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Come play with us, Santa. Forever. And ever. And ever. – Marvel Super Special #39, “Santa Claus: The Movie”

March 6, 2012

We’re plumbing the Yuletide depths in this Marvel Super Special March installment, with a 1980s cinematic offering that’s even more forgotten than KrullSanta Claus: The Movie dipped its toes into the crowded Christmastime glut, whose rotation is harder to crack than the Augusta Country Club rolls. If you’re not Rudolph, Frosty, Linus, or a Fred Astaire narrated Santa biopic, YOU NEED NOT APPLY.

But Alexander and Ilya Salkind — who brought the world the Christopher Reeve Superman, and thereby escaped the gallows for crap like this — defied the odds and vomited out an atrociously mundane Santa movie, which tried and failed to tell the story of how Santa came to deliver toys to children all over the world. The senses-shattering origin of Kris Kringle, as it were. And that, in a nutshell, is it — all you need to know. There isn’t even a Santa Claus Conquers the Martians angle to this thing. No, it’s just straight-forward tripe. One of the few remarkable aspects to it was that it was a Dudley Moore vehicle, at the stage of his career where he was rapidly tobogganing down the backslope of his post-Arthur fame. If you get caught between the moon and a crappy Christmas movie…

I missed it when it was released back in 1985, though I remember quite clearly the associated McDonald’s advertising campaign. I had one of the related storybooks hawked in the following video — it was always kept at the very bottom of the attic’s Christmas Decorations box, to be lifted out at the end of every November and immediately chucked back in:

I actually watched SC:TM for the first time before writing this post. THE THINGS I DO FOR THIS BLOG — YOU”RE WELCOME, EARTH. “Watched” might be too strong a word. There was a lot — A LOT — of skipping involved, as I’d read the Super Special adaptation before my laptop screening, and the comic hews closely to its celluloid cousin. And what a cousin it is. Santa Claus: The Movie is that most toxic brand of family fare, one guaranteed to A) get parents looking at their watches and dreaming of the days when they didn’t have children that needed to be entertained, and to B) get kids squirming in their seats, bored out of their damn minds.

It’s awful. It’s not even entertainingly bad. It’s dull awful, which is the worst kind of awful that there is.

But there is one thing I found mildly entertaining, in a completely unintentional way. And I shall share it with you, as part of my catharsis.

Santa (played by David Huddleston, the Big Lebowski in The Big Lebowski) starts out as a common man named Claus, a childless fellow from a much earlier century who brings toys to children in his neck of the woods, wherever on the globe that may be. (The locale isn’t really clear, though judging by the darkness and horrific snow he may have been exiled to Siberia by an angry Tsar.) It’s after one of these cheery deliveries that he and his wife try to return home through a blizzard, despite the pleas of saner adults that he wait it out. Of course he gets stuck in a drift and faces certain death, dragging his wife and his reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, down with him:

Ah, reindeer laying down in the snow to die. Enjoy, kids!

Alas, it’s not their fate to become popsicles. Their deliverance is an elfy one:

“Vendegum” is this universe’s needlessly elaborate term for the mythical creatures that live in the frozen reaches of the world. I suppose it works better than “Annoying Creepy Ice Goblins, ” which admittedly has far too many syllables.

They show up out of nowhere, with big, scary Stepford Wives smiles plastered on their miniature faces, and drag the befuddled Claus and wife (and their still-living animatronic fakey reindeer) back to their hidden realm, which is your rote North Pole toy factory (lots of wood grains and bright paint):

In the movie there’s a lot more plywood on display. And I should note that they churn out the same stereotypical generic wooden toys always produced at the North Pole, which no self-respecting spoiled American child would ever accept.

The creepiest thing about this — and this is where the mild interest comes in — is that Claus’ coming has been foretold (by a Burgess Meredith elf, no less — GET UP, YA BUM), and his childless self is going to deliver the toys made by the Vendegum to children all over the world. Forever. (“Whether you like it or not” is left unsaid.) I think the look on Claus’ face in this last panel says it all:

If you’re having visions of Jack Torrance, the Overlook Hotel, Grady and his twins, you are not alone. “You have always been the caretaker here.” Claus has been rescued, but it’s rapidly taking on the dimensions of an abduction, and, though giving toys to kids has been his gratis pleasure for many years, now he’s going to be yoked to it for all time. I enjoy writing this blog, but if freaky little dudes popped out of the snow and told me they’d help me write it until Armageddon, I’d start looking for the the nearest exit.

Nevertheless, Claus embraces the elf lifestyle, bids goodbye to his mortal self, and sets in motion one of the more soporific Christmas stories ever forged. And we’re all so grateful.

I can’t even begin to relate how dumb the story is, with magical dust that makes reindeer (and people) fly, an evil toy manufacturer (played by John Lithgow) straight out of the Stock Christmas Cigar-Chomping Villain Depository, and Moore’s elf character Patch (an engineer), whose purported lovability is utterly unlovable.

And there are (OF COURSE) two kids that those in the target demographic can relate to, a rich girl and an urchin boy, the latter glimpsed in these depressing panels:

Don’t feel too bad for him, because in the film he’s remarkably healthy for living on the streets in the middle of winter and eating out of dumpsters. Only in Hollywood. Only in Christmas Hollywood. And only in comics, too.

Oh, and he and the girl in the end wind up living with the Vendegum as well. Which adds to the creep factor.

Sid Jacobson was saddled with the adaptation chores on the comic. Since it follows the film closely, he shouldn’t take any of the blame shrapnel for the dumbosity on display. Frank Springer tackled the art, and his work is actually a bright spot. It’s strong and bold, and receives the highest compliment from a reader: “I wish I could see this guy illustrating anything else besides this.”

So don’t blame the messengers.

As a final, back-breaking straw, there’s a propensity in the movie and the comic to use “cute” puns like “elf-reliance,” “elf-assurance,” “elf-made,” “elf-starter,” which is repeated in the adaptation. It’s so annoying all you want to do is commit (s)elf-strangulation. I’ll leave you with that. Yes, this Christmas movie makes you want so inflict greivous bodily harm on yourself.

I promise you, the next stop in the Marvel Super Special March will be much better.

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