Santa Claus/Spirit of Christmas films in one evening. Secondly, you shoudn't call elves elves, instead "the little people" is the correct term[4]. And finally, that the ony place Christmas occurs is New York City and it's surroundings, the North Pole and cold and snowy historical Scandogermany.

[1] As opposed to the actual origin story, which is slightly more interesting.
[2] We see before the senate subcommittee on toy standards, a toy panda stuffed with sawdust, nails and broken glass.
[3] "What sort of Mickey Mouse court is this?" asked Heckler. It's a Disney movie.
[4] I disagree; I understand the preference is for "The Fair Folk"; "The Little People" is to avoid confusion that arises using the term "Fairies".

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