Film / Santa Claus: The Movie

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A 1985 film from the producers of the first three Superman movies (and the director of Supergirl), starring Dudley Moore as one of Santa's elves and John Lithgow as a Corrupt Corporate Executive who seeks to commercialize Santa's Christmas magic. David Huddleston plays Santa, but doesn't get above-the-title billing despite playing the title character.

The film's first act presents an origin story for Santa and proceeds to follow the growth of his legend over the centuries. The remainder of the film takes place in the then-Present Day. While Santa befriends both a Street Urchin and a Lonely Rich Kid in New York City, the aforementioned elf Patch — after screwing up one Christmas with an ill-fated attempt to bring an automated production system to the workshop — heads to the Big Apple himself and falls in with the sinister toy mogul B.Z. B.Z. agrees to distribute Patch's amazing new invention, one that can rival anything Santa's produced. From there the villain intends to build on its success to conquer Christmas altogether...no matter who gets hurt in the process, because there's a dangerous flaw in Patch's creations that only B.Z. and an underling are aware of. Can Santa and his friends save Christmas and the spirit of giving?

Not to be confused with the Mexican film Santa Claus (1959).

The film provides examples of:

  • Applied Phlebotinum: Stardust, which is capable of temporarily inducing flight. It's mixed in with the reindeer's fodder on Christmas Eve for Santa's big journey around the Earth. The Patchmobile follows suit by running on stardust-laced fuel. Most important to the plot, stardust also works on humans, becoming the secret ingredient in the lollipops that Patch creates and making them a must-have item around the world. Unfortunately, when exposed too long to heat (which is not an issue at the North Pole) stardust becomes explosive, and the candy canes intended for Christmas II have more of it as an ingredient at B.Z.'s orders...
  • Award-Bait Song: "Christmas All Over the World", performed by Sheena Easton over the end credits.
  • Bad Santa: The drunken Salvation Army-type Santa that Joe observes in his first scene.
  • Beta Outfit: The elves make his suit, but Mrs. Claus doesn't think green works. When red is suggested by Patch, everyone is enthusiastic (except for another elf who suggested 'brown'), as it goes with Santa's rosy cheeks.
  • Big Applesauce: The Present Day characters live in New York City. Come the Christmas Eve when Santa first crosses paths with Joe and Cornelia, his flight into the city is given much fanfare (to the point that footage from this sequence was used in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Radio City Music Hall's annual stage show, for years).
  • Big Damn Heroes: This may be the only movie where North Pole reindeer get this moment.
  • Billed Above the Title: David Huddleston doesn't get it, but it's justified, since the film was initially marketed to suggest that Santa Claus was playing himself, since no actor could do him justice. (This is carried through to the making-of special ABC aired.) And though his billing isn't at the top of the cast list proper, Huddleston is the first performer listed/shown in the end credits.
  • Bindle Stick: Patch has one of these as he runs away from the North Pole, but rather than containing personal belongings, it's full of the stardust he needs for his plan to prove himself to Santa and the world.
  • Broken Aesop: Puffy's approach (quality with careful craftsmanship) is shown to be superior to Patch's approach (mass production with no quality control), yet Patch is a plucky hero, and Puffy is a stick-in-the-mud minor antagonist.
  • Cassandra Truth: Subverted with Cornelia. She thinks the police don't believe her warning about B.Z., but given their response, they obviously do.
  • Catch a Falling Star: By finally executing the Super Duper Looper, Santa and the reindeer manage to perfectly position the sleigh to catch Patch and Joe in its backseat when the two are thrown into the air by the Patchmobile's explosion.
  • Chair Reveal: Played straight twice.
    • When B.Z. arrives at his office after his disastrous Senate hearing, he's shocked to see his own armchair turn around to reveal a cheerful Patch sitting in it ("I thought you'd never get here!").
    • On the Christmas Eve of the lollipop giveaway, while the advertisement is playing all over New York City and elsewhere, Cornelia is called into the office of her previously-mentioned, usually absent but tonight visiting uncle, whose chairback is to her (he's watching the ad) as she enters. "Merry Christmas, Uncle." The chair swivels to reveal none other than a gleeful B.Z. "It certainly should be! [Evil Laugh]"
  • Chase Scene: The movie's climax. Patch and Joe head back to the North Pole in the Patchmobile, neither aware that the candy canes in its trunk will eventually explode due to exposure to the heat of its inner workings. Santa and his reindeer, accompanied by Cornelia, must catch up with them to effect a rescue, a task made tougher by the fact that two of the reindeer are out sick.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The wooden figure of an elf that Santa carves for Joe to serve as the boy's first Christmas present. Santa doesn't realize until he's finished that, as Anya points out, the figure is the spitting image of the now-runaway Patch. Joe keeps the figure on his person upon receiving it, unaware of its special significance, and while he's angrily confronting Patch in the cellars of B.Z.'s factory it falls out of his coat. Upon seeing it and learning who made it, Patch realizes that Santa still cares about him despite everything, and resolves to leave for the North Pole immediately (with Joe in tow).
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Patch is mainly a source of exposition in the opening third, but come the present day plotline and Santa deciding to hold a contest to choose an assistant, his role in the story becomes much bigger.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The Super Duper Looper, a special reindeer flying maneuver that Santa's team has never quite been able to pull off.
  • Chewing the Scenery: John Lithgow, with a knife and fork, as B.Z.
  • The Chosen One: Santa is actually called this.
  • Christmas Elves: Of course. They're known in the folklore of Claus and Anya's people as Vendequm, but prefer to be called elves. They are friendly immortals and very slow-aging; all of them are adult and male. With regards to size, they are noticeably shorter than Claus and Anya, a trick pulled off by the filmmakers via 1) casting only actors 5'2" and under and 2) using terraced sets.
  • Cigar Chomper: B.Z., and he's obnoxious about it too; Patch spends much of the conversation in which the idea of Christmas II is broached coughing thanks to all the smoke.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Yet another movie Marvel adapted into a 3-issue miniseries in The '80s, later collected into one volume. Given that the film has the same plot structure as any number of movies adapted from comic books, this is fitting.
  • Cool Toy: Or rather, a Cool Treat: Patch's lollipops allow people who consume them to temporarily fly thanks to the secret ingredient of stardust. Beat that, Turbo Man! B.Z. realizes that giving them away for free at Christmas will create such huge demand for more that he'll have no problem charging kids/their parents the next time around. From there, the candy canes are intended to be even cooler, with more stardust in them to allow people to fly higher, but that also makes them more dangerous.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: B.Z.
  • Credits Montage: The end credits start by showing a clip of each major character next to the name of their actor, and move on to an assortment of clips from throughout the movie but especially the workshop sequences. For bonus points, some clips appear to be from deleted scenes/sequences.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Dooley and Patch tend to repeat their own phrases in inverse order. ("I'm sure they're fine and dandy, dandy and fine!")
  • Didn't Think This Through: B.Z., on a couple of occasions.
    • In one case, he plans to mark his magic candy canes for hundreds of dollars. When asked where kids will get that kind of money, he says he doesn't care; he'll just sell the item and watch the money come rolling in. A fundamental rule of economics: if your target audience can't afford the product, they won't buy it. End of discussion.
    • B.Z.'s plan to avoid the authorities by fleeing to Brazil. One small problem. Depending on the scope of his marketing, Brazil may not have an extradition agreement with the U.S., but it might have one with some country where B.Z. has marketed his goods. Secondly, depending on how successful his marketing is (and whether he can overcome the flaw mentioned above), his product could end up killing a significant number of the children (and a fair number of adults) in the country. Obviously, this movie was made before 9/11, but in hindsight, it is clear that, especially in the wake of a tragedy that could dwarf 9/11, the U.S. wouldn't let such niceties as extradition treaties (or lack thereof) stop them from taking down B.Z. by any means necessary.
    • Ultimately, considering the end result of B.Z.'s attempt to evade arrest, he obviously didn't think that one through.
  • Digital Destruction: Inverted. The original Media Home Video VHS release had a disastrously soft image on top of its J-D-C Scope dimensions being subjected to pan-and-scan, and after initial airings of a sharper print on HBO in the late 1980s, it was apparently this print that was in circulation on television for decades. It wasn't until the Turn of the Millennium DVD release that a quality home media release was made available, and even then the old TV print was the one that remained in circulation until 2016, when it was replaced by a much sharper one.
  • Disney Villain Death: Inverted. B.Z. flies up to his doom after eating the candy canes to evade the police.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: B.Z.'s plan to charge astronomical fees for his magic candy canes, not caring where kids get the money, sounds a lot like an Aggressive Drug Dealer.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: A humorously played variant with some justification. B.Z. explains to Patch that television is the best way to inform the public about his special product, and that with enough money an ad can reach everyone he wants it to. Patch decides they will buy airtime for a one-off advertisement on Christmas Eve going out to "All the countries, all the channels!" B.Z. is upset by the expense that will require, but ultimately agrees to the plan, and it works. Even the sole television at the North Pole picks up the transmission.
  • Enfant Terrible: Discussed. B.Z. explains to Patch at their first meeting that he doesn't believe in Santa because "He never brought me anything." When Patch responds "That's because you probably were a naughty boy", B.Z. chuckles and admits "Yes, I guess I was no angel."
  • Evil Uncle: B.Z. is Cornelia's step-uncle. He treats her pretty well, but he doesn't seem to care much about her. ("He probably doesn't know what grade I'm in.")
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Most of the elves seem to be living in the ancient past, utterly aware of the outside world or how times have changed. Notably averted with Patch, who seems to be aware of (and even predicting) modern technology such as television, alarm clocks, and indoor heating.
  • Fish out of Water: Patch in New York.
  • Flying Car: The Patchmobile.
  • Flying Postman: Variation — As soon as no human is around to see it happen, letters to Santa Claus are magically swept off to the North Pole, tumbling down a giant chimney to be collected by the elves. The defective toys that Patch's mass-production system creates end up being "returned" to the North Pole after they break in this manner. After Cornelia learns of B.Z.'s treachery she writes a letter to Santa asking for his help and while she isn't able to finish it, as soon as she leaves her room it is swept away to alert Santa to the emergency.
  • For the Evulz: B.Z.
  • Gadgeteer Genius / Bungling Inventor: Patch, as noted above, is not a Fish out of Temporal Water as the other elves are and is capable of creating wonderful things, but falls straight into the latter trope whenever his enthusiasm blinds him to the potential flaws of those things, resulting first in the mass-production system (which when operated at full speed malfunctions, resulting in defective toys) and later the candy canes (which will explode if exposed to heat too long) going horribly wrong. The Novelization sees this as his major character flaw, noting that his mind "was as bright as a star, but as undisciplined as it was unique."
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: B.Z. exclaims "shit!" under his breath when Joe bites him near the end of the film. Presumably this wasn't audible enough to be considered a problem or noticed by the censors, but it's easier to tell on the home video releases where it can be rewound.
  • Hollywood Law: B.Z. plans to flee to Brazil to escape prosecution, given that Brazil had no extradition treaty with the U.S.. Two problems: 1) At the time of the movie, Brazil had an extradition treaty with the U.S. for twenty years (and, for the present-day sequence, this is not meant to be a Period Piece); and 2) lack of an extradition treaty doesn't prevent a country from voluntarily extradititing a fugitive, particularly if the fugitive is a foreign national (and if the U.S. puts on the pressure).
  • How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: Santa is gifted with the ability to hold sway over time, so Christmas Eve doesn't end until he finishes his job. (This seems to apply to Patch too once he enters the human world; both of them are established as having the same short-distance teleportation abilities.)
  • Innocent Inaccurate: The reason Patch decides to throw in his lot with B.Z. He arrives in New York City and sees a display of B.Z.'s toys in a store window — and assumes that the store employees clearing out the lot are doing so because they're popular. It's actually because they're all being recalled. When B.Z. realizes that Patch doesn't know about his corrupt ways and legal problems, he makes sure that Patch can't find out the truth.
  • In Universe Nickname: Joe good-naturedly nicknames Cornelia the simpler "Corny". She doesn't mind.
  • The Joy of First Flight: Four times!
    • Santa Claus's first Christmas takeoff and journey is a colossal celebration for him and everyone else at the North Pole.
    • Joe's first ride with Santa in the sleigh over New York City is a similarly joyous occasion for the boy.
    • Patch's initial flight in the Patchmobile is presented in a similar manner to Santa's first flight, just with a smaller crowd of B.Z. and his underlings cheering him on.
    • Much of humanity gets to feel this when they find out what makes Patch's lollipops so special. The first person seen experiencing it is Miss Tucker, Cornelia's sourpuss nanny, who only takes a bite because the girl doesn't want it. She laughs delightedly upon floating up, adding "I feel just like Mary Poppins!"
  • Karma Houdini: Patch is responsible for the catastrophic Christmas delivery and somewhat to blame for the mess caused in the second half of the movie, but he's Easily Forgiven.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Santa starts to become disillusioned by the progress of time and depressed that Christmas has lost a lot of its magic and sanctity over the years. People lack any goodwill towards one another, and the holiday season seems to now bring out the worst in them. Children don't appreciate the hard work his elves put into their gifts. Mrs Claus reminds them of their purpose and reason for being. But this development/story arc cannot be addressed properly, due to Patch running off.
    • An additional scene in the Marvel Comics adaptation, in which Santa visits New York City shortly after the Christmas of the puce pop giveaway, reveals that Patch accidentally makes matters worse for Santa because the pops are so popular that everybody becomes focused on what they get rather than what they give for Christmas, making him feel even more irrelevant.
  • Large Ham: B.Z.
    B.Z.: For FREEEEEEEEE!!!!???!?!?!!?!?!?
    B.Z.: We'll call it... CHRISTMAS 2!!!!!!
    B.Z.: Santa Claus... is FINISHED!
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Towzer and Grizzard are both arrested for the kidnapping. B.Z. avoids this fate — for a worse one!
  • Left Hanging: The ending doesn't resolve several outstanding conflicts:
    • What's Patch's role rejoining the team? Puffy presumably is still Santa's Assistant.
    • Did Cornelia have a home to come back to? Her uncle seems to have been her benefactor and he's dead.
    • Is Joe homeless when he returns to New York in a year? (All There in the Manual: The dialogue in the Marvel Comics adaptation suggests Santa will adopt him.)
    • Santa's name is still mud after the disastrous Christmas delivery halfway through the movie. Any redemption is never shown.
  • Letter Motif: B.Z.'s underlings all have at least one Z in their names (Towzer, Grizzard, Miss Abruzzi).
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Cornelia doesn't seem to have any relatives aside from the usually-absent (and evil) B.Z., only having her strict nanny for company until she gets to know Santa Claus and Joe. After the disastrous Christmas of mass-produced toys, she has an argument with a fellow student at ballet class that culminates with the latter insulting her over not having parents. Cornelia responds with a stinging slap.
  • Long Last Look: As Patch runs away and crosses over into the human world, he takes a last look back at the North Pole as it fades from view.
  • Made of Explodium: The candy canes contain a large quantity of volatile stardust (more so than the lollipops did at B.Z.'s demand) and will explode if they get too hot.
  • Mrs. Claus: In this adaptation, Claus and Anya are an elderly couple without children before they become Santa and Mrs. Claus.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The dancers and singers for Patch's commercial are just a step below Vegas showgirls.
  • Must Make Amends: When Patch realizes his attempt to get back into Santa's good graces not only wasn't necessary but also made matters worse, he decides to return to the North Pole via Patchmobile and take all the candy canes already produced for B.Z. with him so Santa can give them away at Christmas instead. Thing is, he doesn't know that the candy canes are explosive...
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Upon freeing Joe, Patch is shocked to learn from the boy that he actually made matters worse for Santa with his attempt to get back into his good graces. It doesn't help that Joe doesn't know what Patch actually is (he thought him to just be a "weird guy on TV") or that he didn't know he was being manipulated by B.Z., so Joe straight-up regards him as a villain until the Chekhov's Gun of the figurine falls out of his coat.
  • My Little Panzer: Every toy B.Z.'s company made, including a teddy bear stuffed with sawdust and construction nails. (Most of these, like the bear, seem to be For the Evulz given that they would cost more than just doing it right.)
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Opening with an iconic view of Capitol Hill, the British trailer for this movie makes it seem like a story about corporate corruption and politics, with Santa having a minor part at best. By comparison, the full-length U.S. trailer presents it as the cinematic-Superman-meets-Christmas adventure it actually is.
  • New Technology Is Evil: The elves' first foray into mass production is a disaster.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Patch, from his appointment as Santa's assistant until his rescue of Joe. Quite literally, too; his inventions tending to work for a while and then break down/have a disastrous flaw is how he keeps screwing up.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Patch is an excellent case of what happens when a person's genuinely good intentions, coupled with enthusiasm, blind them to the flaws in their plans — they backfire terribly.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Subverted. See Cassandra Truth.
  • Novelization: Several were produced: A traditional novelization and a storybook abridgment of same that added extensive photos, both revealing major backstory about the elves and Joe, and several paperback picture books for younger kids (some specifically distributed through McDonald's restaurants; see Product Placement below) that each focused on a specific stretch of the story.
  • An Odd Place to Sleep: While living in B.Z.'s factory, Patch takes to sleeping in the trunk of the Patchmobile once he's built it. Given what an industrial, lonesome place the factory is compared to the North Pole, it makes some sense that he would sleep in the thing that most closely brings his true home to mind.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: B.Z.
  • Only One Name: Everyone except Dr. Eric Towzer.
  • Periphery Demographic: In-universe. The magic lollipops are marketed to kids, but it seems some adults like them even more.
  • The Power of Friendship: Patch is the caretaker to the reindeer and is deeply fond of them to the point that they're the only beings he bids goodbye to when he runs away. In the climax, Santa encourages his depleted team (two are out sick with the flu) to fly as they never have before for the sake of their friend, and this culminates in them finally being able to execute the Super Dooper Looper by way of saving him and Joe.
  • Product Placement: For Coca-Cola and McDonald's. The latter had several giveaway premiums — storybooks and reindeer ornaments, of which this troper still has two.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Both ways with B.Z.'s henchmen. Played straight with the Adorkable toady, Towzer, who doesn't seem malicious, just weak-willed. Inverted with Grizzard, who is a genuinely mean bastard.
  • Relationship Reveal: Cornelia's absent uncle turns out to be B.Z., a reveal made with the help of a Chair Reveal (see above).
  • Santa Claus: It's in the title, after all.
  • Santa Clausmas: Christmas is all about the sacred duty of Santa to give toys to children. There are hints that toymaking is a religion in itself to the elves, but the religious meaning of Christmas itself is omitted, a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to appeal to the widest possible audience (although Santa's first takeoff is underscored with an instrumental "Joy to the World").
  • Saving Christmas: The film's first half features Santa's Origin, then averts this trope with the unfortunate mass-produced Christmas and its unhappy aftermath. From there, the second half weaves together Taking Over Christmas, The Elf Who Tried Too Hard, and in the late going The Sleigh's Broke (two of the reindeer are sick and the rest are still tired from Christmas Eve) as Santa and his friends must stop the holiday from being ruined for good by "Christmas II" (the combination of B.Z.'s greed and Patch's Must Make Amends).
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: Not only is the villain B.Z. an obnoxious Cigar Chomper, but unlike most traditional depictions of Santa Claus up to that point, the one in this movie doesn't so much as have a pipe.
  • Smug Snake: B.Z.
  • Spinning Paper: A short montage of front pages from around the world attest to the huge success of Patch's lollipops.
  • Start My Own: An unusual version. After the disaster of the mass-production system leads to Patch losing his job as Santa's assistant, he sets off to the human world to create and distribute another invention, and with B.Z.'s assistance becomes Santa's potential rival. But Patch only wants to prove himself to Santa and get back into his good graces, not realizing that Santa still thinks very highly of him. He helps B.Z. create "Christmas II" only because he believes that the children of the world will be disappointed if he doesn't.
  • Stock Sound Effects: The Patchmobile makes the Batwing noise in the climax.
  • Street Urchin: Joe. The Novelization explains that he never knew his mother and was abandoned by his father.
  • Stupid Evil: B.Z.; he invokes Didn't Think This Through more than once (see above) and it ends up his undoing.
  • Thememobile: The Patchmobile, a mostly-wooden flying car that Patch creates and uses to distribute the lollipops as his equivalent to Santa's sleigh.
  • The Theme Park Version: The "North Pole" created for the TV commercial used to unveil the lollipops to the world is a chintzy Variety Show-style set with an overblown production number to go with it. Patch is upset by the whole business because it doesn't remotely resemble the warm, wooden city set in the quiet Arctic that he knows and misses, but Towzer explains "The public doesn't want the reality, they want the dream."
  • Think of the Children!: Used twice in the second half.
    • B.Z. convinces Patch to stay just a little longer in New York to develop a followup to the lollipops by telling him to do it not just for B.Z., but for all the children of the world.
    • Towzer argues to B.Z. that they can't go ahead with selling the exploding candy canes because children would be put at risk, but B.Z. convinces him that it's better to take the money and run away. Besides, if kids get hurt, then it's the fault of their parents for being so "reckless" as to have things like radiators in their houses!
  • Title: The Adaptation: Santa Claus: The Movie...although the actual title that appears onscreen is just Santa Claus. This quirk of marketing is carried over from the same producers' Superman: The Movie.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: What B.Z. is striving to be. To put it mildly he isn't thrilled by the prospect of spending tons of money to get the advertisement for Patch's lollipops on every channel, and even less so by the prospect of giving said lollipops away for free! But he promptly realizes that doing this will do a lot for his public image and agrees to the plan.
  • Weight Woe: As the elves are reading to Santa the poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Santa gets self-conscious over the line about his "little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly." Mrs. Claus tells him it's probably from all the cookies. The next scene shows him eating vegetables, but then it's never touched upon again.
  • When It All Began: The first half of the story.
  • Where Do You Think You Are?: B.Z.'s outraged response to Patch's plan to give away the lollipops spurs the latter to say "But that's how we do it at the North Pole!" B.Z. roars "Well, that's not how we do it here!" and begins explaining exactly how the free-market system works — but then realizes that Patch's plan could be just the P.R. boost he needs under his current circumstances.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Patch genuinely wants to help Santa (and by extension the world) with his innovative creations in the modern day, but his innocence and enthusiasm get in the way of noticing their flaws until it's too late. These character traits also allow him to be deceived and exploited by B.Z. Justified because the North Pole is a largely peaceful place and the elves aren't aware of just how dark humanity can be, so they're all idealistic by nature; the others don't initially think Patch can get in any trouble when he runs away.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Cornelia tells Santa she called the police to warn them about B.Z.'s candy canes and Joe's kidnapping, but she doesn't think they believed her. Apparently, they did, because they try to arrest him shortly afterward. This is probably because they believed Joe had been kidnapped, and child kidnapping isn't taken lightly by the NYPD at all, and given all the legal troubles B.Z. was facing to begin with, Cornelia probably had the police's attention the minute she mentioned him!
  • Your Size May Vary: The elves vary between a few feet tall to normal humans but a bit short.


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