Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is a 1972 Christmas film directed by Barry Mahon and Richard Winer, starring Jay Clark as Santa Claus and "Kids" from Ruth Foreman's Pied Piper Playhouse.
The intended purpose of the film was to exhibit it in one of the theater attractions at the Pirates World amusement park in Dania, Florida (near Miami), ostensibly to give children something to do for an hour while their parents took a break from them, and to advertise other attractions at the park. It would be totally forgotten today, except that the film is a No Budget, slapdash affair that turns into an unintentional Mind Screw of the highest order.
It begins with Santa and his sleigh getting stranded on a beach somewhere in Florida in inch-deep sand, his reindeer having flown back to the North Pole to cool off. Several kids (including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) try to help him out with a variety of farm animals (and a guy dressed in a gorilla suit!), but to no avail. Just when all hope is given up, Santa is reminded of the story of Thumbelina and starts telling it to the kids.
In other words, the Santa sequence was just a Framing Device for a completely separate Thumbelina film, which takes up around two-thirds of the total runtime of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. It's presented in its entirety, including the opening and closing credits, and the only connection to the Santa sequence is that it was also created by Pirates World as a matinee for kids, and was even shot at the park. But, as it turns out, Thumbelina itself uses a Framing Device structure (putting this into full Nested Story territory), with a young woman (played by Shay Garner) listening to a version of the story illustrated by diorama models, leading into a musical presentation with full-size versions of the displays, in which Garner also plays Thumbelina.
After Thumbelina wraps up, we go back to Santa and the kids, and the titular Ice Cream Bunny finally makes an appearance, driving an old fire truck through Pirates World on his way to rescue Santa, though neither the character's name nor significance are ever explained.
Basically, the whole thing looks like what might've happened if David Lynch tried to make a Christmas movie for kids. It's become a So Bad, It's Good Cult Classic, even getting the RiffTrax treatment.
Oddly enough, depending on where the film was shown, certain prints replaced the Thumbelina segment with one based on "Jack and the Beanstalk", also shot at Pirates World, with Mitchell Poulos as the boy hero. There was no Framing Device in Jack, unlike Thumbelina. Alas, neither version did much to help Pirates World, which struggled after Walt Disney World opened and finally closed in 1973.
There were some genuinely reputable people involved with this movie. Barry Mahon, one of the directors, was actually a fugitive from the true story of The Great Escape. Ruth Foreman, on the other hand, was a well-respected figure in the South Florida theater scene for forty years, dying at age 81 in 1988, even having an award named after her in 2000.
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny contains examples of:
- Advertised Extra: Despite being one of the two title characters and being featured prominently on the cover, as well as being talked about in the film's synopsis, the Ice Cream Bunny only appears near the very end of the film.
- All Myths Are True: In addition to Santa and a fill-in for the Easter Bunny, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are real people.
- Apathetic Citizens: When the Elves learn that the Reindeer have returned but Santa hasn't, rather than do anything about it, they just get back to work. Not even some kind of investigation or magical communication device, or anything?
- Artistic License Geography: At the end the Ice Cream Bunny drives Santa all the way from Florida to the North Pole (which, in reality, is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean) It's possible his firetruck can fly, but nothing in the movie even remotely hints at this.
- Blatant Lies: The poster advertises this film as being "all new" and promises an "exciting rescue" by the Ice Cream Bunny, when in fact only about a third of the film is made up of new footage, and the "rescue" involves the Ice Cream Bunny giving Santa a ride home in his fire truck.
- Broken Aesop: Before and after the Thumbelina story, Santa repeatedly tells the kids they must never, ever give up...right after he's repeatedly given up trying to move the sleigh and swears up and down that nothing will work. Most glaringly, he gives up after trying to dig the sleigh out himself even though it's working (he clears about half of one of the runners in less than a minute).
- Canine Companion: Rebel the dog.
- Deus ex Machina: It's strongly implied that the Bunny drives Santa to the North Pole on his fire truck. Santa's sled teleports back to the North Pole as a failsafe, should it and Santa ever be separated. (Of course, there's no explanation why that failsafe can't be implemented while Santa is in the sled.)
- Filming for Easy Dub: Possibly the single worst example ever committed to film. It was obviously shot silent to keep the (non-existent) budget even lower and the dialogue was looped in later, and they kept the shots of the actors' mouths moving to a minimum. Like The Beast of Yucca Flats, but much worse. Yes, this film sailed below the standards set by Coleman Francis. A particularly bad bit occurs at the climax where we can clearly see the kids mouths moving but don't hear any singing until after a few minutes
- Forced Meme: It's obviously trying to promote the Ice Cream Bunny as a new lovable character for children, but it's not clear if the bunny was a pre-existing character from Pirates World or was a new character created for the film.
- Framing Device: The whole bit with Santa was just one of these for "Thumbelina", along with the theme park for said segment.
- Gainax Ending/No Ending: The film doesn't end. It just sort of stops.
- Greek Chorus: Tom and Huck are this in theory, as they sit in the bushes and observe the action from the outside. They don't actually contribute anything worthwhile to the story.
- Heat Wave: "It's so hot!"
- Informed Attribute: We're told that Rebel is a smart dog, which might be a bit easier to believe if he didn't drink out of muddy puddles and nearly get run over three times during the climatic "rescue" scene.
- Insistent Terminology: Santa doesn't let you forget about the predicament he's in.
- Jump Cut: Rebel gets out of the path of the fire truck via a really bad edit (presumably cutting out someone running into the shot to physically move the dog).
- Last Episode, New Character: The Ice Cream Bunny doesn't appear until the climax to rescue Santa.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: One of the toys the elves make in the opening scene is a cheap knockoff Snoopy doll.
- Lens Flare: Used a few times in shots of the sun to illustrate Santa's complaints about how hot it is.
- Mind Screw: To say that the movie has a tendency to be random, bizarre and nonsensical is an understatement.
- Mondegreen: Santa calling out "Kim!" is often misheard as "Kid!"
- Nested Story: The "Thumbelina" short...which even has its own credits. Which in turn has a nested story of "Thumbelina" in with a story of a girl going to Pirates World. The "Jack and the Beanstalk" version is less so, since that film didn't have a kid going to Pirates World.
- Never Trust a Title: The titular Ice Cream Bunny doesn't show up until the last five minutes of the movie, and the majority of the movie is the "Thumbelina" story (or "Jack and the Beanstalk", depending on what version you're watching).
- No Name Given: While summoning the kids, Santa calls each one out by name, except for the three girls jumping rope, to whom he simply calls out, "Girls!"
- Non-Indicative Name: As pointed out below, no explanation is given for why he's called the Ice Cream Bunny. He's not made of ice cream, nor is he shown handing out or eating ice cream. He drives a firetruck instead of an ice cream truck. The filmmakers seem to have assumed that the Ice Cream Bunny was so well known that, like Santa, he required no introduction. This is apparent when Santa's reaction to seeing him come to the rescue is "The Ice Cream Bunny! Of course!"
- One-Book Author: The only feature film directorial credit for Richard Winer, who's credited as "R. Winer".
- Only in Florida: Where else could a film like this be made? Or take place?
- Out of Character: Instead of being "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf", this Santa is a rather skinny Drama Queen who spends most of the film whining.
- Out-of-Genre Experience: From Santa's sleigh predicament to a cheap theme park adaptation of "Thumbelina" (or Jack and the Beanstalk depending on which version you watch).
- Parasol Parachute: Near the beginning we see a kid jumping off a roof using a porch umbrella like a parachute. Incredibly, he lands unharmed, and there isn't even a Don't Try This at Home warning!
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The Ice Cream Bunny supplies no ice cream whatsoever. He drives a firetruck instead of an ice cream truck.
- Plot Hole: Early in the movie one kid asks why Santa doesn't try just taking a plane home. Santa replies if he did he would have no way to take his sleigh with him. This would be directly contradicted at the end where, after the ice cream bunny rescues him in a firetruck and takes him back home, his sleigh magically teleports back to the North Pole with him. (It also raises the question of how the Bunny supposedly drove him all the way to the North Pole, unless his firetruck can also fly.)
- Powerful, but Incompetent: Santa Claus is, well, Santa Claus. The guy can fly around the world and deliver billions of presents on a single day, but he can't get his sleigh out of not-very-deep sand, frequently gives up after putting hardly any effort into freeing the sleigh, goes through a poorly-thought-out plan to get animals to pull it from the sand, and ultimately has to rely on children and an odd oversized bunny to rescue him.
- Product Placement: For Pirates World theme park. The internal evidence suggests this film was created to double-dip off pre-existing movies previously funded by the park's owners for the kiddie matinée circuit.
- If you sense desperation, it's because Disney opened Walt Disney World the year before. A year after the film was released, Pirates World was bankrupt. By 1975, the place was closed. Not long after, the park was razed and condos built in its place.
- Psychic Powers: Santa seemingly uses telepathy to call out to the kids, which is shown in the most bizarre way possible: first we see the kids playing and doing other activities, each kid (or group of kids in a few shots) is shown for a few seconds before we freeze-frame and cut to another. After cutting back to Santa, we show the kids (still frozen) with Santa's echoey psychic voice calling their names, at which point they unfreeze and run to him in slow motion.
- Public Domain Character: Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who serve no purpose to the plot other than extra Padding. It also stars Santa Claus who gets stuck in Florida.
- Remember the New Guy?: "My old friend, the Ice Cream Bunny!"
- Riddle for the Ages: Just who was this Ice Cream Bunny character? More than a decade's worth of sleuthing by curious viewers since this movie resurfaced has failed to establish a definitive answer. Best guess is that he/she/it was a character at Pirates World, perhaps a mascot for an in-park ice cream parlor. There are existing photos of similar characters in similarly ratty-looking Goofy Suits at Pirates World.
- Saving Christmas: Santa is stuck in Florida, and according to the calendar he presents at the end of the film, there are only five days until Christmas.
- Scare Quotes: Starring JAY CLARK as SANTA, and "KIDS" from RUTH FOREMAN'S PIED PIPER PLAYHOUSE, implying that whoever did the opening titles was skeptical of their ages or acting ability.
- Serial Escalation: Inverted, and then generally played with oddly. The very first animal brought in to try and move the sleigh is a gorilla (suit-wearing man), followed by a mule, a pig, and then a sheep...then a cow...
- The Speechless: The Ice Cream Bunny doesn't seem to be able to talk.
- Stock Footage: One of the elves peers outside the workshop to view a clip of some reindeer on a green landscape of the North Pole.Mike Nelson: Crap, it's July! We missed Christmas!
- Stop Trick: The sleigh's disappearance at the end of the film.
- Those Two Guys: Tom and Huck, who were just paddling around in a lake when they hear the commotion of the kids being summoned by Santa. They swim to shore and run after the group, then spend the rest of the movie standing behind a bush watching everything unfold without getting involved.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: During the climax, the Ice Cream Bunny drives through the Pirates World theme park, and the people at the park pay no mind to an anthropomorphic rabbit driving through in an antique fire truck carrying kids and a dog.
- Viewers Are Morons: As the Agony Booth review says "Like most other terrible childrens films, the filmmakers seem to think that simply because the movie is for kids, they have to pretend like theyre making it for retards. Every actor speaks as slowly as possible, enunciating every word as if theyre talking to people who dont speak English. All the characters take longer than George W. Bush to string a sentence together, and deliver the most obvious emoting youll see outside of a Sally Struthers infomercial."
- What Happened to the Mouse?: When they came to watch all the action after leave the raft, Tom and Huck are accompanied by a racoon with a leash, like it was the pet of them. The last we see of this critter is that's running very fast, to never been seen again.
The "Thumbelina" adaptation contains examples of:
- Adaptation Species Change: The field mouse from the original story becomes a female mole, presumably so she could have her own happy ending with Mr. Digger.
- Amusement Park of Doom: Pirates World was largely comprised of rides purchased from other amusement parks and attractions, including the 1964 World's Fair in New York. The combination of the rides not being in mint condition, and the laxity of safety standards in that era, gives Pirates World an unintentional vibe of this in the park footage. Especially that steeplechase ride — No safety belts, plenty of sudden turns, and dangerously fast. Have fun, kiddies!
- And You Were There: Tom Thumb is played by the same actor as the young girl's boyfriend?
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Thumbelina's dress never gets messed up, even during many months spent in the outdoors. Her hair is always flawlessly combed.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: When Thumbelina is lost in the woods, she starts singing, "Fiddle-dee-dee!" She explains through the song that it's her way to cope with frightening situations, and advises to "give it a try and youll agree".
- The frog, apparently alone, explains his entire back story while looking directly at the camera (probably, it's hard to tell since his eyes are part of a mask). One can only assume he's speaking to the audience.
- Delayed Narrator Introduction: The narrator from the drive thru-looking speaker in the exhibit throughout the film is actually Mrs. Mole, who lets Thumbelina into her home during the winter.
- Department of Redundancy Department: The witch certainly needs to reiterate the price of her services after singing about it for five minutes!
- Dull Surprise: Thumbelina, who reacts to everything as though she's been drugged and isn't sure if what she's seeing is real or not.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Thumbelina protests marrying a frog and Mr. Digger because they've only known each other for a day, but then has no problem with immediately marrying Tom Thumb. Sure, there's species to consider, but species is barely even brought up. Her main reason for agreeing to marry Tom Thumb seems to be that he wasn't as pushy as her other suitors.
- Framing Device: Thumbelina tacks on another framing device of the main actress gazing at dioramas while the ragged loudspeaker narrates.
- Gainaxing: Especially noticeable when Shay Garner's character rides the steeple chase at the beginning.
- Happily Ever After: Lives happily ever after with Tom Thumb and sings a song about living happily ever after, too.
- Informed Attractiveness: Thumbelina is implied to be absolutely perfect in all but size. Shay Garner, while pretty in a Girl Next Door way, isn't exactly a knockout; her vacant eyes and large eyebrows are her most distinctive facial features. However, she makes up for it with some nice Fanservice, via not wearing a bra and wearing a skirt that shows off her long legs.
- "I Want" Song: Thumbelina's "Flower Child" song, in which she expresses her desire to enjoy the outside world which her marriage to Mr. Digger will deny her.
- MayDecember Romance: In the loosest sense of "romance" possible. Mr. Digger convinces Thumbelina that it would be in her best interests to marry him, and she goes along with it for a while. Her main concern is that he's old. The fact that he's a mole doesn't seem to enter into it.
- She does express concern that in marrying him, she'll have to remain underground and never see the sun again.
- Mind Screw: Given the Acting for Two above, you've got to wonder if the girl listening to the story is hearing her own voice whenever Thumbelina talks.
- Nested Story: The Thumbelina segment is a woman listening to Thumbelina's story.
- Pair the Spares: After Thumbelina doesn't go through with marrying Mr. Digger, he settles on Mrs. Mole instead.
- Product Placement: The first five minutes or so are just shots of the girl wandering around Pirates World, highlighting various rides at the park.
- Recap Film: Utilized in the ending for some reason other than more padding.
- She's Got Legs: Besides going braless, Shay Garner's Parent Service also involves plenty of leg. She wears a miniskirt in the amusement park scenes and her Thumbelina skirt stops way short of her knees.
- Show, Don't Tell: Averted, as crucial story moments are skipped over and described by the narrator or characters.
- Stock Footage: Whenever the film is going to describe something that would too expensive to film, it cuts to the girl at the exhibit listening and tilting her head.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Thumbelina's Mother explains that she'll see the Witch, to bring her a little girl, in a manner as casual as saying that she's going to the Market, to pick up some milk!
- What Happened to the Mouse?: It's never stated what happened to Thumbelina's mother after her kidnapping. The last we see of her, she's grieving over the kidnapping of her daughter.
The Jack and the Beanstalk adaptation contains examples of:
- Easily Forgiven: Honest John cons several townsfolk out of money, but he's still invited to join the crown in the final song without any comeuppance. Especially odd since the previous scene in the town was his victims comparing notes and organizing a lynch mob.
- Fridge Logic: In-Universe, one of Honest John's customers asks why he's selling magic beans for so cheap if they're able to help people get rich.note
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The giant hits his head against his own trap and knocks himself out after spotting Jack running away with the magic harp.
- Honest John's Dealership: The cow/bean salesman literally goes by the name Honest John.
- Karma Houdini: Honest John gets no punishment for being an unrepentant con man.
- No Indoor Voice: The giant.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The giant is such a Large Ham that he ends up being the most memorable character.
- Squick: In-Universe, the giant's wife loses her appetite upon watching the giant eat "creepy crawlies."
- Time Skip: It's implied that Jack's trips to the giant's castle take far longer than portrayed. Jack's sister even apparently got married during his final ascent.