Let’s talk about our first holiday short in Rankin/Bass month (I’ll try to mix up the holiday and non-holiday). We are talking about Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I have to say from the start this is not one I remember watching as a kid. I remember Rudolph but not this one for some reason. I’m not going to say this was my first watch-through but if I have seen it was a long time ago.
With that said, I will say- this movie is weird. It’s just the oddest assortment of strange story, characters, animation, and everything else. I don’t think that is a bad thing per say but it’s just a bit hard to write about. It’s really a very befuddling movie!
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town aired on ABC in 1970 and it is basically a Santa Claus origin story. Our narrator is SD Kluger (SD for Special Delivery) voiced by Fred Astaire who isn’t given as much to do as you might think.
Basically there is a villain named Burgermeister Meisterburger (a great name!) who hates everything. One morning a baby is dropped on his doorstep and he sends it away to the ‘orphan asylum’ and then the animals rescue the baby from him and the Winter Warlock and then take him to stay with the Kringle Family who make toys. Who knew St. Nick had such grim beginnings!
But luckily the Kringles are sweet and lovely people and Kris grows up and wants to restore the Kringle family as the official toymakers of the King (who knew the king needed such a thing?). So he sets out to make and deliver toys.
Unfortunately Burgermeister has outlawed all toys and basically any other kind of fun. Everything in Sombertown (the name of Burgermeister’s kingdom) is dark and gray and sad. He not only bans toys but declares they are ‘illegal, immoral and unlawful and that anyone who has a toy will be placed in a dungeon!’. These must have been quite the toys!
So that’s sort of the set-up and I won’t give any more away but it involves the magic of the Winter Warlock and Kris Kringle’s attempts to circumvent Burgermeister’s crazy laws. In the course of the story you find out origins for Santa’s name, his relationship and marriage to Mrs Claus, presents under the tree, Christmas trees, going down chimneys, December 24th for presents, flying reindeer etc.
I could see someone really roasting this movie. It’s just so nutty but I enjoyed watching it. It’s only an hour so it didn’t wear out its welcome and did surprise me with the strange choices. The ending is very odd in that Santa doesn’t really save the people from Burgermeister. His family rules for generation until the townsfolk come to their senses. That’s more than a little disturbing if you really think about it…
The voicework by Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn and Paul Frees is all fine and fun to hear but nothing too special.
The music is a bit of a letdown with nothing that stood out for me. Songs like ‘No More Toymakers to the King’ and ‘First Toymakers to the King’ weren’t anything special and ‘If You Sit on My Lap Today’ made me a little uncomfortable. It’s just odd for Santa to be asking kids to ‘be prepared to pay’ for sitting on his lap.
So overall it is an odd trippy little film but I enjoyed watching it. Have any of you seen Santa Claus is Coming to Town? Have you watched it recently? Let me know what you think. Thanks!
Hey guys! I just wanted to announce my Christmas series I am doing for my blog. Last year I did Scrooge Month where I reviewed 35 different versions of Christmas Carol. I thought long and hard about what to do for this year and decided it would be fun to talk about the Rankin/Bass animated specials and films, many of which are Christmas related.
Most people will be most familiar with Rankin/Bass stop motion TV specials including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Little Drummer Boy.
I love stop motion so I look forward to seeing all of these shorts again especially the one’s I haven’t seen or haven’t seen in a while.
Most of these films are from the 70s so it will be interesting to see how they age.
They also have traditional animation like Frosty the Snowman including a film I have already reviewed called The Stingiest Man in Town. I will not be reviewing that again.
Rankin/Bass Productions was founded by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass in 1960 in Japan. Many of the starting animators like Toru Hara would go on to work on Studio Ghibli with Hayo Miyazaki.
They were able to keep working with many of the same talent over the years including Maury Laws who did almost all of the music and Romeo Muller who wrote most of the screenplays. Paul Frees was also a frequent voice talent for them.
But over the years they also worked with many great stars including Andy Griffith, Burl Ives, Casey Kasem, Fred Astaire, Art Carney, Red Skelton, Walter Matthau, Danny Kaye and more.
Do you have a Rankin/Bass special that you love to watch around Christmas? I would love to hear about it and I look forward to the series. Like last year I will not be giving grades for this series as it is meant to be a joyful experience and not as critical as I might otherwise be. It’s Christmas for goodness sake!
Today I had the opportunity to go to an early screening for the new Christmas film Love the Coopers. It’s the kind of movie which is difficult to review because I can’t really defend it yet I didn’t hate it either. I am positive critics will savage this film and perhaps it is just my penchant for cheesy Christmas movies on TV from Hallmark or Lifetime that allows me to say I had an okay time watching this movie.
Love the Coopers is a story we’ve seen a million times in everything from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation to the Family Stone. It’s about a big family with parents (John Goodman, Diane Keaton) trying to host the perfect Christmas for their kids or everything will be ruined. Goodman and Keaton have no chemistry and their story arc isn’t believable at all.
Then you have the eccentric cast of characters that all get into hijinks:
Ed Helms as a down on his luck divorced Dad looking for a job so he can get the presents for his kids.
Alan Arkin as a sweet man and grandpa who has developed a friendship with a young waitress played by Amanda Seyfried (I liked their scenes until the last 20 minutes or so and then it gets weird). I wonder if his character will have some kind of medical episode that will remind everyone what Christmas is all about?…
Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy have a meet cute at an airport where she gets him to pretend to be her fiance (groan…) because she doesn’t want to hear grief from her parents on her life choices.
June Squibb is the goofy Aunt Fishy and then several kids with stories of their own.
The worst plotline was with Marisa Tomei as the old maid who attempts to shoplift a piece of jewelry for her sister (Diane Keaton) and she ends up doing psychotherapy on the arresting officer in what seemed like the longest drive to whatever precinct they were going too. It annoys me in films when therapy and especially something as complex as this man is evidently going through is whittled down to a few epitaphs and expressions.
So now it seems like I hated the movie. I didn’t. I can’t even explain why I was moderately entertained by all this ridiculousness. Call it escapist entertainment if you will but I suppose we all have our genres that we will accept a lot of nonsense. Cheesy Christmas movies is mine.
I suppose perhaps part of it is that I see the hijinks that happen in my own family and the drama and I think if that was made into a movie it wouldn’t look that different. There’s just something about the holidays that invites that kind of sentimentality and fluffy storytelling. I mean seriously when was the last great emotional holiday film? I wish this was good a family drama as say Dan in Real Life but I bought most of it.
Steve Martin does the voice-over narration for the film, which I actually liked and I thought a lot of the dialogue wasn’t half bad (except for the Tomei section. That was awful). The performers are all trying and it definitely looks nice.
I took one thing from the script that I have been pondering. I’m not sure who said it but someone says “the problem with the holidays is we try to schedule happiness. That might work for kids but not adults”. I think that is so true. I love the holidays. I love decorating the tree, making treats, buying gifts, being with loved ones. However, I do sometimes leave things feeling a little bit let down. It’s like I am anticipating magic when magic can’t be planned. Last year I spent Christmas mostly by myself, which was a little bit sad. I had family at Christmas Eve and went to a friends for brunch but most of the holiday I was alone. It was hard but in a way it was a relief. None of the pressure of being with family and being single at Christmas. It could just be an ordinary day and I could think about all I have to be thankful for. I don’t know if that makes sense but I liked that thought of the holidays trying to ‘schedule happiness’.
So, Love the Coopers isn’t a good movie but I still had an ok time watching it. It’s as simple as that.
Aside from some very bad teenage kissing (intentionally so for ‘jokes’) there really isn’t anything to offend people. I was a little annoyed how they make the conservative army guy such an outsider. Only insane people believe such things! Sigh…but this is basically a Hallmark movie as far as content goes.
I did like the way it used non-Christmas music in the soundtrack in interesting ways.
It’s basically a Hallmark movie in every way except for higher caliber of actors. So if you like that kind of holiday film than give this a go. If it sounds awful I guarantee you will hate it.
Here’s my youtube review.
Overall Grade- C-
Here’s the trailer which will give you an idea if it is your cup of tea.
Being Christmas and all I just had the chance to watch the annual favorite A Christmas Story (it is on 48 hours non-stop Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on TBS).
Well friends, I think it is worthy of such a marathon. In fact, I think it is one of the best portrayals of childhood ever in the movies. That’s right I will be that bold.
Yes it is funny but it has such heart and I relate to little Ralphie very strongly.
One of the great things about it is it is a couple weeks in the life of an ordinary family in the 30s. When you really think about it they pack a ton of story into one movie. The main plot is of course Ralphie’s desire to have a red ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle for Christmas and all the adults in his life telling him ‘you will shoot your eye out’.
But the subplots surrounding the air rifle are many and varied. We have Flick and the ice, Ralphie and his theme, the snow suit, the decoder pin, Ralphie’s Dad and the furnace and dogs, the Chinese restaurant, the pink bunny suit, the major award, Ralphie f-boming to his old man, I could go on.
But my favorite part is a subplot involving Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, the local bully and toadie. Peter Billingsley, who plays Ralphie, is so good in this scene and as someone who was bullied pretty badly it always gets to me.
It’s a terrific child actor performance and really moving when you think about the kind of trauma such a situation really is for a kid. It is no small thing. I love that Grover says ‘I’m telling my Dad’. That’s such good writing.
I also just LOVE his mother in these scenes played by Melinda Dillion. When she smooths things over with Dad and squeezes his arm it is such a touching moment between mother and son.
Like Home Alone Christmas Story is a movie that takes children seriously. Perhaps it is partly the dry wit yet warm narration that endears us to the story, helps us get inside the head of Ralphie but he is never treated like an idiot for being a kid. In fact, he is often the smartest one in the room.
There’s a real innocence to the picture that I love. I mean who can’t relate to betting your friends to do stupid things or that first time your parents catch you saying a naughty word? Most of us can. Most of us had Mothers who bundled us up too much for the winter and fathers who had their eccentric ways. I feel like a modern movie would put in a lot more silliness and be less grounded. We’d get strange pets and falls into swimming pools (and that slapstick can work as we see in Home Alone so it just depends). But Christmas Story has such heart and it at least rings true for the childhood in me.
It’s so well written too. The narration is done by Jean Shepherd who wrote the book the movie was based on and I have to tell you I’ve read the book and not near as funny or endearing as the movie. But his commentary is very well written and exactly what an adult would say when looking both cynically and nostalgically at his past.
But there are lots of little moments in the script that are brilliant. For instance, Ralphie is approached by The Wicked Witch while waiting to talk to Santa. He looks at her and says ‘go away. I’m thinking’. That is totally the kind of kid I was. I was social. I had friends just like Ralphie but I also had a contemplative, independent streak.
I also love the moment when Randy is upset over the bullying incident and the Mom finds him hiding in the dresser set. That’s just the kind of thing my sister would have done (My Dad was a total softee but if something big like that had happened she would have hidden away). I love that the Mom brings him his milk in the cubbard and let’s him stay there. Perfect.
The major award also totally rings true for me. My Father is a very passionate excitable guy. If he won a major award he would probably be equally excited. It’s those simple things in family life that can be the most humorous when looking back on them and that’s essentially what the narrator is doing. It’s hilarious and just lovely.
The pink bunny suit is also hilarious. How many of us also got that one gift from a distant relative that we didn’t want to wear? I certainly did. It’s a funny well written scene that most of us can empathize with. Love it.
I love it is Father who gets him the air rifle. It shows he is listening all along and shows a tenderness we hadn’t gotten since then. What a lucky kid Ralphie is to have such a wonderful family!
Finally, I love this movie because it is set in Indiana and shows the tough but sweet side of my Hoosier friends. Even Ralphie’s fantasies feel like the kind of daydreaming a kid would actually do. It all just works for me.
I love it. It makes me cry throughout and laugh. It is a wonderful movie and I’m glad it gets seen by so many every Christmas.
It’s amazing it was directed by Bob Clark who helmed such classics as Baby Geniuses 1 and 2 and the Porky’s movies which are so lame and crass. I guess it’s the 1 hit wonder of directing. Wonderful job!
The abhorrent sequel recently produced one of the Nostalgia Critics best reviews. (language warning)