The Best and Worst Portrayals of Santa Claus
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
SPOILERS FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON BELOW
When the Christmas season comes around, it is the tradition of many to binge Christmas movies and television specials. When creating Christmas media, it is not always an easy task to deliver a proper Santa Claus who can truly capture the Holiday Spirit and the meaning of Christmas. Today, we will be discussing which renditions of Saint Nick are able to successfully bring jolliness to the media in which they appear, and others that fail to bring that same Christmas spirit to the screen.
To start off our list of three meh Santas is Ed Asner’s portrayal in the 2003 film, Elf. Most of the Santa scenes in this movie come from the very beginning and the tail end. As Buddy travels from The North Pole to New York City in search of his father, we come to see that he has an overwhelming admiration for Mr. Claus. Throughout his adventure he stands up for him, openly attacks fake Santas, and screams in delight at the chance to see him. You would think that a version of Kris Kringle with such a grand reputation is sure to be the jolliest old elf you’ve ever seen. For a brief period towards the end of the film, this is proven to be true. Buddy has infuriated his dad, ran away and abandoned all hope of belonging to a family. Conveniently enough, his favorite role model comes crashing into Central Park with his sleigh because the Christmas spirit is down and the engine is busted. Sure enough, Santa inspires Buddy that he is the only one who can save Christmas. Nonetheless, the rest of Santa’s appearances fail to land him on the better side of this list because of a serious lack of personality. His demeanor comes off as a bit bland, and even a bit pushy and cranky. While there is a sense of wisdom to Asner’s portrayal, there’s simply nothing to set him apart from the rest of the bunch.
Although only appearing for the last few seconds of Season 2, Episode 28, “Christmas Who?”, Spongebob’s version of Saint Nick makes quite the impression on the story of Bikini Bottom’s first Christmas. The episode shows Spongebob learning about Christmas and all of its festive glory for the first time from the underwater squirrel, Sandy Cheeks. He then proceeds to spread this joyous holiday to the entirety of Bikini Bottom and urges them to write letters to his newfound idol, Santa Claus. Each and every undersea creature immediately embraces the Christmas spirit except for Squidward, who believes they are putting their faith in something that will ultimately let them down. Ultimately, Santa does not show up and Spongebob is left devastated and humiliated. Squidward, however, impersonates ol’ Kris Kringle to cheer him up. Naturally, this spirals out of control until Squidward ends up giving away every one of his possessions to citizens who believe that Santa has come to bring them their gifts. While Squidward’s portrayal of Saint Nick is generous and selfless, it leaves us scratching our heads at the sight of the real Santa to end the episode. It’s funny to see Santa fly by as he waves to Squidward and giggles uncontrollably. But ironically, it’s even funnier that he knew about Bikini Bottom all along and proceeded to allow Squidward to give away all of his possessions against his will. As ridiculous as it may be, no true version of Father Christmas would ignore the spirit of an entire town and slide on by with a thank you note.
1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
The inspirational story of Rudolph has been enchanting homes since 1964 during the Christmas season. This story centers around a misfit reindeer who has to accept his differences and overcome all obstacles in order to become the savior of Christmas. Unfortunately, Santa Claus himself is one of the obstacles. Not only is Santa not the jolly round fellow that is usually associated with the Christmas Season, he also ridicules Rudolph when he is only a newborn and basically tells Rudolph and his parents that his nose glowing has to stop if he ever wants to make the sleigh team. He also proceeds to sing a song proclaiming himself “The King of Jingle Jingle” who only accepts the best reindeer on his exclusive sleigh team. Santa is also rude to Miss Claus throughout the movie, when all she wants to do is help him gain his Christmas weight. In one scene, he sits and watches grumpily during elf practice, when the poor elves put on a show just for him, and all he has to say is “it needs work” before storming out. It is only when Christmas is in jeopardy and he needs Rudolph’s help that he accepts the misfit and becomes the round jolly Santa we have come to love, but it’s hardly enough to forgive this grouchy rendition of Father Christmas.
3. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is a claymation short film that explores the origins of Kris Kringle like no other movie. We follow Santa from his birth and adoption all the way through his transformation into the jolly white-bearded Christmas icon we have all come to know and love. Along the way, he amasses a SQUAD of friends. He enlists Topper the penguin who he meets in the forest, wins over Miss Jessica (aka Miss Claus) by offering her the china doll she always wanted, and is able to turn the Winter Warlock from his evil ways by offering him a choo-choo train and inspiring him to “put one foot in front of the other”. Unfortunately, when he gifts Burgermeister Meisterburger (the dictatorish ruler who has banned toys) a yo-yo, it doesn't do much to bring spirit to the grumpy villain. Despite this, Kris continually fights tyranny by delivering toys to the children, which puts him in danger for the rest of the story. This version of Santa is one that you can see really cares about bringing joy to all and resorts to drastic measures in order to bring Christmas to everyone, even those who oppose him. The movie also does a great job of explaining certain Christmas symbols and traditions such as stockings, flying reindeer, and the nice list. In the end, we see Kris’ efforts have succeeded, and he continues to bring toys to the children of the world for many Christmases to come.
2. Miracle on 34th Street
One of the most heartwarming and spirituous portrayals of Santa Claus goes back to 1947 in Miracle on 34th Street. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, a man living in New York City who claims to be the one and only Santa Claus. Nevermind the entirety of the world not believing him, Kris sets out determined to bring a sense of spirit and imagination to young Susan Walker and her mother Doris who have forgotten how to believe. What stands out about this story is that it keeps itself relatively grounded and focused on Kringle himself. With no help from magic, friends, or proof that he actually is who he says he is, the plot is entirely reliant on how well Edmund Gwenn is able to embody the essence of Saint Nick. And boy, this Kris Kringle is everything you’d expect Santa to be. He’s entirely selfless, and innocent in a quaint sort of way. While working for Macy’s he openly sends customers to other stores in order to ensure that they find the right gift they are looking for. He’s also delightfully jolly with a childlike spirit, yet diligently passionate for the true meaning of Christmas. Regardless of those who openly declare him to be insane, he maintains a demeanor that is warming and optimistic. You can’t help but root for him while he is put on trial and tear up as Susan and Doris pledge that they believe in him. Although the end of the film leaves on an ambiguous note, ‘ol Edmund Gwenn undoubtedly solidifies himself as an A+ portrayal of a real-world Santa Claus.
1. The Santa Clause
Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) begins The Santa Clause as a successful salesman who has a broken relationship with his ex-wife and son. Though Scott wants Charlie to believe in Santa, he doesn’t quite believe himself. That is, until he knocks the big guy off the roof and puts the jacket on, beginning his reluctant transformation into Father Christmas. At the start of this process, Scott seems to be somewhat in denial about his Christmas serving as Santa. As his life begins to fall apart, Scott begins to accept the mantle and the Christmas spirit, while also mending his relationship with his son, Charlie. The following Christmas, we see a fully transformed Scott (belly, red suit, beard and all) who is ready to bring toys and Christmas cheer to the world, while also proving to the rest of his family that he really is Santa Claus. Tim Allen brings a jolliness and a love for Christmas to his rendition of Father Christmas like no other, which is only enhanced by his drastic transformation and ability to deal with real-life problems that are relatable to the average viewer. Throughout the two sequels, although Scott still struggles with balancing his family problems with the duties of Santa, he ultimately chooses to fight any evil that would harm Christmas (culminated in Plastic Santa and Jack Frost) while also proving his devotion to the people that matter most to him. He continuously embodies the spirit of Christmas as each of the three films come to a close, and many fans would be glad to have this version of Santa climb down their chimneys each year. Tim Allen’s Santa is one that we not only see bring Christmas to the world multiple times, but also betters himself as a person and solidifies his relationships along the way. Though he makes some mistakes, this only makes it more satisfying when he overcomes them and is at his jolliest. We’ll just have to forgive him for causing the death of the previous Santa, and hope that he doesn’t suffer the same fate.
Ranked by Jake Zall & Nick Mandala
Written by Jake Zall & Nick Mandala