A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Santa Claus: The Movie is a 1985 holiday film that is both about the origin of Santa Claus and the story of an evil toymaker (played by John Lithgow) who seeks to take over Christmas with the help of a prodigal elf (played by Dudley Moore). Although the abrupt shift in tone from the first half of the movie to the second is jarring, of greater concern is the constant smoking, as Lithgow's character is always shown smoking a cigar. There also is lots of consumerism (product placement for McDonald's) and mild profanity ("crap," "sucks," "hell"). Although the movie does teach lessons on Christmas being a time of selfless giving, and there are some clever moments along the way, overall, the movie's inability to decide exactly what it wants to be makes the cynical tone of the second half a bit much for both parents and kids.
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What's the story?
A master toymaker (David Huddleston) and his wife deliver Christmas presents to all the children of their village each year. But when they're trapped in a blizzard, they're rescued by magical elves who take them to the North Pole, where the toymaker and his wife become Santa and Mrs. Claus and are given the chance to deliver presents to children all over the world. Christmases go wonderfully for centuries until an ambitious elf named Patch (Dudley Moore) invents an automated system of toymaking that eventually results in the creation of shoddy, easily broken toys that kids learn to despise. Patch is fired and makes his way to the New York City of the 1980s, where he makes the acquaintance of a wicked and greedy toymaker named B.Z. (John Lithgow), whose business is going under because his company's toys are cheap and unsafe. Patch and B.Z. form a partnership and plan to market a new product invented by Patch -- candy that makes those who eat it become weightless. B.Z. wants to take over Christmas, but Santa -- with the help of a young street urchin and B.Z.'s kindhearted stepniece, as well as a remorseful Patch -- has other ideas.
Is it any good?
The biggest problem with SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE is its jarring shift in style, tone, and attitude from the first half of the movie to the second. In the first half, the viewer is presented with a story of how Santa Claus came to be, and the film has the basic air of a wholesome and traditional Christmas movie. However, somewhere along the way, the tone shifts to something more cynical, perhaps like Scrooged in its humor, as the movie moves into 1980s New York City and follows a corrupt and greedy toy manufacturer looking to take Christmas (and its profits) all for himself. Santa Claus makes occasional appearances in the second half, but his scenes are flat-out stolen by the evil toymaker (played with over-the-top gusto by John Lithgow) and his unwitting accomplice, played by Dudley Moore.
If the movie had been entirely like the first half, or entirely like the second half, it would have been much better. Unfortunately, as a movie that tries to be two movies in one, it falls short in every way -- as both an attempt to present a heartwarming story of the origin of Santa Claus and as a satire of corporate 1980s-style greed at the expense of the real Christmas spirit.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Christmas movies. How is this one similar to and different from other Christmas movies?
What are some of the positive values often showcased in holiday movies, and how are they usually presented?
What are your thoughts on the shift in tone, style, and attitude from the first half of the movie to the second?
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