The Case of Our Five Favorite Santas

First, let’s talk a little bit about the origin of Santa Claus! 

Santa Claus is known around the world by many names. Some of the most well-known are; Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, and Papa Noel. These names and origins should not be confused with the Belsnickel and Krampus. St Nicholas is known to be the patron saint of many things including children, sailors, ships, merchants, pawnbrokers, and some cities like Moscow.

One of the most well-known stories tells of Saint Nicholas gifting three girls dowries in order that they may get married. Due to his generosity and good deeds towards children in life, he became their patron saint and a popular bringer of gifts on his celebrated day of December 6th. 

As people traveled and immigrated to the United States the celebrations followed and the legends of Saint Nicholas and the scary and shaggy Belsnickel became mixed to eventually become what we know as Santa Claus. Santa Claus, like the Christmas holiday, is an amalgamation of traditions and practices, and hopefully one day we will go further into detail about Santa’s history. 

Much of the details that we have accepted about Santa Claus came from a Clement Clarke Moore poem called, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. But, two years before that story, there was “The Children’s Friend.” It was notable for removing the religious aspects of St. Nick and associating him with the Christmas holiday. Here are a couple of stanzas: 

“Old Santeclaus with much delight

His reindeer drives this frosty night.

O’er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,

To bring his yearly gifts to you.

The steady friend of virtuous youth,

The friend of duty, and of truth,

Each Christmas eve he joys to come

Where love and peace have made their home”

NUMBER 5

  • “Sandy Claws” (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)*
    • If you need a refresher, The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. It follows Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, as he faces issues with burnout and his own identity. Jack’s purpose in life becomes reinvigorated when he discovers Christmastown and attempts to give Christmas a try instead. 
    • Santa’s voice can be heard at the beginning of the movie during the initial narration. Since the narration doesn’t return, it makes sense that it turns out to be a character in the movie, though this is not immediately obvious to the audience
    • Santa Claus (or Sandy Claws) appears in this film after Jack Skellington visits Christmastown for the first time. However, the audience doesn’t get a great look at the character until much later, when three trick-or-treaters kidnap Santa Claus and deliver him to the evil Oogie Boogie Man.
      • Lock, Stock, and Barrell kidnap Santa so that Jack can take his place. 
  • Voiced by Edward Ivory, this is a pretty classic take on Santa Claus. Although Santa is generally depicted as a kind being that only wants to spread joy, The Nightmare Before Christmas gave some more depth to the character by showing how he would react to being kidnapped. Although this version of Santa becomes more and more frustrated (and possibly scared for his life), he never seems to really lose his cool and still recovers in time to save Christmas! 
    • Ivory was not in very many movies but he was also in the film Nine Months (1995), Rampage (1987), and Blood Red (1989.)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a well-known and beloved classic, it’s safe to say the film made a major impact on a lot of people. Although the debate about whether it’s a Halloween or Christmas movie will never be settled, you’ll find fans enjoying it during any season. 
    • It won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and Best Music
    • It earned Annies for Best Individual Achievement for Creative Supervision in the Field of Animation and Best Individual Achievement for Artistic Excellence in the Field of Animation.
    • It also won the Blimp Award at the Kid’s Choice Awards for Favorite Movie!
  • So why did this Santa make it into our top five?
    • We LOVE the style of this film, and seeing a Tim-Burton-style Santa is an automatic win. Although he has the classic characteristics of many western depictions of Santa Claus (red suit, white beard, black boots) he still has the same unmistakable charm as other Burton creations. Before this film came out, you wouldn’t find a Santa that looks like this anywhere else. 
    • This Santa is inherently good-natured. He withstands being carried around in a sack and is essentially tortured by Oogie Boogie. But, when he realizes it was a misunderstanding and that Jack never intended for him to be hurt, he seems to forgive him almost immediately. He never hesitates to fix all the damage that the Halloweentown residents had done, and makes time to visit them after delivering all of his presents!
  • We asked our Twitter followers for their suggestions on some favorite Santas! Jacob (@DemChops) suggested Santa Claus from Nightmare Before Christmas, saying, “He was so fed up with the Halloween people but he still gave them some Christmas magic in the end. A true Santa.”

NUMBER 4

  • North (Rise of the Guardians, 2012)*
  • Rise of the Guardians is based on a book series by William Joyce called, “Guardians of Childhood.” Every year the holidays arrive and with them the protection of the immortal Guardians. The Guardians, known as Nicholas St. North, E. Aster Bunnymund, Toothiana, and Sandman, spread light to protect children everywhere from darkness and despair. An evil spirit called Pitch Black plots to overthrow them by destroying the source of their power, which is the faith of children everywhere. Saving the Guardians is left up to a new young immortal by the name of Jack Frost. 
    • This film was directed by Peter Ramsey for Dreamworks Animation
  • Voiced by Alec Baldwin, North is the leader of the guardians and this universe’s more-secular take on Santa Claus. Although he is far from the traditional depiction of Santa Claus, he is still dedicated to spreading love and cheer across the world and protecting the innocence of children. 
  • Though this isn’t the most popular Dreamworks film, we consider it to be one of their best works. The story is heartwarming and imaginative and encourages children to believe in magic–not just supernatural magic, but the magic within themselves.
    • Rise of the Guardians received the Vanity Fair International Award for Cinematic Excellence and the Hollywood Animation Award at the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Festival. The film also won two Annie Awards for Effects in Animation and Storyboarding. 
  • So why did North make it into our top five?
    • Out of all the entries on this list, North is the most unique version of Santa Claus. Generally, we see an older and less active version of the character in cinema, but here we see a buff Santa with tattoos and a Russian accent (which makes sense because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Moscow). This Santa is much more active and unafraid to use weapons to protect the things he loves. It’s important to see a different take on a character because it shows that even though someone is unconventional, it doesn’t mean they are any less than someone who is traditional. This Santa thwarts tradition and conventional standards. 
    • Every story that includes a Santa storyline begs the question: how does he keep track of all the children and bring them toys in one night? The universe in Rise of the Guardians answers this question with a combination of advanced technology and magic. The approach feels rooted in our universe, so audiences find it easier to comprehend. 
    • Rise of the Guardians provides a completely different perspective on Santa. We’re used to seeing him as he delivers gifts and interacts with children. In this film, we see him amongst his peers (the other holiday guardians) which adds another layer to his character. There are even some comedic moments when he clashes with the Easter Bunny or gets frustrated with his bumbling elves. 
  • This was another Twitter suggestion! You guys really know how to pick your Santas. Mics and Beers (@micsandbeers) said, “Got to go with the Santa with swords.”

NUMBER 3

  • Santa Claus (Year Without a Santa Claus, 1974)
  • Based on a book by Phylis McGinley, The Year Without a Santa Claus follows the story of a sick Santa Claus (played by Mickey Rooney) who may not be well enough to deliver presents this year. His doctor even tells him that he should stay in bed because children don’t really believe in Santa anymore. Mrs. Claus takes action into her own hands and sends two elves with a reindeer out into the world to find Christmas cheer. When they run into some trouble, Santa heads out after them and discovers that the world still cares about Christmas. 
    • Of all the Rankin and Bass stop-motion specials, this is one of the most beloved. It included songs by Jules Bass and Maury Laws, most notably the heat and snow miser songs!
    • The special was written by William J Keenan and animated in Japan, like the other Rankin and Bass specials. 
  • This is a special that returns every year during the holiday season, and inspired a sequel special starring the heat and snow misers! You’ll also find their merchandise in stores at Christmas time. 
  • Mickey Rooney during his lifetime was in over 300 films from silent films from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Phantom of the Megaplex. He also voiced Santa Claus in three other animagic specials, including Santa Claus is Coming to Town. So, it’s probably OK to say that this version of Santa is the same one that appears in the other specials of the Rankin and Bass universe. However, we chose the Santa from this particular special because we liked seeing this side of him. Usually, Christmas movies are about children losing their faith in Santa, but this special was more about Santa losing faith in the world. 
    • This Santa Claus is relatable and hard-working. He seems more mortal than other depictions because he has fallen ill. More often than not, Santa is depicted as a supernatural being, capable of looking in on children at any given time to see if they are behaving. This version of Santa, however, doesn’t seem as powerful. 
    • No matter how awful this Santa feels, he’s never angry or upset with anyone. Sure, he feels unappreciated, but that makes him sad more than anything else. And who could blame him for wanting to cancel Christmas? None of us want to go to work when we’re feeling sick. 
    • This version of Santa also really seems to enjoy his job. Sometimes we get the sense from other versions of the character that he feels like he’s doing the world a huge favor, but here it seems that he gets as much out of Christmas as anyone else. 

NUMBER 2

  • Klaus (Klaus, 2019)*
    • Klaus is the most recent entry on our list! Directed by Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez Lopez, Klaus is a Netflix original that follows the origin story of Santa Claus, known in this universe as Klaus. 
    • The story initially follows Jesper, the privileged son of the postmaster general, as he’s banished to a cold and freezing island called Smeerensburg. While there, he meets a toymaker named Klaus. Because he needs to meet a quota of 6000 letters mailed, Jesper convinces the children to mail Klaus letters so that he will deliver toys to their houses. Because one act of kindness always sparks another, Jesper and Klaus end up changing the lives of everyone on the island. 
      • Actor J.K. Simmons provides the voice of the stoic and kind Klaus, a toymaker isolated in the woods. This version of Santa is more unwitting than others and is somewhat of a reluctant hero. Early in the film, it’s clear that he wants to make children happy, but Jesper pushes him to start making new toys again.
      • Simmons is famous for several character roles, like Tenzin in The Legend of Korra and Jay Jonah Jamison in the Spider-Man films.  
    • Impact 
      • Klaus won the 2020 BAFTA for Best Animated Feature
      • It also received several Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature, Character Animation, Character Design, Directing, Production Design, Storyboarding, and Editorial.
      • It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It, unfortunately, lost Toy Story 4.
    • Number two on our list is pretty high, especially for a character that might not be as well-known or established as some of the other entries. But, we chose Klaus because we love how human his story is, and his immense generosity. 
      • When Klaus first delivers a gift, he does it solely because he saw the sad drawing of a child and wanted to cheer them up. He stays back to watch the child open the gift, and we can see how much it means to him that the child was happy. 
      • One of the most appealing aspects of Klaus is that he’s a regular man and not a supernatural being (to begin with, anyway). He uses his craft to bring joy to other people, inspiring others to do the same. 
      • Klaus is reclusive and uninterested in making friends, but throughout the film we see the character open up and grow, and it’s because others are willing to help that he becomes Santa Claus. 
      • Near the end of his mortal life, Klaus embodies the spirit of Christmas so much that he becomes father Christmas. It’s seemingly a reward for a life well-lived that he can continue to spark kindness across the world. 
    • This was another Twitter suggestion from our friend and listener, JD Gravatte! 

NUMBER 1

  • Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947)
  • This Christmas classic follows Doris Walker, a no-nonsense single mother with a young daughter named Susan. While Doris performs her job as the manager of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a kind old man approaches her and points out that the Santa Claus hired for the event is intoxicated. Doris invites the kind older man to fill in as Santa not only in the parade but during the holiday as the Macy’s store Santa. Kris Kringle, as he calls himself, is not only a hit with the children but also with adult customers. He truly embodies the spirit of Christmas by helping them buy gifts, sending them to other stores to find them. Soon, it captures the attention of the store that Kris believes that he himself is the real Santa Claus. This issue gets overlooked until Kris assaults the resident psychologist with his umbrella, causing him to get sent to an institution. All this leads to a public hearing, where Kris’s lawyer, Fred Gayley, must defend him by proving that he is indeed the real Santa Claus.
    • Doris’s daughter, Susan, has never believed in magic before, but Kris convinces her that magic is real, saving Christmas for at least one child. 
  • While this version of the character was played by Edmund Gwenn, there was a 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough. Since it’s the same character, we felt it was worth mentioning! 
    • Gwenn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role! He also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor!
  • Miracle on 34th Street is a tradition for many families during the holiday season. It’s heartfelt and engaging, a warm Christmas classic that’s also a legal drama? Count us in! 
    • The film won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor
    • It also won Oscars for Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay. Finally, it also won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.
  • When we set out to make this list, we knew from the beginning that Kris Kringle was our number one. Throughout the entire film, all the way until the end, the audience doesn’t actually see any proof that Kris is Santa Claus. We don’t see him perform magic or visit the north pole, we only see what the other characters see. And yet, we’re on board the entire time. Why? Because this character is so pure and believable as Santa Claus that it almost seems impossible not to believe him. 
    • This Santa is one of the most wholesome we have ever seen. He has a genuine personality and a great sense of humor and doesn’t get frustrated or upset when people don’t believe him. Sure, he’s got some old-school ideas for punishing naughty people (the umbrella might’ve been out of line) But in 1947, parents were spanking their kids harder than Kris hits that man with his umbrella. 
    • Kris’s interactions with others are heartwarming and memorable. He helps many different characters, from Alvin the janitor to little Susan Walker. 
    • He is able to change those around him for the better with simple acts of kindness, like listening to people and gently guiding customers to where they can find toys so that their children can have a happy holiday. 
    • Whether or not people believe he’s the real Santa isn’t important to Kris. Instead, he just wants to help those around him and only tells them that he is Santa because he’s just an honest person. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Since there are hundreds of movie Santas, we had some honorable mentions: 

Santa Claus (The Polar Express, 2004)

  • Our first honorable mention is the Santa from the Polar Express. Of course, we don’t see very much of this version, but the audience gets enough of him to know that he is a very classic version of the character. This Santa appears at the end of the film when the main character is finding his faith in Santa again. 
  • Tom Hanks voiced this Santa Claus (as he voiced many characters throughout the film). 

Scott Calvin (The Santa Clause, 1994)

  • Played by Tim Allen
  • While watching his son, Charlie, for Christmas, Scott hears a noise on the roof and goes to investigate while his son follows. After scaring a red-suited man off the roof, the man disappears in the snow but his red suit remains. Scott dons the suit and he and his son are taken to the North Pole where he discovers he will be Santa for the foreseeable future. Problems arise, however, when Charlie’s mother and Step-Father believe that Scott is endangering Charlie’s well-being.

Father Christmas (The Snowman, 1982 & Father Christmas, 1991)

  • Voiced by Mel Smith
  • Father Christmas follows Santa on his adventures as he decides to take a vacation in France, Scotland, and Las Vegas. When he returns from his travels to begin preparations for Christmas he finds that he has forgotten something during his trip.

Willie T Stokes (Bad Santa 2003)*

  • Played by Billy Bob Thorton
  • Willie T. Stokes only works one season a year. He drinks constantly and is an embarrassment to himself and others. He works as Santa at the malls. On Christmas Eve he and his accomplice Marcus take all the information they have gathered while working during the season to rob the entire shopping mall.
Noelle (2019)

Noelle (Noelle, 2019)

  • Played by Anna Kendrick
  • Noelle has always loved Christmas, especially the presents. The holiday is made even more special to her as her father is Santa Claus!  At a young age, her brother Nick is given a Santa hat and revealed to officially be the successor to their father as Santa Claus. Noelle wants to be a part of the magic and is tasked by her father to guide Nick and help how she can. Years later after their father passes away, the pressure becomes too much and Nick runs away. Noelle must save Christmas by finding not only her brother but the meaning of Christmas beyond the presents. 

Nick (Fred Claus, 2007)

  • Played by Paul Giamatti
  • Santa Claus’s older brother, Fred, is jealous of him.

Fred ends up needing help and must live with his brother for financial reasons.

Santa Claus (Elf, 2003)

  • Played by Ed Asner 
  • Buddy the elf finds his human father and helps him see the spirit of Christmas.

Santa Claus (A Christmas Story, 1983)

  • Played by Jeff Gillen
  • You’ll shoot your eye out!

Maybe you believe in Santa Claus, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you call him by a different name. Maybe you think he’s a person, and maybe you think he’s the spirit of Christmas. No matter how you feel about the character, these Santas can all teach us something about humanity. You don’t need magic or a sleigh or millions of helpers to be Santa Claus for someone. As long as humans continue to use their abilities to make others happy, the spirit of Santa Claus will always endure. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlies Brown–wait.


SOURCES:

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Case (1962)

Hey, Cassettes, and welcome to the first episode of the Christmas Case Diaries! We have a big month planned, filled with all kinds of holiday fun. We all have those Christmas specials that we watch every holiday season, right? I mean, is it even Christmas without the Island of Misfit Toys, or if we don’t watch the Grinch descend from Mount Krumpet to steal holiday cheer from Whoville? 

Animated Christmas TV specials are a holiday tradition that dates back almost 60 years, and while Rudolph has been airing consistently on TV for the longest amount of time, it was not the special that started it all. 

In December of 1962, people all across America turned on their TV sets to watch the first full-length animated Christmas TV special. Keeping with Christmas tradition, the special was an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but with one notable twist: famous cartoon character Quincy Magoo was playing the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge. 

Boasting colorful and stylish limited animation and songs written by Broadway musicians, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol became an instant holiday classic. Although lesser-known than many other 1960s animated specials, it’s a delightful retelling of a familiar story, packed with great performances and animation, unlike anything you’ll see today. 

So, since this is our first episode of the month, we decided to start by covering the very FIRST animated Christmas special! Grab some woofle jelly cake with razzleberry dressing and come join us!https://www.youtube.com/embed/0y33r9bilw8?wmode=opaque&enablejsapi=1

The first appearance of Mr. Magoo in Ragtime Bear (1949)

  • UPA AND MR. MAGOO
  • So first let’s start by talking about the history of United Productions of America (UPA) and Mr. Magoo
    • If you remember back to our history of animation episode, we talked a little bit about the Disney strike of 1941 and how that shaped animation in the years after. 
      • At this time, unions were an established organization for every other form of work from cameramen to cooks, but not animators. One animator, David Hilberman, realized working for Disney, “You were no longer the individual… you were part of an assembly line.” Many other animators and artists realized this as well, and since job security was not guaranteed, holidays could be mandatory, and overtime could be required without added pay. 
    • Industrial Film and Poster Service
      • After being fired for a second time from Disney in 1941, Stephen Bosustow decided it was time to make an animation studio of his own. His first studio was with animator Cy Young and named Associated Cine-Artists. This studio did not last long and soon he began the Industrial Film and Poster Service in 1943 with Zack Schwartz (fired from Disney in 1940), and David Hilberman (who left the company to gain the union more concessions). 
      • Stephen Bosustow had been fired 8 days before the strike. When one of the other fired employees asked Disney what they should do, Disney reportedly replied, “I don’t know, go start a hotdog stand.” 
      • The three men that founded UPA thought that animation could be used as a tool for social reform. They were unhappy with the restrictive, Academic style of drawing at Disney, with familiar fairy tales and an emphasis on humor. In an article titled Animation Learns a New Language Zach Schwartz and John Hudley, who would become a director at UPA, wrote of the Disney formula, “Select any two animals, grind together, and stir into a plot. Add pratfalls, head and body blows, and slide whistle effects to taste. Garnish with Brooklyn accents. Slice into 600-foot lengths and release.” 
        • In Between Disney and UPA, Zach Schwartz worked for Columbia’s Screen Gems where he had an epiphany. “Our camera isn’t a motion-picture camera. Our camera is closer to a printing press.” 
          • Schwartz explained to his coworkers that animated films are not really films at all but are instead graphic art. Although this revelation did little for his coworkers it affected Schwartz greatly.
    • The first few works produced were paid for by the United Automobile Workers.
      • The first short that the team produced was called Hell Bent For Election in 1944. It was directed by the legendary Chuck Jones and was a video that campaigned for FDR’s re-election. It depicted him and his opponent as trains racing for votes. FDR was a sleek new train and Thomas E. Dewey was older and run-down. 
    • The studio would go on to change its studio name to the much sleeker United Productions of America or UPA and win an Oscar for Gerald McBoing-Boing(1950), When Magoo Flew (1954), and Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956).
    • Today we know of UPA for its most popular character–Mr. Quincy Magoo. His first appearance was in Ragtime Bear in 1949. The loveable Magoo’s nearsightedness often gets him in trouble where antics ensue but it all ends up alright in the end.
      • The cantankerous character came to life with Jim Backus’ booming voice. Jim would later be known not only for Mr. Magoo but also Thurston Howell III in Gilligan’s Island.
    • The studio’s influence spread, and before long their use of simpler lines and limited animation techniques went on to be used by Hanna Barbera and even Disney.
  • As the anti-communist movement and publications gained traction, many UPA writers and directors were forced to renounce communism or be fired to save the company. In the end, it did little to save production and by the late ’50s, the creative giant was gutted of most of its most innovative and creative minds. 
    • When Henry Saperstein acquired UPA from Columbia in 1960, production halted on new animation as the medium was losing traction. Saperstein instead decided to license Magoo out for commercials and tv spots. 
      • But, this was not the final chapter for Magoo. In 1961, UPA hired a new director of program development that had a plan for the character: a full-length animated Christmas special complete with Broadwayesque music. 
    • In the ’80s Saperstein looked to sell but could not find the proper amount that he was asking for. By the 1990s he was determined to make a live-action Magoo which would eventually star Leslie Nielson. It was originally set to be directed by Steven Spielberg but the option lapsed. 
  • SYNOPSIS
    • Mr. Magoo is late for Broadway’s opening night of “A Christmas Carol,” where he will play the lead role. As he finally makes his way to the stage, the curtain rises on the set of “A Christmas Carol.” From there, the audience sees a musical retelling, with Magoo giving a straightforward performance as Scrooge. 
The top picture is the original drawing of Belle. The bottom was the last minute re-design from Tony Rivera.
  • THE FIRST ANIMATED CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
  • Just as the TV series “Mister Magoo” had finished production, producer Lee Orgel entered the scene as the new director of program development. According to his wife, Lea, the two of them were out shopping when Lee got the inspiration for Magoo’s Christmas Carol. 
    • Orgel rushed to the nearest phone to pass along his idea. He created a pitch for the special, along with several other pitches that he called, “spectaculars.” 
    • While the other specials did not come to be, Orgel believed in Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Although there were some doubts that the project could work–A cartoon character in a serious acting role?–Orgel did everything he could to get the project off the ground. According to Orgel’s wife, the made-for-TV film was his “baby.”
  • This was not Orgel’s first animation project, as he was already the Associate Producer of a Warner Brothers film called, “Gay Purr-ee,” starring Judy Garland and Robert Goulet. That film also featured the work of Chuck Jones and songwriters Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg (the team behind The Wizard of Oz.) 
    • The movie was released around the same time as Magoo’s Christmas
  • Although Magoo was a fairly popular character, there was concern that audiences wouldn’t appreciate seeing him play a serious role. After all, Magoo was a goofball that got into wacky situations. Why would he be the lead in such a beloved and serious story as “A Christmas Carol”? 
    • Barbara Chain, a screenwriter that had collaborated with Lee Orgel on a cartoon called Crusader Rabbit, found a solution to this problem. Instead of Mr. Magoo completely changing his personality to fit the part of Scrooge, the special takes place on Broadway and features a play within a play. That way, the audience can see Magoo and his wacky antics on his way to the theater, and then the character drops all of that the moment the play begins. 
      • Of course, the running gag of Mr. Magoo is that the main character has difficulty with his eyesight. There are a few moments when Magoo as Scrooge also has difficulty seeing what is happening in front of him, since playing a character wouldn’t magically fix Magoo’s eyes. 
      • Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol is a fairly true adaptation, but with some key differences. One of the biggest and most mysterious is the change in the order of the ghosts. We’ve never been able to find the exact reason for this switch, though we suspect it was for story purposes. 
  • Abe Levitow was the man tasked with directing Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol. According to the artists that worked on the special, Abe gave them a lot of creative freedom with their sequences, and he had a tight grip on the production, which allowed it to run smoothly. 
    • Although several animators worked on the project, they hardly ever communicated with each other except through Abe. It really spoke to his ability as a leader and communicator that the final product turned out to be so seamless. 
    • Levitow also directed Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth. 
  • UPA was known for a specific type of style, and Mist Magoo’s Christmas Carol was no exception. The team of artists and animators truly understood how to match the specific look of a UPA film. 
    • Animator Lee Mishkin designed the characters, though some of them did go through several changes. 
      • For example, artist Tony Rivera drew a different design for the character Belle, but it was apparently changed late in production. Author Darrell Van Citters wrote about this in his blog dedicated to the special. He also published a book you can buy that he talks about in his blog! Which you can find—HERE
      • This was a big change, as the scenes that included Belle had already been inked and colored, and it would have been expensive to make that change so late in production. 
    • Gloria Wood and Bob Inman were two key background artists that really brought a unique look to the special. Wood designed the background for the graveyard sequence, which takes place when Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. 
    • Shirley Silvey was a female animation designer in a male-dominated profession. In the scenes with Marley’s ghost, she animated the characters from unusual angles, which drives home the unsettling nature of the moment. 
    • Many of the animators that worked on the production were freelance, as UPA probably couldn’t afford a large number of animators on staff. It’s impressive that the animation is as consistent as it is, as the freelancers had to grasp the style before working on the project. There were a couple of sequences, like the Cratchit Family sequence, that needed to be redone. 
  • Almost 60 years after its release, the lasting power of Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol is largely due to its incredible music. Lee Orgel reportedly wanted Richard Rogers to compose the songs, sending him a copy of the novel and asking him to consider it. Rogers was unavailable, and contacted legendary songwriter Frank Loesser (you might remember him from our Christmas songs episode from last year, he wrote “Baby it’s Cold Outside”.) Loesser was also unavailable, so he contacted Jule Styne. Styne was a former vocal coach and prolific composer, responsible for classic songs that appeared in musicals like, Peter Pan and Gypsy. Styne was in-between projects, as he was about to start working on the Tony-Winning musical Funny Girl with lyricist Bob Merrill. So, Styne and Merrill signed on to write the songs for Magoo’s Christmas
    • Merrill was a prominent lyricist that penned a lot of popular songs like, “How much is that doggy in the window?” 
  • Composer Walter Scharf crafted a score that seamlessly blended the songs while adding some musical magic of his own. Scharf was a prolific TV composer, scoring episodes of TV shows like Hawaii 5-0 and Mission Impossible. He also scored 1955 musical classic The Court Jester, though he was uncredited. 
  • SO LET’S TALK ABOUT THESE SONGS!
  • GREAT TO BE BACK ON BROADWAY
    • The special opens with a musical number, “Great to be back on Broadway,” showcasing the lights, billboards, and traffic of New York City. The challenge for animators in this scene was depicting such a complicated setting using the classic simplified style of UPA. 
    • Bob Singer was one of the layout artists responsible for the scene. He said that UPA was like an animator’s paradise. Even though there was a team of layout artists, the final product looked seamless because they were all able to match the style. 
    • This is the only song sung by Mister Magoo AS Mister Magoo. The rest of the music is the play within the play, which explains why this song has a different overall sound. 
    • As we said before, actor Jim Backus provided the speaking and singing voice of Magoo. 
  • RINGLE RINGLE
    • After Magoo gets pushed onto the stage and the play begins, the story wastes no time getting started. As Scrooge, Magoo begins to count his money and breaks into a song called “Ringle Ringle.” 
    • In order to create an accurate setting, layout artists and “color stylists” (also known as background artists) spent a lot of time researching the furniture styles of the 1840s. They also used a type of splatter technique to make the room look dingy. 
    • This song is the first appearance of Tony-nominated actor Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit (he would win a Tony in 1964). Scrooge and Cratchit sing a duet, with Scrooge continuing to count his money as Cratchit shivers in the other room. 
  • LORD’S BRIGHT BLESSING
    • When the ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to see the humble home of Bob Cratchit, the two witness the family sit down to a meager Christmas feast. The family doesn’t have very much but is still very happy. They break into a song called, “Lord’s Bright Blessing,” which perfectly captures the spirit of the holidays, as they dream of a better Christmas but happily accept the one they have now. 
    • The Cratchit House is designed to look run down, with broken furniture. However, it looks much cleaner than Scrooge’s office, showing the pride that the family has in their home. 
    • This song features Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit, Laura Olsher as Mrs. Cratchit and the Cratchit son, and Marie Matthews as the Cratchit daughter. Olsher was meant to only play Mrs. Cratchit, but the actor for the other roles was late to recording. Olsher had almost no experience with music, so Jule Styne helped her through the recording. 
      • Laura Olsher also voiced the boy at the end that gets the turkey for the Cratchits. The boy says, “walker,” which was Victorian slang for “humbug.” Olsher’s daughter had just visited the UK and told her mom about the word, and it made it into the special. 
  • ALONE IN THE WORLD
    • When the ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to his childhood, they see Scrooge as a boy. Together, Scrooge and his younger self sing a song about how lonely they are. 
    • “Alone in the World” was meant to be sung by a little boy, but none of the boys that auditioned seemed to have the sound they were looking for. Marie Matthews was in the room because her son had auditioned, and Matthews’ mother convinced the team to let Marie try singing the part. The songwriters resisted, saying that they really wanted a boy to sing the part, but they let her audition anyway. Matthews happened to have the voice they were looking for and was hired for the role. She said she was very honored to sing such a beautiful song. 
  • WINTER WAS WARM
    • When the ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge to relive his days with his love, Belle, she sings a song about their lost love. “Winter Was Warm” is one of the most loved songs from the special, serving as an emotional climax as Scrooge sees all that he lost because of his greed. 
    • Jane Kean played Belle, and although she was known as a comedic actress, Jule Styne knew she would be able to handle the song because they had already been working together on another project. Kean later said that the song should have been a big hit if it had been sung by someone much more famous. 
    • There’s a long-standing rumor that the song, “People” in the musical Funny Girl was originally written for Magoo’s Christmas. Kean cleared that up, saying that they were writing that song simultaneously, and she wanted to sing it, but Jule Styne told her no, they had another song for her instead. 
  • WE’RE DESPICABLE 
    • The final song of Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (if you don’t count reprises) is sung by a group of criminals as they pawn stolen items from Scrooge’s home. “We’re Despicable” is many viewers’ favorite part. The song is bouncy and fun, with silly rhymes and gags. 
    • This scene was animated by Gerard Baldwin, who had been given the song and the situation, and built the storyboard from there. Baldwin said it took about two weeks to animate the entire sequence from start to finish after the storyboard had been completed. 
    • This is the only sequence in the entire special where Scrooge has four fingers and a thumb. This was because Baldwin liked to draw hands. This might seem like a continuity error, but it speaks to the charm of the special and the fact that many different people worked on the animation. 
  • ALSO STARRING
  • Royal Dano as Marley’s Ghost
    • Marley’s ghost is introduced with the sounds of dragging chains. Earl Bennett provided the sound effects for the special. 
    • Royal Dano was a screen actor that appeared as Tom Fury in Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Paul Frees as the stage director
    • Frees was a prominent voice actor, well known for roles he played in other Christmas specials, especially for Rankin and Bass
  • Joan Gardner as Tiny Tim/The Ghost of Christmas Past/Belle’s Speaking Voice
    • Joan Gardner was a prolific voice actor, although she is hardly known today. She was also a screenwriter and composer. 
  • John Hart as Billings
    • Hart appeared on TV shows like Rawhide and Dallas
  • Morey Amsterdam as Brady
    • Amsterdam was a comedic actor that appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show!
  • Les Tremayne as Ghost of Christmas Present
    • Tremayne worked in radio and had one of the most heard voices in the wartime era. 
  • RECEPTION/LEGACY
    • Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol premiered in December of 1962. According to Lea Orgel, she and Lee rented a color TV and had all their friends over to watch the premiere. In the special edition commentary of the movie, Lea says that Walt Disney called Lee that night and congratulated him. He told him that it would be watched for generations. 
    • For several years after, the special aired on NBC. Sometimes certain songs would be cut for time (usually Winter Was Warm). Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, families across the US were treated to this special until it stopped airing. 
    • In 2012, on the 50th anniversary, NBC aired the special once again, and it has aired on TV sporadically over the past couple of Christmases. While it is unlikely that you will catch the special on TV, it’s now streaming for free on Peacock (with ads). 
    • At the time of airing, the special was popular enough that Mr. Magoo got a brand new TV series, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, and would appear in more animated specials with literary characters. 
    • Despite getting less exposure than some other more well-known Christmas specials, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol has no shortage of fans. You can find recipes for Razzleberry Dressing online, along with many testimonials about why this particular version of A Christmas Carol is an absolute classic. 

There’s no doubt that Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol had a lasting impact on TV history. It was the first entry in a decades-long tradition of animated Christmas specials. If you love Rudolph and Frosty, but you’re unfamiliar with this animated gem, go ahead and give it a watch. It’s a unique and entertaining look at an old classic and calls back to a time in animation that is often forgotten. 

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is a time-honored tradition. It’s a wonderful look back at the 1960s, a time capsule that brings the viewer to a different age of animation. And in our house, like so many others, it’s not Christmas until this short, bald man sings. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

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Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


SOURCES:

The (Brief) Case of The Snowman (1982)

Happy Thanksgiving, Cassettes!

This month, we talked all about movies that were based on books. Since it’s still November, we’re continuing that theme with a British TV special from 1982. 

In September of 1978, children’s author Raymond Briggs published “The Snowman,” a wordless picture book that detailed the story of a young boy embarking on a wondrous adventure with the snowman he built that day. Before that, Briggs had repulsed critics with a picture book called, “Fungus the Boogeyman,” and before that, he published a bestseller about a grumpy old man that didn’t even want to work one day a year. That book was called, “Father Christmas,” and detailed the life of Santa Claus. 

But when Briggs set out to write “The Snowman,” he wanted a story that was so quiet, he didn’t include any words. The book begins with comic-strip-like illustrations, panels that increase in size as the story unfolds, leading up to beautiful double-page spreads. The illustrations guide the reader through a nostalgic tale, filled with the magic of childhood. 

“The Snowman” is one of Brigg’s best-known books, returning to collective memory every holiday season. It wasn’t long after its release that a half-hour animated special based on the book premiered on Channel 4 in Great Britain in December of 1982. 

The short film received commercial and critical acclaim, and according to “The Snowman” official website, it has aired on Channel 4 in Great Britain every year since 1982. So, come join us from wherever you are, in whatever weather, to talk about this classic that has touched the hearts of millions of people. 

MAKING OF

  • Raymond Briggs went to art school to become a cartoonist but eventually found himself writing his own stories. By the time he published “The Snowman,” he had a successful career as an illustrator for at least twenty years. 
  • Because “The Snowman” relies only on imagery, it was more important than ever for the illustrations to make the viewer feel the action of the story. Briggs said, “That’s the essence of good illustrating I think, where the drawer really feels a feeling that a figure in the picture is feeling. You’ve got to feel what it’s like to fly, feel what it’s like to slow down as you land. And yet you’ve got to be outside observing it. Very difficult! I’m thinking of giving it up.” 
  • Producer John Coates of the animation studio TVC became interested in optioning the story for a short film. TVC was a well-established studio that had created the animated film “Yellow Submarine” in the late 1960s. 
    • Coates had two assistant animators, Hillary Audus and Joanna Harrison, buy a dozen copies of the book and start cutting it up to make a mock-up animation. 
  • John Coates brought the idea to Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the Chief Executive of Channel 4 at the time. The channel was brand new, and The Snowman was actually one of the first things they ever did. Isaacs felt it would be a stark contrast from the other programming they had planned for the channel, but it was so delightful that he gave it the green light. 
    • According to the Animation World Network, Coates mortgaged his own house to help pay for the project. 
  • Director Dianne Jackson, who had worked on TV commercials for several years, took over the project and created the storyboard “bible.” This “bible” was not to be changed by anyone except for the director or producer. The animators and the composer, Howard Blake, timed the storyboard and used it as their guide to finishing the final product.
  • They were a small team of about 8 animators and they were all given their own sequence to animate. 
    • The animators started by creating keyframes of movement, filling in more drawings based on the timing of the scene. Each drawing was sent to a coloring artist that used colored pencils to fill in the detail. Each image takes about 45 minutes to an hour to color. 
    • One of the most unique visual elements of “The Snowman” is the look and texture of the backgrounds. A background artist would layer every scene with pencil shading, resulting in no solid colors. Because of this, the texture of the paper shows through, giving the feel of a picture book. 
    • “The Snowman” used cell animation, meaning that artists would draw the moving elements of the short film on cells, which would then be placed on a static background and photographed one by one. 
  • The animators have said that they feel like the snowman wouldn’t look right if it wasn’t hand-drawn. In 2012, Briggs signed off on an animated sequel to the short film which was also hand-drawn. 
  • When the short film made it to the US in 1984, the American broadcasters wanted a new introduction with a famous person. So, they chose David Bowie. 
    • Bowie had already gotten in touch with the studio to work on an upcoming film, and even though the producers were nervous to ask him, he happily recorded a new intro. 
  • For the 20th anniversary of the short, the original animators created an opening sequence introducing the story with Father Christmas. This was done in the traditional hand-drawn style so it would match the animation.

THE SHORT FILM

  • The short begins with the little boy waking up to a snowy day, and he’s so excited that he forgets to put on his underpants before his trousers. Roger Mainwood, the man that animated the sequence, said that the number one question he got from children was, “why didn’t he put on his pants?” Mainwood said it was simply because there wasn’t enough time in the scene for it. 
  • In Brigg’s book, the boy and the snowman sit in the family car and play with the lights. One of the assistant animators, Hillary Audus, was a motorcyclist at the time and came up with the idea that they go for a ride. This way, the story could interact with the countryside and location of the story. 
    • The number on the motorcycle plate was the animator’s house number.
  • Joanna Harrison animated the scene in the bedroom when the snowman tries on false teeth. Harrison actually asked her grandmother to take out her false teeth so she could draw them.
  • Near the end of the short, the boy and the snowman travel to the North Pole and meet Father Christmas. Harrison and Audus were the ones that came up with the idea to incorporate the character, simply because he was a subject from another of Briggs’ books. 
    • Briggs thought it was a corny idea but later said that he was wrong and that it worked out just fine. 
    • The boy also receives a Christmas present in the film with a tag that says “James.” Joanna Harrison wrote the name on the tag because she was dating a man with that name, and it just stuck. The gift is a blue scarf with the snowman on it. Two props of the scarf were eventually made, one given to David Bowie.  
  • The most iconic part of the short, and possibly what made it stick in the minds of viewers, is the scene where James, the boy, takes off with the snowman. The pair fly across the world to a hauntingly beautiful song by composer Howard Blake. 
    • Blake had originally written the tune over 10 years earlier while walking on a beach. He felt the music held the sensation of innocence. Blake was visiting a friend at the studio when John Coates asked him if he would consider writing a song for the film. Blake reportedly said, “I think I may have something.” 
      • Blake scored the entire short film, using music to convey every moment of animation. Blake could play the music and tell you exactly what is happening with each sound. 
    • Peter Auty was a 13-year-old choir boy when he recorded the song for the special. Coates later blamed his lack of agent on the fact that the production forgot to credit him, so audiences weren’t aware that it was him. He went on to be an operatic tenor. 
    • Many people believe that singer Aled Jones recorded the original version because his cover of the song topped the charts a couple of years later. 
  • Of course, all great things must come to an end. When James wakes up the next morning, the score reminds us of the excitement from the day before as he runs downstairs to find his friend has melted. The scene is incredibly poignant, especially as the music shifts quickly to a minor sound. 
    • But, as James mourns the loss of the snowman, he reaches into his pocket to discover that the scarf that the snowman had given to him was real. 
    • Composer Howard Blake remarked, “I think why it touches so many people is, the friend melts, and it’s something we all experience. We lose somebody we’re really very fond of, and he’s absolutely heartbroken. But then he has the memory, and the memory is symbolized by the scarf.” 
  • Briggs has said that it didn’t occur to him at the time that the snowman is like a friend, and children see him as a real person. He received many letters asking him to bring the snowman back to which he replied, “ghastly idea.” 

RECEPTION

  • When “The Snowman” first hit shelves, it sold fairly well. It wasn’t until the animated film debuted that the book started flying off the shelves. 
  • The short was nominated for an Oscar, which it did not win. However, it did win the BAFTA for best children’s program! 
  • “The Snowman” has been adapted into a stage show and ballet! 
  • This classic will be 40 years old next year, and it continues to delight audiences to this day. 

From the moment that “The Snowman” begins, it evokes a special kind of nostalgia. There are elements to the story and imagery that we all can relate to in some way. The film is a perfect marriage of visuals and music, and it poignantly portrays the magical, beautiful, and fleeting nature of life. 

Thank you for joining us from wherever and whenever you are, this is another *brief* case closed! 


SOURCES: 

https://www.thesnowman.com/about/

https://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.4/articles/mcgreal1.4.html

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/22/how-the-snowman-melted-david-bowies-heart-raymond-briggs