Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (TV special)

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (TV special)

Infobox Television Film
bgcolour =
name = Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

caption =
format = Animated Musical
runtime = 48 mins
creator =
director = Jules Bass
Arthur Rankin Jr.
producer = Jules Bass
Arthur Rankin Jr.
writer = Romeo Muller
starring = Fred Astaire
Mickey Rooney
Keenan Wynn
Paul Frees
Joan Gardner
Robie Lester
music = Maury Laws
country = flagicon|USA United States
flagicon|Japan Japan
language = English
network =
released =
first_aired = December 14, 1970
last_aired =
num_episodes =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website =
imdb_id = 0066327
tv_com_id =
amg_id =

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town is a 1970 stop motion television special , made by Rankin-Bass with models carved from wood (as with most of Rankin-Bass specials). The film is one of their well-known Christmas television specials which include "Frosty the Snowman", and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". The film stars actor Fred Astaire as S.D. Kluger, the narrator, and Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle/Santa Claus (a role which he would frequently play later on). The film tells the story of how Santa Claus and several Claus-related Christmas traditions came to be. It is based on the Christmas hit of the same name, which was introduced on radio by Eddie Cantor in 1934.


At the start of the film, we are introduced to Special Delivery Kluger (Astaire), a mail carrier. His mailtruck breaks down, so he begins to tell the story of Santa Claus, in order to answer children's letters to Santa. It is here, that the story begins.

Baby Claus

The story begins in a gloomy small town called Sombertown, which is ruled by the mean and grouchy Burgermeister Meisterburger (voice: Paul Frees) (usually referred to simply as "The Burgermeister"). A baby arrives on his doorstep, with nothing more than a name tag that reads: "Claus". The Burgermeister orders his right-hand man, Grimsley (also voiced by Frees) to take the baby to the "Orphan Asylum" as he does not want it. On the way to the building, however, a gust of wind blows both sled and baby far away, to the mountains of the Whispering Winds. There, the animals living in that region hid him from the Winter Warlock (voice: Keenan Wynn), a powerful and malevolent wizard who dislikes anyone trespassing on his land. The animals bring the baby to the other side of the mountain, where he is discovered by an elf family by the name of Kringle, led by their wise matriarch, Tante Kringle. They immediately adopt him, giving him the name “Kris”. A few short years later, the boy Kris expresses to Tante the hope that he can one day restore the Kringle family to its former prominence as "The First Toymakers to the King;" however, as Tante explains, since the Burgermeister's rise to power and the fact that the Kringles can't pass through the mountains without inciting the wrath of the Winter Warlock, they have been unable to do so.

A town with no toys

When Kris is old enough, he volunteers to deliver the toys to Sombertown, through the woods. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kris, the Burgermeister has outlawed all toys in the neighborhood, having comically tripped on and being injured by one when he was walking out of City Hall. In revenge, he declares that anyone found possessing a toy will be arrested and thrown in the dungeon. Meanwhile, before Kris makes it into the town, he befriends a penguin who has lost his way while trying to make it to the South Pole and gives the little penguin the name "Topper". However, he has a close encounter with the Warlock, warning to leave, otherwise he is doomed. As Kringle and Topper run away, the Warlock suspects that he might come back and if he does, it will be his last trip. Once Kris enters the town, he meets Miss Jessica (voice: Robie Lester), a local schoolteacher. At first, Jess is a bit rude to Kris, but suddenly finds herself liking him when he offers her the one thing she'd always wanted for Christmas: a China doll. But not everyone is amused to see Kris, nor are they overly fond of the way he is dressed. Why, they're even frightened off by his very mentioning the word "toy". Indeed, the children of the town have been forced into hard labor, mostly by washing their stockings. Kris, however, decides to do something about that and begins handing out toys to the wee ones. Just then, the Burgermeister arrives on the scene. At first, he almost arrests the children when he discovers them playing with the toys that Kris gave them, even almost turning good when Kris gives him a yo-yo which he loves. Ever loyal, Grimsby quickly reminds the Burgermeister, however, that he is breaking his own law, so he soon snaps out of it, and after a short confrontation, chases him out of town.

Magic from the Winter Warlock

In the woods outside of town, Kris and Topper meet the Winter Warlock, who has vowed to capture the interlopers. Before the Warlock can finish Kris off, the latter offers the former a toy train. This act of kindness melts the Warlock’s icy heart, and the Warlock ("Winter, please!"), too, joins the group. Winter shows Kris how to see who is naughty and nice through magic through a Magic Crystal Snowball. They soon see Jessica, who has been looking for Kris to say that the kids have been requesting more toys since the Burgermeister destroyed them all. Well, much to the Burgermeister's chagrin, Kris quickly grants that wish. With so many toys needed delivery, the Kringles moved up to the mountains, happily welcomed by Winter. The Burgermeister makes several more attempts to stop young Kringle (ordering the town's doors and windows locked, for example, forcing Kris down the village's chimneys). Next, the Burgermeister and his men start to search every home at dawn, finding no toys (as they were hidden in the stockings). Eventually, the Meisterburgers set a trap for Kris and the others; then, with the children of Sombertown forced to watch, every last toy in the village is burned! A few days later, Jessica, as the only one who managed to evade capture, personally confronts the Burgermeister --- only to be rudely rebuffed by him. Feeling betrayed by the town, Jessica later sneaks back to Winter's dungeon cell, where Winter shows her some of his "magic corn feed", which will give reindeer the ability to fly. With the help of the reindeer, Kris, Topper, Winter and the Kringles escape from their holding cells, and flee into the woods.


After months of being an outlaw (we see how his being named Public Enemy #1 leads him to be highlighted on a poster reading: "Wanted, dead or alive --- the Terrible Toymaker!"), Kris returns to the woods, where he begins to grow his trademark beard as a disguise. But Tanta, realizing the Kringle name is now dangerous, suggests that he return to his birthname of "Claus." Taking the matriarch's advice, he then asks Jessica to share the Claus name with him --- as his wife. After witnessing Kris and Jess solemnly take their vows, the group migrates to the North Pole, where they eventually build Santa's Castle and Workshop. As time continues to pass, though, the Burgermeister regime ends, as their forebears begin dying off and falling out of power, at which point the Sombertowners realize how silly the Meisterburger laws really are. Kris' legend, meanwhile, goes worldwide, and, having now fully styled himself as Santa Claus, our hero soon accepts his apparent inability to keep up with all those toy requests .... leading him to make his fateful decision to cut his number of visits down to once a year, on December 24.


The film ends as we rejoin S.D. Kluger, who reflects on what Santa's real meaning is all about. Even though the world isn't exactly a perfect place, if anyone can take Santa's example, we can be just like him. Just then, though, S.D. remembers that he still has a load of letters to deliver to Santa; and before he bids us farewell, he reminds us: "Behave yourselves --- because Santa can still look into his Magic Crystal Snowball and see just what you're up to!" Then, joined by Topper, Winter and a parade of children, S.D. begins to sing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." The film's closing scene has Kris and Jess in silhouette, as he puts his old hat back on his head. Then, Santa steps out of his Palace, revealing himself in full splendor. We then cut to him in close-up, a huge, merry smile on his face as he waves us goodbye.


* Mad Magazine artist Paul Coker Jr. did the character design and title typography for this film.
* Mickey Rooney has since gone on to play Santa Claus 5 times after this TV Special.
* The painting of Santa Claus in his sleigh at the end appears again in the Rankin/Bass film, "The Year Without a Santa Claus".
* In "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July", continuity with this special is established when Santa calls Mrs. Claus "Jessica" and they reminisce about the china doll he gave her when they first met years earlier.
* Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer makes a brief cameo following the introduction to the reindeer, but S.D. tells us that he doesn't play a role here, as his backstory is "another story", no doubt in reference to his own special. Also, by not making a reference to Rudolph by name, Rankin/Bass avoided having to pay royalties for the use of the copyrighted character.
* For many years, the special has been cut for network television to make room for more commercials. Jessica's song "My World Is Beginning Today" is nearly always cut, and "If You Sit On My Lap Today" is sometimes dropped as well. (ABC and its sister cable network, ABC Family currently run this special annually.) Also cut from many airings is the scene with the Burgermeister setting fire to the pile of toys. However, the DVD release is fully restored.
* When the special was initially broadcast, and for years thereafter, Kris's penguin sidekick was named "Waddles." In later years, probably due to there being a Beanie Babie penguin of the same name, the dialogue was looped and he was called "Topper."
* Takeo Nakamura, one of the animators for the special later went to direct the Sanrio animated film, "Nutcracker Fantasy", which was also done in stop-motion animation.
* Seven years later, Rankin-Bass made a sequel holiday special called The Easter Bunny Is Coming To Town, in which Fred Astaire also narrates. Similarities to Santa Claus Is Coming To Town include; the newsreel opening (this time in color & new announcer), Gadzooks (Winter Warlock), the life of the Easter Bunny (voiced by Skip Hinnant), origins of Easter traditions, a gloomy town named "Town" (Sombertown), villainess Duchess Lily Longtooth (Burgermeister Meisterburger).

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