This article is about the 1970 Rankin/Bass television special. For the song the special is named after, see Santa Claus is Coming to Town (song).
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is an hour-length stop-motion Christmas television special produced by Rankin/Bass, originally aired on ABC on December 14, 1970. It stars Fred Astaire as S. D. Kluger, the narrator, and Mickey Rooney as the title character. The film tells the story of how Santa Claus, and several other well-known Christmas traditions, came to be. It is based on the Christmas song of the same name, which was introduced by Eddie Cantor in 1934.
Following a newsreel stating how children around the world are preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus, we are introduced to the narrator, Special Delivery "S.D." Kluger. When Kluger's mail truck breaks down, he decides to tell the story of Santa in response to several letters sent from children.
The story begins in a gloomy municipality called Sombertown, which is ruled by the grouchy, child-hating Burgermeister Meisterburger. One night, a baby arrives on his doorstep with a name tag reading "Claus" and a note requesting that the Burgermeister raise the child as his own. The Burgermeister angrily orders his right-hand man, Grimsley, to take the baby to the local orphanage. On the way there, however, a gust of wind blows the baby far away to the Mountains of the Whispering Winds. There, a group of animals hide him from the Winter Warlock, a powerful wizard who dislikes anyone trespassing on his land.
The animals then bring the baby to the other side of the mountain, where he is found by a family of elves by the name of Kringle. Their queen, Tanta Kringle, decides to adopt the baby and name him "Kris." As he grows up, the elves teach Kris how to make toys, having been "the first toymakers to the king" long ago. When Kris is old enough, he volunteers to deliver the toys to Sombertown, joined by a lost penguin whom he names Topper. Meanwhile, the Burgermeister outlaws all toys in Sombertown after tripping on a duck and breaking his funny bone. He declares that anyone with a toy in their possession will be arrested and thrown in the dungeon.
After avoiding an encounter with the Winter Warlock, Kris arrives in Sombertown, where he starts handing out toys to the children. He is briefly halted by Miss Jessica, a local schoolteacher, but Jessica quickly warms up to him when he gives her a China doll as a "peace offering." Afterwards, the Burgermeister arrives and nearly arrests the children for playing with the toys. Kris gives the Burgermeister with a yo-yo, which he enjoys initially (admitting he loved playing with yo-yos when he was a kid), only for Grimsley to remind him that he is breaking his own laws. Enraged, the Burgermeister orders to have Kris arrested, but Kris just barely manages to escape the Burgermeister's troops and out of Sombertown.
As Kris and Topper pass through the forest, they are captured by the Winter Warlock's tree monsters and the Warlock confronts them. Kris gives the Warlock a toy train in an attempt to placate him; touched by this act of kindness, the Warlock's icy exterior melts away and he befriends Kris. To repay him, the Warlock (now preferring to be called just "Winter") tells Kris that Jessica is looking for him. Kris finds Jessica, who informs him that the Burgermeister has destroyed all of the toys he delivered and the children now want new ones. The Kringles move onto Winter's mountain and build a new workshop there, and Kris starts delivering the toys at night.
To prevent any further toy deliveries, the Burgermeister orders all doors to be locked tight, so Kris starts sliding down chimneys to deliver them. The Burgermeister then begins searching houses outright, so Kris resolves to hide the toys in the children's stockings, which they routinely leave hanging by the fireplace. Growing frustrated with his inability to stop Kris, the Burgermeister sets a trap for him when he makes another delivery. He sends Grimsley to arrest Winter and the Kringles, while he personally captures Kris, who surrenders willingly once he sees Topper being taken hostage outside. With the Kringles and most of their allies now in the dungeon, the Burgermeister personally sets fire to the children's toys in front of them, declaring they will never play with toys again.
Jessica implores the Burgermeister to release Kris and the Kringle family, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. That night, she visits the dungeon and tells Winter to use his magic to free everyone, but the old warlock laments that he has no more magic except for some magic feed corn that can make reindeer fly. This inspires Jessica to give some of the feed corn to Kris's reindeer friends - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen - who then use their new flying ability to help the Kringles, Kris, Topper, and Winter escape. The enraged Burgermeister vows that he and his family will hunt them down eventually.
After some time, it is shown that Kris has grown a beard, and Tanta suggests that he return to his birth name "Claus" for safety. Kris asks Jessica to share the name Claus with him, as his wife. After they are married, the group travels to the North Pole, where they build a new workshop, making more toys for the children in Sombertown. Eventually, the people of Sombertown realize how silly the Meisterburgers' laws are once the Burgermeister passes away and falls out of power, and Kris' legend goes worldwide. Having now become Santa Claus, he realizes that he cannot keep up with all the toy requests, leading to his decision to go out just once a year, on December 24th.
The film ends as S.D. Kluger reflects on what Christmas is truly about, even though there are still a few misguided folks who do not understand. Having by now fixed his mail truck, S.D. remembers that he still has to deliver the letters to Santa. Joined by Topper, Winter, the Kringle Brothers, and a parade of children, S.D. drives to Santa's castle while singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" as the credits roll. The film closes with Santa stepping out of his castle, revealing himself in full splendor.
The special contains the following songs:
- "The First Toymakers to the King" - sung by Tanta and the Kringles
- "No More Toymakers to the King" - sung by Burgermeister Meisterburger and Grimsley
- "Be Prepared to Pay" - sung by Kris and the Westminster Children's Choir
- "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" - sung by Kris and Winter
- "My World is Beginning Today" - sung by Jessica
- "What Better Way to Tell You" - sung by S.D. Kluger
- "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - sung by S.D. Kluger and the Westminster Children's Choir
All of the songs from the special were included on the special's soundtrack, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman. "The First Toymakers to the King", "No More Toymakers to the King", "Put One Foot in Front of the Other", and the title song were all included on the 1996 album Rudolph, Frosty and Friends' Favorite Christmas Songs. The latter two songs were also featured on the album Nick at Nite: A Classic Cartoon Christmas, while the former two appeared on that album's sequel, A Classic Cartoon Christmas, Too. "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" was later featured on Songs to Celebrate 25 Days of Christmas.
- Sharp-eyed viewers may notice what appears to be writing on the foil covering the back of Grimsley's clipboard during the "No More Toymakers to the King" scene. The writing is in fact the word "LOTTE" repeated over and over. Lotte is a Korean-owned, Japanese-founded confectionery corporation, which can only mean that Grimsley's clipboard was once part of a package of candy.
- Rudolph makes a brief cameo following the introduction of the original eight reindeer, but S.D. Kluger tells the audience that he does not play a role here, as his backstory is "another story".
- The painting of Santa in his sleigh at the end of the special also appeared in The Year Without a Santa Claus.
- In Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, continuity with this special is established when Santa refers to Mrs. Claus as Jessica and the two reminisce about the china doll he gave her when they first met. Winter Warlock's magic corn is also used in that movie, where it is revealed at the end that its ability to make reindeer fly also works on the other animals in Lilly Loraine's circus (oddly, Winter himself is not mentioned nor seen in any of the flashbacks depicting scenes originally from this special).
- Composer Maury Laws said that this was his favorite television special to work on.
The special is owned by Classic Media, which was part of the British-owned Entertainment Rights group until 2012, when DreamWorks Animation purchased Classic Media. Following the April 2016 purchase of DreamWorks Animation by NBC Universal, Comcast now holds those rights as the current owner of the pre-1973 Rankin-Bass library.
As of 2021, the special still airs annually on ABC. ABC's sister cable channel, Freeform, has also aired the special as part of their annual 25 Days of Christmas programming block at least once a year since the block's inception in 1996.
- When the special was syndicated to local television stations by Viacom in the 1980s, most of the songs (with the exception of "Put One Foot in Front of the Other") were shortened for time, while "What Better Way To Tell You" was removed entirely.
- In some airings, Topper's name was changed to Waddles.
- In recent years, ABC's broadcasts have often been trimmed for network television time constraints.
- "Be Prepared to Pay" and "My World is Beginning Today" are cut, and "No More Toymakers to the King" and "What Better Way to Tell You" both lose at least one verse.
- ABC's current broadcasts cut out the Burgermeister's last scene where he vows to hunt down Kris and the Kringles.
- The scene where Burgermeister Meisterburger lights the bonfire of toys was also cut at one time, but has since been reinstated.
- Freeform's current broadcasts are mostly uncut, removing only the shot revealing the Winter Warlock's face that came right before the second commercial break.
|Fred Astaire||S.D. Kluger|
|Mickey Rooney||Kris Kringle/Santa Claus (adult)|
|Keenan Wynn||The Winter Warlock|
|Paul Frees||Burgermeister Meisterburger|
The Kringle brothers
|Joan Gardner||Tanta Kringle|
|Robie Lester||Jessica Claus|
|Greg Thomas||Kris Kringle/Santa Claus (young)|
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town at the Internet Movie Database
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town at TV Tropes
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town at Behind the Voice Actors