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 a stop-motion Christmas television special, presented by Rankin/Bass, that premiered on ABC on December 14, 1970. It stars actor 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 Claus-related 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 prologue, telling the viewer how children around the world are preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus, we are introduced to the special's narrator, Special Delivery "S.D." Kluger. Kluger's mail truck breaks down, so he begins to tell the story of Santa in order to answer children's letters when he gets overwhelmed by so many of them asking various questions regarding Santa.
The story begins in a gloomy small town called Sombertown, which is ruled by the grouchy, ill-tempered, child-hating mayor known as Burgermeister Meisterburger. A baby arrives on his doorstep, with a name tag reading "Claus" and note requesting that Burgermeister raise the child as his own with love and care. However, Burgermeister angrily orders his right-hand man, Grimsley, to take the baby to the "Orphan Asylum." On the way there, a gust of wind blows both sled and baby far away from Grimsley, to the Mountains of the Whispering Winds. There, the animals hide him from the Winter Warlock, a powerful wizard who dislikes anyone trespassing on his land, before he comes investigating where the sled crashed.
The animals then bring the baby to the other side of the mountain, to Rainbow River Valley, where he is found by an elf family by the name of Kringle, made up of five brothers led by their queen, Tanta Kringle. They adopt the baby and name him "Kris". A few years later, Kris hopes that he can one day restore the Kringle family as "the First Toymakers to the King". However, the fact that the Kringles can't pass the mountains without coming across the Winter Warlock has kept them from doing so.
When Kris is old enough, he volunteers to deliver the toys to Sombertown, soon joined by a lost penguin whom he names Topper. But meanwhile, the Burgermeister has outlawed all toys in the town, due to him breaking his funny bone due to having been injured by tripping over a toy duck while walking out of City Hall causing him to wear a cast on his foot. He declares that anyone found possessing a toy will be arrested and thrown in the dungeon.
When Kris enters the town, the other townspeople are frightened by Kris saying "toy" and are questioning him about the red suit that he wears. The children of the town have been put into labor, mostly washing their stockings, so Kris decides to change that and begins handing out toys. He is briefly stopped by Miss Jessica, a local schoolteacher who at first doesn't take kindly to him giving out toys, but quickly warms up to him when he gives her a China doll as a "peace offering". Just then, the Burgermeister arrives and, upon seeing the children playing with the toys, almost arrests them for violating the law, but Kris confesses it was he who gave them the toys. He tries presenting the Burgermeister with a yo-yo, which the Burgermeister happily plays with upon that he loved Yo-yos as a child, only for Grimsley to remind him that he's breaking his own law, infuriating the Burgermeister. Kris barely manages to escape the Burgermeister's forces as they pursue him to the edge of the city before losing sight of him when he enters the woods.
As Kris and Topper pass through the forest, the Winter Warlock's magic trees capture Kris and Topper. Kris tries to get out of trouble by offering the warlock one of his toys. He gives him a toy train, and melts the Warlock's evil icy heart. Touched by this act of kindness, the Warlock, now preferring to be called just Winter, turns to a friendlier, more human-looking form and befriends Kris. To repay him, Winter shows Kris how to make a magic snowball, showing that Jessica is searching for him. Kris finds Jessica, who informs him that the Burgermeister destroyed all of the toys he previously delivered and the children now request new ones. The Kringles also move from Rainbow River Valley onto Winter's mountain, since he now granted them unlimited access across his territory.
Kris becomes burdened every night with the ever increasing demands, while the Burgermeister implements harsher measures to ensure that he does not succeed. After Kris simply delivers toys by entering the unlocked front doors of the homes, the Burgermeister orders all doors to be locked tight, where Kris starts using chimneys to deliver them, which then has the Burgermeister begin searching houses outright, which the children outsmart by hanging their stockings by the fireplace to bluff the Burgermeister so he thinks that the stockings were being dried in front of the fireplace, but it was a sign to Kris that he could put their gifts inside so that Burgermeister can't find them.
Growing frustrated with his inability to stop Kris, the Burgermeister sets a trap for him as he makes another delivery. He has Grimsley jail the Kringles, Topper and Winter, while he awaits to capture Kris, who surrenders willingly once he sees Topper caught outside. With the Kringles and most of their allies now in the dungeon, the Burgermeister personally has the children watch as he destroys their toys, declaring they will never play with toys again, much to their despair. Jessica pleas to the Burgermeister to release Kris, the Kringle clan, and Winter, but her pleas falls on deaf ears as the Burgermeister dismisses her. Realizing now that all of Sombertown and the Burgermeister are against her, Jessica visits the dungeon. She tries pleading Winter to use his magic to break everyone out, but the old warlock despondently feels that he has no more magic left except for a few items, including magic feed corn, but it can only make reindeer fly. Jessica gives some of the feed corn to Kris's reindeer friends - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. With the help of the flying reindeer, the Kringles, Kris, Topper, and Winter escape, enraging the Burgermeister when he discovers them making a break for it. He makes an oath that the Meisterburger family shall hunt them down.
After having spent months of being an outlaw and discovering that their home on Winter's mountain was destroyed by the Burgermeister's troops, Kris returns to the woods, at which point it is shown that he has now grown a beard. Tanta suggests that he return to his real birth name "Claus" for safety. Kris asks Jessica to share the name Claus with him, as his wife. After the marriage, the group travels to the North Pole, where they eventually build Santa Claus's Castle and Workshop, making more toys for the children in Sombertown. Eventually, the people of Sombertown realize how silly the Meisterburgers' laws were once the Burgermeister and his descendants died off and lost power over the town. Kris' legend goes worldwide, and, having now become Santa Claus, he realizes that he cannot keep up with all the toy requests. This leads to his decision to visit just once a year, on December 24th, Christmas Eve, "The Night of Profound Love".
The film ends as S.D. Kluger reflects on what Santa's real meaning is all about, even though there are a few misguided folks who do not understand what the real meaning is (examples including an Ebenezer Scrooge-like man, a corporate businessman, and a department store worker). Just then, though, S.D. remembers that he still has to deliver the letters to Santa. Then, joined by Topper, Winter, the Kringle Brothers, and a parade of children from the town once known as Sombertown, S.D. begins to sing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" as the credits roll. The film's closing scene has Kris and Jessica in silhouette, as he puts his old hat back on his head. Then, Santa steps out of his Palace, 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.
- Composer Maury Laws said that this was his favorite television special to work on.
- 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 recent years, the special has 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.
Broadcast history and availability
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.
|Fred Astaire||S. D. Kluger|
|Mickey Rooney||Kris Kringle/Santa Claus|
|Keenan Wynn||The Winter Warlock|
|Paul Frees||Burgermeister Meisterburger|
The Kringle brothers
|Joan Gardner||Tanta Kringle|
|Robie Lester||Jessica Claus/Mrs. Claus|
- 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
- ABC Feature Page for Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
- Archived ABC Feature Page for Santa Claus is Comin' to Town