Curiously, Santa Claus: The Movie is one of those Christmas movies that, unless you were a child in the 80s, or had a child in the 80s, you completely missed out on. Though it starred Dudley Moore, it was one of those ones that slipped through the cracks, and you probably will discover it on tv over the Christmas period, when you expect to see a completely different film and end up watching this because you can’t find the remote, and the turkey has made you so sleepy that you couldn’t move to change the channel manually if your life depended on it.
However, once you start watching, you realise that this movie is a little gem, a diamond in the rough of Christmas fodder. Saccharine sweet it may be, but it does it in such a charming manner that you can’t help but like it. Starting off way back in the 14th century or so, it shows how Santa Claus (or at least our version) gets his job from the previous and very very old Santa. The elves are happy at work merrily making toys for the populous, and content to stick with the way things have been done since the dawn of time. All but one elf, called Patch.
Patch (Dudley Moore, who takes great enjoyment out of playing an incredibly naive character) wants to modernise, streamline and get inventive, but when he modernises the way the toys are made and creates Christmas chaos as toys all over the globe fall apart on Christmas morning, he flees the workshop in disgrace, which is when the real fun begins. Patch heads for the big city, where the evil John Lithgow takes advantage of him, using his magical formula for making reindeer fly to make flying lollipops! Oh, and throw in an orphan, a street kid and some bonding (not bondage, it’s not that kind of movie) with Santa.
From the outside, this kind of movie is never going to work. It’s too formulaic, it’s too clichéd, it’s too cutesy, it won’t appeal to adults. The funny thing is, it does work. Sure, we know from the very beginning that everything will work out alright, that the orphan and street kid will become friends, that Santa will fix things so that it comes out with a perfect little bow on the top, but we don’t care. The joy of the movie is in getting there, in watching Dudley Moore’s childish face as he wins Santa’s trust and confidence with his new inventions, in his sadness when he sees the disappointment in Santa’s eyes when they start getting returns (Santa, getting returns?) down the chimney. The tense finale, filled with twists and turns (literally!) causes breath to be held and gasps to be gasped. The movie may be made for children, but it lets adults be kids too, at least for a little while, and after all, Christmas really is for kids.