Amongst Christmas specials, but particularly amongst those produced by Rankin and Bass, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town stands apart. It does so because it is most the most triumphantly well-told of the lot, soon I will describe the most cinematic but here we’re talking strictly based on narrative.
The film opens in a fashion reminiscent of Citizen Kane with a newsreel spewing headlines about Christmas that go from mundane to fantastical and we are braced for the story. Then we are introduced to a mailman modeled after and voiced by Fred Astaire, he reads and we hear, in voice over, the questions children have about Santa Claus. These facts about him we all take for granted are about to be explained.
This may seem like a simple enough, paint-by-numbers method of concocting a tale but there is such ingenuity in the plot devices and also a lack of any rococo quality to it that it works. It all flows naturally from the action. Then the narrator chimes in and connects the dots just in case, and a child’s voice is heard responding.
This may just be Romeo Muller’s, the writer Rankin/Bass employed, best work as he makes Santa an even more heroic figure because in this tale we learn of his past, learn to think of him as a person not just an icon, and then also have an antagonist who vilifies him and renders him an outlaw.
You have, of course, the talents of Astaire and Mickey Rooney in this tale and the indelible figures of the Winter Warlock and Bergermeister Meisterberger and of course another classic song. It is an absolutely unbeatable combination and one of the best options for the season.