Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Video Review: The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus (Rankin-Bass)

In 1902, L. Frank Baum decided to put together one of the first comprehensive origin stories about Mr. Kringle with The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus. This actually tied into the world of Oz, as most of the story takes place in or near the forest of Burzee which is located across the Deadly Desert/Shifting Sands from the southwestern point of Oz(or "southeastern" depending on what map you're using). Burzee was also the setting for other Baum stories such as Queen Xixi Of Ix and Nelebel's Fairyland, plus the Santa from this story appears in The Road To Oz, so there's a regular connection between this and Baum's library. The book spawned a short story sequal titled A Kidnapped Santa Claus which probably had more than a little influence on a certain Tim Burton movie. There has been more than one animated adaptation of the original book, including a one in 2000 by Mike Young, an anime TV series that ran in the mid-90s, and an upcoming fully CGI movie which was supposed to be out this year. Before them all though was the 1985 TV special by Rankin-Bass, who also created several other memorable Christmas specials including Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. This was a little strange considering they had already done a previous original narrative of Santa's history in Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town from 1970, but they thought they'd give another shot at a Baum title as they also produced Tales Of The Wizard Of Oz in the early 60s, as well its sequal special Return To Oz(no relation to Disney's one!). They put this together as their last holiday special one as they were diverting more attention toward doing TV series like their hit Thundercats.

The special opens up with a council of Immortals debating about whether or not to give an aging Santa Claus the Mantle of Immorality. The story then goes back about sixty years where a young baby is found by Ak, head of the Immortals and master of woods. He takes the child to be protected by the lioness Shiegra, but the wood nymph Necile accepts the role as his mother and names him Claus. Claus grows up in the forest learning how to communicate with the animals. When he reaches of age, Ak flies him around the world Superman-style to show him the world of mortals, and the cruelties of mankind. Claus decides to then move to Laughing Valley to be closer to humans, and takes Shiegra and the sound imp Tingler with him. Tingler speaks in nearly every concievable language and sound, but usually in strange synthesizer chords. Some of the fairies and wood nyphs help set up a house for Claus, where he eventually starts creating what he refers to as "toys" for the children in the village near him. This would be all nice, except that an evil tribe of monsterous Agwaws called dibs on the kids to influence them, so they use their invisibility powers to cause all kind of problems for Claus' toy delivery. Ak finally steps in and declares war against the Agwaws. So in a battle scene not totally rivaling Peter Jackson, the Immortals beat the Agwaws, and Claus continues his toy givaways. With help one of the Knooks(a fairy in charge of animals), Claus is allowed to use special flying reindeer once a year on Christmas Eve. As time goes on though, Claus nears the end of days, so the Immortals grant him eternal life so he can continue to do his work bringing joy to the world. Granted, it would've been a little more convenient if they could've turned him into a Highlander when he was a little younger, but anyway...

Unlike most of the other Rankin/Bass holiday TV specials, this one didn't have a beloved old guy doing the narration like Jimmy Durante. There's also only one music number in the entire special, which isn't all that memorable. However, this is a very faithful adaptation of the original story, and there is a real effort to bring in the mythology of Baum's fictional universe in its portrayal of magical beings and the mortal world surrounding them. The special was available on VHS, but is currently on DVD from Warner Bros as a double feature with Rankin/Bass' Nestor special.

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