Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's okay to start signing the old Christmas standards, right? Okay. *clears my throat* Ohhhhhhhhhh......no I won't go there. But you know, it's amazing how a single song can be made into a full family holiday classic. And if ever there was a studio that had the talent do do that, it was Rankin Bass. Compared to the features churned out by Rankin Bass, other more recent ones such as Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (yes, there's really an animated feature based on that song), pale in comparison. Sure the latter feature is actually hand drawn. It's a refreshing change of pace to see hand drawn animation again. But, by comparison, it simply didn't have the heart of the classic Rankin Bass features. Every RB feature has heart. But if there's one that's really got some heart behind it, it's Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town first debuted on television in 1970. It was right in the thick of the RB productions. It was also the only of the RB features to really show the influence of the time in which it was crafted. The concept of Burgermeister Meisterburger's authoritarian rule, and Jessica's psychadelic song cue were mirrors to what was going on in America at the time this special debuted. Younger audiences probably wouldn't be able to graps such concepts. But parents likely would. While younger audiences may not get the political messages thrown into the special, they're more likely to get the double moral message that's included.
One of the moral messages included in the story emphasizes the importance of a single kind act. When Kris (Mickey Rooney) gives the Winter Warlock a little toy engine, the Warlock goes from being a powerful, mean being to a kind, caring individual. If ever there was a simple way to illustrate the effect of a single kind act, that is it. Sure his magic didn't exactly work after his cold exterior melted. But he did regain some of his powers over time. His regained powers tie into another important aspect of the special. That aspect will be discussed momentarily. As for the other moral message, that message is similar to that of A Miser Brothers Christmas. It's just done in a different fashion. In Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Kris sings to the Winter Warlock, "You put one foot in front of the other/and soon you'll be walkin' out that door". What he's really saying is you need to keep moving forward, rather than allowing yourself to live in the past, hold grudges, etc. He was telling the Warlock that before he became simply, Mr. Winter, he turned into the Winter Warlock because he lived in the past. He held those grudges. Again, yet another great, illustration of a moral that kids'll easily get, even today.
Now, back to the warlock's powers. He uses them to light up the trees during the wedding of Kris and Jessica. But before that, the warlock visibly prays. He closes his eyes, clasps his hands, and prays that his pwoers will work just a little. In relation, at the beginning of the wedding sequence, there is mention of Kris and Jessica being married in the forest before God, as no church would have them. This could bring up some interesting discussion points. But that's not the intention here. As brief as the moment is, it's one more aspect of the special that makes it so important, culturally speaking. It's just one of many points in the story that seamlessly tie Christian religious elements into the secular story of how Kris Kringle became one of the most well known symbols of Christmas.
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is one of the most beloved holiday specials of all time. It's also among the most beloved of the many specials created by Rankin Bass. As simple of a movie as it is on the surface, it has so much more depth. Because of that immense depth and substance, it is and always will be among the greatest holiday movies/specials of the past, present, and future.