5 Phenomenal Movie Santa Clauses

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Christmas is quickly approaching which means Christmas movies are popping up everywhere. In the spirit of Christmas I thought it would be fun to look at one iconic yuletide character that has popped up in movies for years. I’m talking about Santa Claus. Now some movies just don’t give us anything memorable but others present Santa in a way that brings us back year after year. We just have to watch these seasonal favorites. So today I’m looking at five of the best ones. Now with so many cinematic Santas I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But I have no trouble recognizing these five Santa Clauses as absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – TIM ALLEN (“The Santa Claus”)

SANTA ALLEN

While I’m not a big fan of this series of movies as a whole I do really enjoy the first film. “The Santa Claus” tells the story of a pretty selfish father named Scott Calvin who through a nutty accident inherits the position as Santa Claus. Of course a lot of things come with that role – a big round belly, a snow-white beard, etc. Allen is great showing us his character’s transformation from a self-absorbed slug to a loving, caring father and ultimately Santa Claus. His performance shows that he is having a blast with the role and he is the main reason the film works.

#4 – ED ASNER (“Elf”)

ELF

He’s certainly not the main draw in “Elf” but Ed Asner’s performance as Santa Claus is a key ingredient to this movie’s success. Asner never winks at the camera. Instead he seems completely invested which gives us some really funny moments. He not only looks the part but he carries himself just as you would imagine jolly old Saint Nick would. There are several good moments as he manages things at the North Pole but he also has some really fun moments when his sleigh crash lands in Central Park. Fun and fitting – that is how I would describe Asner’s Santa Claus.

#3 – TOM HANKS (“The Polar Express”)

POLAR SANTA

I know some people have had problems with Robert Zemeckis’ motion-captured animated film “The Polar Express”. Not me. I really like the film and it has become one of our holiday favorites. And while he doesn’t appear until the very end of the film, Tom Hanks as Santa Claus is such a wonderful addition. What makes him such a great Santa has a lot to do with the buildup. The film truly creates a larger than life, jaw-dropping perception of Santa and we the audience see him through the same awe-struck eyes of those children. The animation is gorgeous and Hanks fits the portrait perfectly.

#2 – JEFF GILLEN (“A Christmas Story”)

CHRISTMAS STORY

How can a movie Santa Claus who only appears for 3 minutes of a film have such a prominent position on this list? When he gives us such a hilarious and utterly timeless scene. This is what Jeff Gillen gives us in the modern Christmas classic “A Christmas Story”. His tired and grumpy department store Santa grows more and more irritable as he ends his Christmas Eve shift. Unfortunately for Ralphie, that is when he goes to see Santa in hopes of getting his elusive Red Rider BB gun. Grumbling elves and Gillen’s bored and dismissive delivery doesn’t provide Ralphie with the best experience, but it sure is a load of fun for us.

#1 – EDMUND GWENN (“Miracle on 34th Street”)

MIRACLE

Let’s be honest, could there be a different number one? In my book Edmund Gwenn’s fabulous portrayal of Santa Claus is the perfect blueprint on how to play the character. Gwenn’s Oscar-winning performance still stands out today as absolutely brilliant. From the first moment you see Gwenn’s Kris Kringle you can’t help but be drawn to him. He has the demeanor, the cheer, the charisma, the childlike exuberance. And with the exception of one old grump, he makes everyone around him and every circumstance better. Writer and director George Seaton conceives the perfect Santa Claus and Edmund Gwenn embodies that version to absolute perfection. He is the best movie Santa Claus.

So what do you think of my list? Agree or disagree with my choices. Please take time to share your choices in the comments section below.

“Elf” – 4 STARS

ELF

As I have mentioned before, Christmas movies are their own special brand of films. Much of what makes them good is centered on how well they tie into this wonderful holiday season. You can’t separate them from the holiday and their success depends on that relationship to Christmas. Jon Favreau’s “Elf” is a perfect example. Soaked with Christmas lore, “Elf” captures the sentimental spirit of Christmas within its clever and often times hilarious story. “Elf” is inseparable from Christmas and your perception of the holiday will naturally impact your perception of this movie. That’s probably why I can forgive its few flaws and appreciate it as a true holiday treat.

Will Ferrell stars in the film and that’s usually something that throws up red flags for me. I’m not a fan of Ferrell fan and this movie follows a formula that he has overused in the past. As in his movies such as “Semi-Pro” and “Blades of Glory”, he plays someone in an absurdly out-of-place position. But unlike those movies it really works here. He plays Buddy the Elf. He’s a toy maker at Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. But there are several noticeable differences between Buddy and the other elves, none more obvious than the fact that he’s 6’5 and not a good toy maker. His father Papa Elf (hilariously played by Bob Newhart fully decked out in an elf costume and tights) decides it’s time to reveal to Buddy that he’s really a human being. Feeling uncertainty about where he belongs, Buddy sets out on a journey to find his real father who he learns lives in the magical world of New York City.

It’s here that the absurdity really kicks in. Buddy arrives in New York City in full elf garb and with the full elf mentality and is faced with the concrete jungle that we are all familiar with. He comes face-to-face with many new things including New York cabbies, coffee shops, commercialized Christmas, and the overall lack of Christmas spirit. It’s truly side-splitting fun watching Buddy’s wacky elf sensibilities clash with the big city realism. This script gives us plenty of these moments but it never milks it dry. It’s a fish-out-of-water story that never overplays its hand and that is key to making it all work. Now of course it gets a little sappy at the end and it’s fairly predictable as well. But I go back to the type of movie it is and to end the movie any other way would be to subvert everything it’s trying to do.

ELF 1

There are also some really good and committed supporting performances worth mentioning. I love James Caan as Buddy’s real father. He’s a shrewd children’s book publisher who spends more time with his work than with his wife and young son. Caan is perfect for the role. I also really liked the lovely Zooey Deschanel as a Gimbel’s department store worker who catches Buddy’s eye. Like Buddy’s father, she too has lost her Christmas spirit, something that Buddy is eager to help her rediscover. Even the often times annoying Ed Asner is a nice fit as Santa Claus and Faizon Love has several funny scenes as Gimbel’s toy department manager. It’s a wonderful supporting cast who have a lot of fun with what they’re doing.

“Elf” is pure absurd silliness and I thoroughly enjoy it each time I see it. Even if you aren’t a Will Ferrell fan, something I can easily relate to, you’ll find this to be a fun holiday treat. It’s fairly simple and it does go heavy in the sentimentality at the end. But it’s also a warm and clever film that serves as great family friendly entertainment. Now I fully realize that this may not be up everyone’s alley, but for many others this is a picture that has become a true “must watch” movie of the Christmas season. That’s certainly the case at our house.