Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, on ABC
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This first aired in 1970 (five years before I was born), but somehow I managed to never see it until 2018. And I can tell you that two of the songs and maybe a couple of other scenes were cut from the version I saw. (One of the songs, based on having read the title and the lyrics online, sounds like I'd find it somewhat disturbing, so I don't mind not hearing it.) Anyway, this seems like the kind of special that would be greatly helped out by a sense of nostalgia. But never having seen it before, I don't have any nostalgia for it. So I ended up not liking it as much as I would have liked to. (It's hard to say if I'd seen the full version whether I would have liked it any more, or about the same. But I don't particularly care.) Still, I am glad to have finally seen the special, if mainly because I can stop worrying about whether or not I ever will. And now I'll never have to watch it again. But... it wasn't bad, really. Bits of it were somewhat entertaining, I guess. Although I'll also say that some parts reminded me of things I'd seen before, which may have actually been inspired to some degree by this special. I dunno.
Well, it begins... actually, it seems to begin with a bit of live-action footage, which surprised me, and seemed like an odd choice to include. But whatever. It soon moves into familiar stop-motion animation. There's a mailman called Special Delivery "S.D." Kluger (voiced by Fred Astaire), who stops on his way to deliver children's letters to Santa Claus, and tells a bunch of unseen children all about Santa's origins. (It struck me as very strange that he opened and read letters to Santa. Didn't anyone ever tell him that's a federal offense?) And throughout the special, we sometimes hear the children reacting to the story, and S.D. replying to their reactions.
The story begins in a town called Sombertown, which is ruled by the grumpy Burgermeister Meisterburger (Paul Frees). His chief lawkeeper, Grimsley, finds a baby on the doorstep (I didn't catch whether it was Town Hall or the Burgermeister's house). But the Burgermeister tells Grimsley to take the baby to an orphanage, or whatever. As he tries to do so, I guess the reins he was pulling that were attached to the sled the baby was on broke, and the baby slid away into the woods. Animals find him and take him to a family of elves named Kringle, who decide to raise the baby, and name him Kris. They're toymakers, and teach Kris to make toys, as well. But they can't deliver their toys to Sombertown, because they live on the other side of a mountain that is home to the Winter Warlock, who hates trespassers, I guess. So it's not safe to cross his mountain. But when Kris grows up (now voiced by Mickey Rooney), he decides to take the risk and deliver the toys, himself. Unfortunately, by a strange coincidence, it's just then that the Burgermeister slips on a toy and injures himself, so he outlaws toys in the town.
Well... Kris meets some children and gives them toys, anyway. And he meets a woman named Jessica, who at first doesn't like him breaking the law by giving the children toys, but she immediately comes around when he gives her one, too. So she becomes an important ally to him (and it's fairly obvious that they'll eventually fall in love). Of course, the Burgermeister is furious at Kris, and keeps making new laws to thwart Kris's efforts to deliver toys to the children. And Kris keeps coming up with new ways to get around those laws. (Eventually, the Burgermeister burns all the toys, which reminded me of The Nutcracker in 3D.) Kris also befriends the Winter Warlock by giving him a toy, which immediately makes Winter want to change from a bad person to good. (It's weird how easily people are befriended by giving them toys. It even almost happened with the Burgermeister himself.) Oh, and I forgot to say that before he ever got to Sombertown, Kris befriended a penguin, whom he named Topper (who doesn't speak, though he does occasionally try to convey ideas to Kris). That just seemed like totally out of left field, to me. Anyway... at one point, the Burgermeister and his lawkeepers manage to arrest Kris as well as all of his friends and family. Except Jessica. I have no idea why they didn't arrest her. That seemed weird to me, too. But the story required someone to be free, to stage the inevitable jailbreak. So whatevs.
Anyway, of course the story ultimately has a happy ending... even if it comes many years later, just because the Burgermeister died of old age. That really doesn't seem to me like the way stories like this usually end, and what's even weirder is that, as far as I could tell, the story never explains why Kris (or any of the other Kringles) seem to be immortal. I was really hoping one of the kids listening to S.D. would ask about that, but they didn't. Still, the special did explain a lot of things concerning Santa Claus and the traditions we associate with him and with Christmas. I'm not sure how much sense any of the explanations made from a realistic perspective, but they made sense in the context of the story, I guess. (Also, having all these origins of traditions... while I was watching the special, I thought it reminded me of the Ice Age Christmas special, but actually I think now that I was thinking of that franchises's Easter special.) Well, anyway, this certainly wasn't the weirdest Rankin/Bass special I've ever seen. And I'm afraid I didn't particularly care about any of the songs, though they weren't bad. And I guess I don't really know what else to say.
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