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The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, on CBS
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Caution: spoilers!

This stop-motion Rankin/Bass special first aired in 1985, but I'm not sure whether I first saw it then, or as a rerun some other year. (If I did, it could have been anytime from the late 80s to the early 90s. But I very much doubt I ever saw it on Family Channel's 25 Days of Christmas, which is where it aired in later years.) It's based on L. Frank Baum's 1902 book of the same name, which I haven't read. But of course there were some changes from the original story. In 2000, there was a direct to video animated movie based on the book, which I haven't seen and have no idea if I ever will. Anyway, in 2014 I got the 1985 special on a DVD which also includes the special Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. (Incidentally, Rankin/Bass made a couple of unrelated specials about Santa Claus in the 70s. I don't think I've ever seen them, at least not in their entirety, but I might like to, someday. I reckon they're more famous than this one, but this is the only one of the company's Santa Claus specials about which I feel nostalgic.)

It begins with a brief scene of Santa Claus flying in his sleigh on Christmas Eve, but the scene soon shifts to the Forest of Burzee. A "sound imp" named Tingler (whom we might as well just think of as an elf) is announcing the arrival of the leaders of various types of immortal beings. They have come to hold a council meeting called by the Great Ak (aka the Master Woodsman). He wishes to bestow the "Mantle of Immortality" upon Claus, whom he knows would be dying that night, after he returns from his annual trip to deliver toys to all the children of the world. Ak needs the Council's approval to bestow immortality upon Claus, since there is just one Mantle. So most of the special is a series of flashbacks in which he tells the story of Claus's life, to explain why he believes Claus deserves to become immortal. At this point it gets a bit confusing, because he was telling the Council about how he'd found a mortal baby abandoned at the edge of the woods about 60 years ago, and gave it to a lioness named Shiegra to care for. And then immediately after that, we see a wood nymph named Necile asking what a "child" is, since immortals have always been adults. (It's odd, though, how some of them look very old and some rather young.) And it seems at first like Necile was part of the Council meeting, but actually she was part of the first flashback.

Anyway, Necile decides she wants a child, so she takes the baby from Shiegra, and subsequently asks Ak if she may be allowed to raise the child, herself. He finally agrees, even though it's against the law of the forest. And Necile names the baby "Claus." After that, there's a montage of Claus growing into a young man. Then we see that he has received language lessons from Tingler (who speaks not only all human languages, but all animal languages). And then, Ak tells Claus that he's going to take him on a trip to see the world. So, Claus says goodbye to Necile, who asks him to call her mother. (Why she never asked this of him in the intervening years, I have no idea.) Ak and Claus fly around the world, and Ak shows him what life is like for mortals. (I'm not sure when exactly this is, but it's obviously sometime in the feudal era.) We just see a few of their stops, but apparently Ak showed Claus the whole world. (Whenever they landed, they became invisible to mortals, so it reminded me of "A Christmas Carol.") Anyway, during this trip, Claus learns about Man's inhumanity to man. (I feel like this special might be the first place I ever heard that phrase, but I'm not sure.)

After they return to Burzee, Claus decides to set out on his own, to join the mortal world and help spread happiness. He's accompanied by Tingler and Shiegra to the Laughing Valley of Hohaho, where it's always winter. Then there's another montage, of Claus growing from a young man to an older man. (I have no idea how much time actually passes, but Claus gets somewhat fatter and a lot beardier. He looked to me at least twenty years older, but it very well could have been no more than one year.) One night, Claus discovers an orphan boy named Weekum outside their house, and takes him inside to warm up. Claus is carving a wooden cat in the image of his pet cat, Blinky (who had recently been sent to them by Necile, apparently). In the morning, he gives the wooden cat to Weekum. Tingler called it a "toy," and I get the impression that he just made up that word, but I'm not sure. (It was the last in a string of words he spoke, since he's always saying things in various languages.) It seems like before this, there were no such things as toys, so... I dunno. Anyway, all of Weekum's friends want toys, too. So Claus becomes quite busy making such things.

But then, Claus receives a threat from the king of the Awgwas, monsters that can turn invisible and influence children to do bad things. And the Awgwas are very upset that Claus has been making children happy, and want him to stop making toys. But he refuses to stop, so the Awgwas steal the toys every time he tries to go into town. Eventually there's a war between the Awgwas and the immortals, but even after the monsters are defeated, Claus finds that his sleigh is too full, he can't pull it. So an immortal called Peter Knook lends him eight reindeer to pull the sleigh. And... a few other familiar Christmas traditions are quickly established, including Claus being quite unofficially given the title of saint, or as the children say, "Santa." When he returns home, Peter says Claus will only be able to use the reindeer once a year, on Christmas Eve. Which is ten days away, so Claus is worried they won't have enough time to make enough toys this year, thus disappointing the children. Which seems weird, because at that point there was no reason for any children to expect toys on Christmas morning, specifically, but whatevs. Luckily, they do get enough toys, and Claus heads off on his first Christmas Eve delivery.

Then the scene switches to Ak and the Council meeting, at which Ak says Claus has been delivering toys for fifty years. Which is totally absurd, because earlier he said he'd found the babe in the woods "sixty years or so ago," which would mean Claus had been around ten during the main part of the story. I mean, I know he said "or so," and to an immortal a few decades isn't a big deal, but damn... if you're even going to bother mentioning numbers like "sixty" and "fifty," they shouldn't be that vague. But I suppose it doesn't matter. Santa Claus is now a jolly old fat man with a white beard, whatever his age. And I'm sure you can guess how the Council's vote goes.

Well, it was fun watching this again. I'm really glad to finally own it. Even if I engage in a bit of snark, I still think it's a really cool special. I like the look of the characters (and I find both Necile and Queen Zurline, whom I hadn't mentioned before, rather pretty). And there are a number of nice songs. And it's interesting how various Christmas traditions originate, in this particular story. And I guess I'm not sure what else to say.


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Rankin/Bass
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stop-motion specials: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer * Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town * The Year Without a Santa Claus * Rudolph's Shiny New Year *
Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey * Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July * Pinocchio's Christmas * The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold * The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus

animated specials: Frosty the Snowman * 'Twas the Night Before Christmas * Frosty's Winter Wonderland * The Hobbit * The Stingiest Man in Town

TV series: The New Adventures of Pinocchio * Tales of the Wizard of Oz * ThunderCats * SilverHawks

Movies: Mad Monster Party? * The Flight of Dragons * The Last Unicorn