This week, we’re focusing on Rankin/Bass origin stories for Santa Claus. Last time, we discussed one of my favorite Christmas specials, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). Today, however, we are reviewing the more obscure The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985), which is based off the story of the same name by L. Frank Baum, the very same author of The Wizard of Oz!
This particular special is very different from Rankin/Bass’ usual work, and if it wasn’t for the focus on the character of Santa Claus, I couldn’t really call it a Christmas special. Nevertheless, this was a pretty interesting retelling of the Santa Claus origin story with a fantasy twist. The story opens in the Forest of Burzee, where the Great Ak holds a meeting with his fellow Immortals to ask that Santa Claus, now an old man, be granted immortality. He then recounts Claus’ life up to this point, starting when the Great Ak discovered an abandoned human baby in the snow. While he gives the baby to the lioness Shiegra to look after him, the Wood Nymph Necile asks to raise the child herself, with Shiegra serving as his protector.
As Claus gets older, the Great Ak shows him how the other mortals live and how difficult their lives are. When Claus asks him why mortals even exist at all if they’re going to treat each other so harshly, the Great Ak responds that humans are meant to leave the world a better place than when they found it. Claus eventually leaves the Forest of Burzee to live in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho alongside Shiegra and a Sound Imp named Tingler, who can speak in every language, including that of the animals. It is here that Claus builds toys for the children in the nearby village, starting with a wooden model of his cat, Blinky.
Unfortunately, Claus is met with trouble when his efforts to bring joy to the children are noticed by the evil Awgwas, creatures with the power to make children do naughty things. While Claus and his companions are unable to stop these monsters on their own, the Awgwas are easily dispatched by the Great Ak and the other Immortals. As expected, Santa Claus is indeed granted immortality for his great deeds, as the Immortals decide it would be a great loss to humanity if Santa Claus were to die.
While this special does not have much of a Christmas feel like that of Rankin/Bass’ other works, I thought this was a pretty entertaining little movie, nonetheless. The fantasy element and character designs were quite interesting, the songs weren’t bad, and this is yet another excellent portrayal of Santa Claus in his younger years. This obscure special really deserves more attention, and I would definitely recommend it if you’d like to watch something by Rankin/Bass that is a bit different from what they’re more commonly known for.
Previous Rankin/Bass Reviews (and other similar holiday specials)
- Cricket on the Hearth (1967)
- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)
- Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)
- The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
- The First Easter Rabbit (1976)
- Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976)
- Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)
- The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town (1977)
- Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
- The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
- Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)
- Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980)
- The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold (1981)
- A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008)