First I have to apologize for my recent missed posts – I’ve been under the weather AND normal Christmassy stuff got in the way. BUT, I said there would be posts for every day leading up to Christmas and I WILL deliver on that promise! I plan on doubling up a couple days and giving you guys a couple doses of popcorny goodness between now and the time jolly ol’ St. Nicholas squeezes his rump down your chimneys.
Speaking of which, this is THE LAST Top Ten Tuesday before Christmas, so what better focus could there be than the top portrayals of Kris Kringle? So here we go: the TOP TEN BEST PORTRAYALS OF SANTA.
#10 – Tom Hanks in “The Polar Express”
Not gonna lie – this movie creeps me the hell out. The characters are too real and not real enough at the same time. Like those creepy Asian “service” dolls they’ve invented. Just skeeves me out looking at the dead eyes and the mouths that are kind of moving to the words but seem to be a bit too fluid. Yeesh – gonna have nightmares now. HOWEVER, Tom Hanks lends his voice (and his actions via motion capture) to combine a portrayal of your favorite uncle’s warmth and a superhero’s majestic poise to bring about a Santa Claus that raises the hair on the back of the neck of your inner child. That “star struck” feeling of your childhood when you got to that line at the mall and saw HIM sitting on his throne waiting for you to come sit on his lap.
#9 – Oliver Clark & #8 -Douglas Seale in “Ernest Saves Christmas”
Ernest movies are a guilty pleasure of mine – along with Pauly Shore – and I have a soft spot for Jim Varney’s lovable doofus. However, I could never ask you to take me seriously ever again if I were to include ANY Ernest movie on the top 10 list of cinematic masterpieces (“To Kill A Mockingbird,” “Citizen Kane,” and “Ernest: Scared Stupid” just doesn’t seem that credible). However, it fits on this list not once BUT TWICE. The Ernest storyline is garbage, the reindeer in the airport storyline is forgettable, the homeless kleptomaniac who sees the err of her ways is a barf-worthy redemption story that even the Hallmark Channel thinks is too cheesy. BUT Douglas Seale plays an aging Santa Claus in search of his replacement and Oliver Clark plays an actor who is topping the list of Santa Claus successors. Both Santas are human and flawed men and they let the chinks in their armor show, but they both know that children need Santa and no matter what hubris or missteps they have been guilty of, they never put the children’s beliefs in the Holiday Spirit in jeopardy. “Y’know what I mean, Vern?”
#7 – Charles Durning in “Elmo Saves Christmas”
What the hell is wrong with Christmas that it always needs to be saved?! And why is it alway up to people like Ernest and Elmo to save it? Why not Batman or Rambo? What’s Elmo going to do – look how he saved Sesame Street – Ernie and Bert are all but on public assistance, all of Big Bird’s songs have been rerecorded with Elmo taking the lead; it’s basically Elmo Street. And he’s too fuzzy and cute for you to realize he’s Napoleon! That’s one reason I love Charles Durning’s Santa Claus; St. Nick doesn’t put up with Elmo’s crap! He’s like the second Dumbledore – the first one was soft spoken and warm; the second isn’t afraid to lay the smackdown. The movie is called “Elmo Saves Christmas” but in all actuality he’s the dumbass that puts it in jeopardy in the first place. Here enters Santa who, without being mean and scary for the kids, tells Elmo, in no uncertain terms, “You done messed up, you furry little meal ticket, now man up and fix what you broke.” Sometimes Santa needs to lay a healthy helping of tough love on you.
#6 – Andrew Hill Newman in “A Wish For Wings That Work”
This little-known Christmas cartoon, featuring Opus and Bill and other Bloom County/Outland favorites, is a hidden treasure. If you have never seen it, forget hunting down a streaming version or a rental option, just go to Amazon and treat yourself to a copy to keep. Irreverent humor like the comic strip and true holiday warmth mixed together in equal helping. As for Santa’s role, it is very small but Newman’s voice is what I’ve always thought Santa truly sounds like:
Also, he doesn’t give the protagonist what he wants for Christmas – in an original twist away from the perfect gift showing up at the last moment – he gives him a solution to his underlying problem thereby improving his life permanently. Santa is better than any guidance counselor any of us has ever had.
#5 – Tim Allen in “The Santa Clause” Trilogy
Okay, we’re going to skip over the whole part about how he only got the job because of the involuntary manslaughter that caused the original Père Noel to plummet to his death leaving his crumpled corpse at the feet of a small child who is already in need of counseling due to his parents’ ugly divorce EXCEPT that his stepfather IS a counselor who psychoanalyzes the kid at every turn. DESPITE the grim premise, Tim Allen turns into one of the quintessential modern day Santa Clauses who adds the extra twist of balancing his duties of being Father Christmas and still being just Dad. How can Santa play favorites among millions of children? And how can a father neglect the needs of his only child for the needs of strangers? Forget Tim “The Toolman” and Buzz Lightyear, this will be the role he will be remembered for.
#4 – Ed Asner in “Elf”
This movie is just plain old Christmas fun and childlike silliness. Ed Asner puts aside the usual teddy bear-like Santa character and just lets the jolliness show. He is still warm and festive, but there is just an extra dash of fun and whimsy that feeds into Will Ferrell’s…well…Will Ferrellness. Santa’s advice about “free candy” is absolute genius and should be added to all parenting books.
#3 – David Huddleston in “Santa Claus: The Movie”
WARNING: This movie sucks like a Hoover vacuum. It is an ungodly massacre of modern cinema. The fact that you need to put “The Movie” in the title for a movie is a red flag. “Hey audience, by the way, this is a movie…hence why you’re all sitting in a movie theater. Don’t try to talk to, or touch, or in any way try to interact with the giant people who are about to show up on this big light up wall, because they aren’t real. That’s why this is ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ and not ‘Santa Claus: The Real Person You Can Talk To,’ or ‘Santa Claus: The Dancing Puppets Made Of Tropical Fruit Slam Poetry Extravaganza.'” However, despite it being 99% unwatchable – that last remaining 1% shows us a portrayal of Santa that proves to children how magical he really is. Not good enough to save this movie, but if you come across this movie somewhere, do yourself a favor and just fast forward to Huddleston’s scenes – he instantly sparks the Christmas Spirit no matter what time of year it might be.
#2 – Richard Attenborough in “A Miracle on 34th St.” (1994)
The only downside to this performance was that he couldn’t find a way to work in the line “Welcome…to Jurassic Park.” I usually balk at remakes, ESPECIALLY movies so well-done and classic they should be deemed untouchable. There have been other versions of “The Wizard of Oz,” but no direct remakes. No one would stand for a reboot of “The Godfather” or “Gone with the Wind” – so this one made me reeeeeeeeally skeptical. But Richard Attenborough channelled the spirit of the jolly ol’ elf, stayed true enough to the original, and still made his performance unique enough to stand on its own. Come to think of it, I’m not even really sure I remember anything else from this remake – just Santa.
#1 – Edmund Gwenn in “A Miracle on 34th St.” (1948)
Nothing compares to the original. Gwenn won an Academy Award for this performance, but more than that he became what we think about when we think of Santa. Whimsical, funny, warm, kind, the protector of children, and a moral compass (and Lord knows we need help in that department). If you ask me (which you didn’t, but you don’t have a choice because it’s my blog and I say what I want) I wouldn’t be surprised if Santa used Edmund Gwenn as an alias and portrayed himself in this movie. It’s fitting that in a movie where there is a fight to believe in Santa’s existence there is a performance that removes any doubt in your mind that he’s real.
“Whoow! Now I know there’s a Santa Claus. Oh, you may laugh, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not so easy to be certain, you know. He’s a most elusive little fellow. He turns up in all sorts of places under all sorts of names and disguises.” ~ Edmund Gwenn from his acceptance speech after receiving the Academy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role