The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
Let me begin by explaining that I have a dislike for the holiday season. I mean I really hate Christmas. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket or anything but it just does nothing for me. I won’t go into it, but it’s a time of year that traditionally leaves me depressed and confused. I have learned to offset at least one of those conditions by rewatching old Rankin & Bass specials from my childhood. These insanely bizarre and inventive specials are just so full of oddball ideas knitted together by musical numbers that I often ask my wife to confirm that they are really happening as we watch them side by side. While they don’t exactly dispel my seasonal depression, they at least make my holiday experience interesting.
I won’t bother to grade them in their levels of nuttiness, but if you can watch only one Rankin & Bass holiday special, let it be The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus.
Based loosely on the novel by L. Frank Baum (yes, the Wizard of Oz guy), the story opens with a council of immortal beings meeting in the woods to discuss the impending death of Santa Claus. The chief elder, The Great Ak, moves that Claus be granted immortality because he serves a higher purpose. A goofy yet terrifying immortal who looks a lot like a demonic bat with googly eyes questions the use of a bearded man who makes toys becoming ageless, so the Great Ak tells Santa’s origin story.
The whole thing feels like some strange comic book mini-series rebooting a character in a new way.
Claus is found by one of the wood nymphs in the Laughing Valley of Ho Ha Ho, guarded by the lioness Shiegra. Raised by immortals (and the long-lashed lioness), Claus is trained in all of the languages of the world, including those used by animals. After being shown the world of mankind by the Great Ak, Claus devotes himself to rejoining his cold heartless reality in an attempt to spread some joy. Completely befuddled as to how he can make a difference, he lives on near solitude with only a couple of mystical beings, Sheigra and his language proctor the aptly named Tingler. It is only after he finds a lost child in the wilderness and carves a wooden replica of an adorable kitten named Blinky that he realizes he has a talent at creating toys.
Thus an industry is born.
This may all sound normal enough and in most cases it is… but then the King of the Awgwas arrives and it all gets weird and crazy fast. The Agwas steal all of Claus’ toys, prompting the Great Ak to descend to world of mortals and wage violent war on the invisible demons.
Doom Metal Tribute to The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
The only holiday special I can think of with a kick ass battle between immortals and demons, The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus will have you swearing off drink even if you are stone cold sober while watching it.
I’m not trying to dispel the craft that went into making The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus nor am I suggesting that the source material is some drug-induced hallucination but… this is just so outside from what anyone had ever seen in a TV holiday special for kids. The sincerity of the Great Ak’s narrative is made all the more heavy as we see Santa Claus declaring the first Christmas Tree a memorial to his life and legacy on Earth. It’s just so epic and grand and full of importance that you are compelled to feel sympathy and reverence for Santa in the same way that you get all teary for an action hero facing impossible odds.
Honestly, it’s like this special was tailor-made for comic book and fantasy fans (actually, it was later adapted as a graphic novel by Ghost Rider artist Mike Ploog).
In heavy rotation on ABC Family (if you can stand the iPod-listening/dancing elf in the corner of the screen), The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus has also been released on DVD with Nestor, The Long-Eared Donkey. No, I did not make that up.
I can’t admit that I understand the myth of Santa Claus and what he means to American pop culture, but I do know that he is a large part of what many think of when they say the word ‘Christmas.’ If they knew he was raised by mystical beings who battled demonic forces for his immortality… they would either be completely freaked out or completely jazzed for the season in an entirely new way.
I heartily advise that you watch The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus and decide for yourself.