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Film / Ernest Saves Christmas

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"You know, I've carried this torch for more seasons than... I should have done. 'Cause I loved it so much. But now... I've taken to making notes! Well, you can't do it that way! It shouldn't be done that way! It can't be done that way..."
Santa Claus

A 1988 film starring Jim Varney as his signature character, Ernest P. Worrell. In it, Ernest has to save Christmas by helping Santa Claus, who has been incarcerated after trying to track down a man who has been chosen to be the next Santa. It's up to Ernest to get Santa out of jail and get a hold of Joe, the man chosen to be the next Santa.

Tropes present:

  • '80s Hair: Harmony has a Cyndi Lauper-style mullet with side ponytail.
  • Aborted Arc: The very last scene of the film is a Sequel Hook setting up a potential Easter-themed Ernest adventure. Not a single one of the later movies followed up on this.
  • All-Loving Hero: Santa and Joe. It's actually one of the main requirements in being chosen as Santa.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Joe is being forced to star in a movie that is essentially this, but it goes against his morals.
  • Answer Cut: When Ernest tries to convince Harmony that Santa is real, she sarcastically asks where his reindeer was. It then cuts back to the airport holding, where the reindeer are with Chuck and Bobby.
  • Bag of Holding: Santa's gift sack, of course.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Chuck asks who works on Christmas Eve, seemingly in disbelief that anyone would be working and picking up something then, before saying with pride that he and Bobby work on Christmas Eve along with other important events.
  • Batman Gambit: Santa wanted Harmony to steal the sack in order for her to learn what Christmas is all about and to take stock of her life.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Ernest proves to be a master of it.
  • Berserk Button: The director of "Christmas Slay" sure knows how to tick Santa off.
    "Terrorize Christmas?!" *POW*
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Santa punches the director of the sci-fi/horror movie Joe's up for in the face after learning how meanspirited it is, giving him a black eye.
  • Brick Joke: Early in the movie, Santa meets a man who wants to see snow on Christmas, but is resigned to the balmy weather of Orlando. Guess what's the first thing the new Santa does with his powers.
  • Consummate Liar: Harmony is a skilled liar who can get away with many crimes like dine-and-dashing through elaborate, detailed lies. That, and because Ernest by coincidence arrived to drive her away from the waiter about to call the police on her for failing to pay for her meal.
  • Curse Cut Short: "Die, you son of a...son of a..." Joe just can't swear. Especially in front of children.
  • Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Nixon: It's a running gag that Ernest can't remember Blitzen's name in particular, referring to him as "Blister" when giving Santa a ride. At the climax, Ernest was trying a few terms to get the sleigh to take off, while the cops are arriving. The Christmas elves primed him by naming the first two reindeer, and Ernest managed to continue to in sequence. He fumbles with Blitzen, naming Squeaky, Squish, Dopey, Grumpy, Blister, before the elves give the correct name of Blitzen. Right before the end of the movie, while prepping the sleigh for the new Santa's big flight, Ernest lists off the names of the reindeer, but stalls when getting to Blitzen, which prompted everyone else to say Blitzen's name to remind Ernest.
  • December–December Romance: One seems to be brewing between Santa — aka Seth Applegate — and Mary Morrison. For bonus points, it's starting in December.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Santa starts to crack when it looks like Joe won't show up to take the job, and Harmony won't come back with the sack. He later says he never lost faith... except a little.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Ernest getting his fare to the airport on time. The poor guy is literally scared stiff once they arrive and Ernest has to pull him out of the seat.
    • And again in the sleigh, though this is due to him having trouble controlling it.
  • E = MC Hammer: Ernest has one of these moments when Harmony has her doubts about Santa Claus:
    Harmony: There's no such thing! Think about it: a guy who flies around the whole world in one night. It just doesn't quite correspond to the laws of time and travel.
    Ernest: Now, now, now, now, now, it's possible. You take the International Date Line, multiply it by the Time Zones, divided by the accelerated rotation of the earth... uh, carry the 1, and, uh, allowing for the Vernal Equinox on the Tropic of Cancer, he might just pull it off.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For Harmony, running out of a restaurant without paying. For Joe, doing a puppet show for a group of children. For Ernest, is being pretty jovial while driving like his cab like a madman.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The entirety of the film takes place in less than 48 hours. Justified in that it starts on December 23rd and it's a Race Against the Clock to find the new Santa by Christmas Eve night.
  • Face Cam: Just like in the Ernest P. Worrell commercials, the movie includes a brief scene from Vern's POV.
  • Friend to All Children:
    • Joe Carruthers, which is why he's the perfect candidate to be Santa's replacement.
    • As well as the old Santa, as his Berserk Button indicates. This, more than anything else, is the trait a retiring Santa looks for when selecting a replacement.
  • Here We Go Again!: The last scene shows Chuck and Bobby getting a new delivery: the Easter Bunny.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Beneath Harmony's streetwise tough girl act and thieving ways is someone who regrets her course in life and misses her parents.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Christmas Slay (a movie Joe is considering starring in) is a horror flick about an alien attacking kids on Christmas Eve. Joe struggles with actually signing on, and Santa isn't pleased, either.
  • How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: Ernest gives a theory that's just plain Technobabble. For example, to visit houses without a chimney, he ponders that Santa can turn himself into a gelatinous goo and sneak in through the water pipes. The actual carrying of the toys themselves is explained via use of Fantastic Science to turn all the toys he needs into small spherical orbs of light that re-materialize upon removal from his sack.
  • Hyperspace Wardrobe: As with every Ernest movie, Ernest has costumes at hand for every scheme he needs to pull.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Harmony claims that she doesn't eat red meat because it makes people aggressive. Then at Vern's house she sees a plate of bacon cheeseburgers and goes right for them.
  • Lady Mondegreen: In-universe—several people mishear Santa's name as "Santos" - probably because they're in Florida.
  • Large Ham: Ernest P. Worrell, just before his takeoff to bring the sleigh to Santa:
    Ernest: It's time to slip the surly bounds of Earth, and dance the skies on laughter's silver wings.
    Thisbe: Oh, brother...
  • Legacy Character: Santa is this. At some point, he must pass the torch to a new Santa before his powers fade away.
  • Let There Be Snow: The first Christmas wish granted by the new Santa is one man's earlier desire for snow.
  • Master of Disguise: Ernest P. Worrell, disguised as a snake farmer, governor's aide Astor Clement, and Auntie Nelda.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Harmony eventually comes to this realization after she steals Santa's magic toy sack.
    • The old Santa begins to sadly realize, that he kept going in his festive-role far longer than he should have done. Because he loved it so much. He's made the task of appointing a new Santa that much harder for himself. In cherishing Christmas too much, he may have doomed the holidays for everyone forever.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Joe, the new Santa being brought into the position, is a pretty clear tribute to Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. An intelligent older gentleman and loving Friend to All Children who hosts a weekly children's program on public television (Uncle Joey's Treehouse) and entertains kids with soft gentle lessons and puppetry. Unlike the actual Mr. Rogers, though, Joe is much less successful career-wise, which frees him up to become Santa.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Upon learning that Santa has no legal currency (only "play money"), Ernest agrees to not charge Santa for the taxi ride, and gets fired for it.
  • Noodle Incident: Santa had hoped to transfer the powers much sooner, but he had experienced various unexplained delays while narrowing the list of candidates down to Joe.
  • No Antagonist: The only Ernest movie not to have any sort of central villain. Joe's agent Marty is the closest example as he is somewhat of a jerk and provides some trouble such as being the one who has Santa arrested, but he does not do so out of any intentional malevolence and does legitimately believe that he's helping Joe's career.
  • No Sympathy: Chuck, upon seeing Bobby has been crushed by a crate, merely tells him "break's over" before going back to what he was doing.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: This version of Ernest seems the most capable, and is thought to be playing up his stupidity. He did not actually believe that Santa is indeed Santa Claus until searching his sack, being skeptical of Harmony being alone with Santa's sack and her lies. He of course comes up with the schemes to get Santa out of jail, get Joe's location and sneak Santa into the studio.
  • "Oh, Crap!" Smile: Upon Joe, now the new Santa, asking where the sleigh is, Seth, the old Santa, can only nervously chuckle like Ernest as he has no idea either.
  • Oh, No... Not Again!: After going on a crazy ride in the sleigh with Ernest, the elves give a silent, mouthing Oh, Crap! when Joe (as the new Santa) invites Ernest to drive again.
  • Overly Long Gag: "M." "V." "M." "V." "M." "V." "M." "V."
    • "Oh Christmas tree oh Christmas tree...oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree."
  • Pals with Jesus: Ernest strikes up a friendship with the retiring Santa Claus, a.k.a. Seth Applegate, and his successor, Joe Carruthers.
  • Parental Neglect: According to Santa, Harmony ran away because her parents didn't give her the attention she needed.
  • Playing Against Type: In-universe. Joe is a actor on a wholesome TV show for kids. His agent is trying to get him to agree to be in Christmas Slay, a horror movie. When we see him filming his first scene, he clearly struggles with performing the required violence and associated swearing.
  • Power of Trust: Santa's respective belief in both Joe and Harmony ultimately pays off by the end.
  • Product Placement: Surprisingly averted, seeing as the film is set in Orlando. Although there was a scene filmed at Disney's Hollywood Studios, it was not portrayed as such.
  • The Runaway: Harmony, a teenage girl Ernest picks up while driving his taxi and who tags along for most of the movie.
  • Running Gag: Ernest can never remember Blitzen's name.
  • Running Gagged: After several years of Vern tolerating Ernest barging into his home and causing mayhem (including once already earlier in the film), he answers to Ernest arriving again looking for a place to stay the night by slamming the door in his face.
  • The Quiet One: Bobby. The most he ever says is when he argues with Chuck over whether "Elves" is spelled with an "M" or a "V," and later when arguing if it's "F. Bunny" or "E. Bunny."
  • Santa Claus: The man who needs Ernest's help.
  • Saving Christmas: See above or, if you're busy, just see the title.
  • Ship Tease: Between Santa (or, as he once again calls himself, "Seth Applegate") and the nice older lady he meets, Mary Morrison. They head off on what's apparently a date right before the movie ends, and we never see what becomes of it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Star Wars when Ernest hits "Priority Delivery" mode on the sleigh and the sleigh suddenly accelerates within a light pattern much like the Millennium Falcon going into light speed.
    • Related to the above, one of the things Ernest shouts trying to get the reindeer to start flying is "May the Force be with you!"
    • And then the sleigh flies circles around the world, similar to Superman: The Movie.
    • Joe Carruthers' old job as a kids' TV host is reminiscent of such kiddie TV shows as Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Captain Kangaroo.
    • When Ernest is trying to guess the names of Santa's reindeer, he uses the names of the Seven Dwarfs.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: The director of 'Christmas Slay' tries to deliver a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Joe by yelling out that his old kids' show host gig and teaching children how to say "please" and "thank you" is passe and it's The '80s, nobody gives a damn anymore about that. Joe's reaction is to quit right then and there.
  • Skepticism Failure: Harmony remains insistent that Santa isn't real until the halfway mark when he explains why she stopped believing and uses her real name.
  • Skeptic No Longer: Ernest doesn't seem to take Santa seriously when he claims to be the big man himself — until he gets a look inside the sack.
    Ernest: (awestruck look) He's him!
  • Smart Ball: Ernest picks it up when he suggests that Santa check his sack after they leave Harmony alone with it. He also proves quite effective at pulling off gambits during his Master of Disguise scenes, such as when he masquerades as a state official and successfully talks cops into letting Santa out of jail.
  • Space Is Noisy: Then again, it is Santa's sleigh.
  • The Stinger: Chuck and Bobby have a crate marked to the Easter Bunny, which Chuck insistently misreads as "F. Bunny".
  • Streaming Stars: What happens when Ernest accidentally hits the button, "Priority Delivery," and the sled suddenly goes really fast.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • While Santa is in his taxi, Ernest stops the cab in the middle of the highway after a tree falls off of a truck, causing numerous traffic accidents, before he smashes one of the cab's windows putting the tree inside and doesn't charge Santa the fare when it turns out he has no money. Upon returning to the depo, Ernest is swiftly fired by his boss, though only him allowing Santa to skimp on the fare is ever mentioned.
    • Played surprisingly straight for a children's film in the final act; After accidentally destroying the tires on the moving truck, the sleigh now needs to take off from the airport to get to the Children's Museum on time, with it and all the reindeer ending up on the runway while Ernest attempts to figure the command to get them to fly. They are quickly spotted by air traffic control and since they are an unidentified vehicle on a runway of Orlando International Airport, its police force is swiftly sent out with Ernest managing to get the sleigh airborne in the nick of time. Next, radar operators are unable to figure out or visually identify what vehicle the sleigh is so it is declared a bogey and military fighter jets are scrambled to intercept with orders to shoot down the sleigh (!) if it enters Cape Canaveral airspace.
  • Sustained Misunderstanding: Joe's agent Marty believes that Santa's name is Santos, even when he corrects him. The only reason he thinks the name is Santos is because he cut Santa off while he was talking.
  • Tempting Fate: While the sleigh is hanging thousands of miles above Earth, Ernest tells the elves, "Nobody moves, nobody dies." Cue Sneeze of Doom.
  • Those Two Guys: Chuck and Bobby. This time, they're storage agents at the airport.
  • Totally Radical: A large part of Harmony's dialogue.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The checking attendant at the airport hardly bats an eye when Santa gives his name and then the two elves later in the movie. Chuck and Bobby also take reindeer walking on the ceiling in stride.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: While posing as a snake rancher, Ernest ends up receiving a bunch of real snakes. He then spends several minutes a scene later tossing them out into the Florida Everglades.