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Santa Claus is Comin' to Town

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Directed by: Jules Bass
Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Written by: Romeo Muller
Release date: December 14, 1970
Running time: 50 minutes
Available on: VHS

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 produced by Rankin/Bass. The special, originally broadcast on ABC on December 14, 1970, stars actor Fred Astaire as S. D. Kluger, the narrator, and Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle. 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.


SD Kluger

S.D. Kluger, the narrator of the story.

Special Delivery "S.D." Kluger is introduced after a newsreel prologue, telling the viewer how children around the world are preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus. His mail truck breaks down, so he begins to tell the story of Santa, in order to answer children's letters to the big guy.


The story begins in a gloomy small town called Sombertown, which is ruled by the grouchy, ill-tempered, child-hating Burgermeister Meisterburger (voiced by Paul Frees). A baby arrives on his doorstep, with a name tag reading "Claus" and note requesting that Burgermeister raise the child as his own. However, Burgermeister angrily orders his right-hand man, Grimsby (also voiced by the late Paul Frees) to take the baby to the "Orphan Asylum." On the way there, a gust of wind blows both sled and baby far away, to the mountains of the Whispering Winds. There, the animals hide him from the Winter Warlock (voiced by Keenan Wynn), a powerful wizard who dislikes anyone trespassing his land.


The animals then bring the baby to the other side of the mountain, where he is found by an elf family by the name of Kringle, led by 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.

Kris meets Topper

Kris meets Topper the penguin.

When Kris is old enough, he volunteers to deliver the toys to Sombertown. Meanwhile, the Burgermeister has outlawed all toys in the town, having been injured by tripping over a toy duck while walking out of City Hall. He declares that anyone found possessing a toy will be arrested and thrown in the dungeon. Before Kris makes it into the town, he meets a lost penguin who he names Topper. Once Kris enters the town, he meets two children washing their stocking by a water fountain before Kris could give the children the Kringle made toys he is stopped by Miss Jessica (voiced by Robie Lester), a local schoolteacher. She is at first rude to Kris, but quickly warms up to him when he gives her a China doll as a "peace offering". However, the other townspeople are even frightened by Kris saying "toy" and are questioning him about the "clothes" that he was wearing. The children of the town have been put into labor, mostly washing their stockings. Kris decides to change that and begins handing out toys. Just then, the Burgermeister arrives. Seeing the children playing with the toys, he almost arrests the children, but Kris confesses it was he that gave them the toys. He tries presenting the Burgermeister with a Yo-yo in which the Burgermeister happily played while recalling when as a child that he loved the Yo-yo and loved to do tricks with one, only for Grimsby to remind him that he's breaking his own law. Kris barely manages to escape the Burgermeister's forces.


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 wanting to call himself Winter, turns to human 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 and the children now request new ones.

Kris becomes burdened every night with the ever increasing demands, while the Burgermeister implements harsher measures to ensure that he does not succeed. When Burgermeister hears that Kris is going to bring more toys, he orders all doors to be locked, before their houses are searched. Kris then uses the chimneys to get inside. The children hung 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, as well as jails the Kringles, Topper and Winter. Jessica pleas to the Burgermeister to release Kris, the Kringle clan, and Winter, but her pleas falls on deaf ears. 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 Kris's reindeer friends some feed corn, and with the help of the flying deer, the Kringles, Kris, Topper, and Winter escape.


Kris looking at his "wanted" poster.

After having spent months of being an outlaw and discovering that their home was destroyed by the Burgermeister 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. Eventually, everyone realizes how silly the Burgermeister's laws were. Kris' legend goes worldwide, and, having now become Santa Claus, he realizes that he cannot keep up with all the toy requests. This leads him 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 people 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 Bros, and a parade of children from the town once known as Sombertown, S.D. begins to sing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town". 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 elderly Santa as seen at the very end of the special.

The special contains the following songs:

Of the songs featured in this special, "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.

Production notes

  • Sharp-eyed viewers may notice what appears to be writing on the foil covering the back of Grimsby'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 confectionary corporation, which can only mean that Grimby'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.


  • In recent years, the special has often been trimmed for network television time constraints. Jessica's song, "My World Is Beginning Today", is usually cut, and "Be Prepared to Pay" is occasionally dropped as well.

Broadcast history and availability

As of 2014, ABC Family airs this special as part of their annual 25 Days of Christmas programming block. Additionally, the special has been showing on ABC, where it first aired for many years starting in 1970.

Currently, the special is owned by Classic Media, which was part of the British-owned Entertainment Rights group until 2012, when DreamWorks Animation SKG purchased Classic Media, and currently holds those rights as the current owner of the pre-1973 Rankin-Bass library.

Early DVD releases of the special, distributed by Sony Wonder, also included The Little Drummer Boy as a bonus special.



The Kringle brothers.

Voice actor Character
Fred Astaire Special Delivery Kluger
Mickey Rooney Kris Kringle
Keenan Wynn The Winter Warlock
Paul Frees Burgermeister Meisterburger
Ebenezer Scrooge
Joan Gardner Tanta Kringle
Robie Lester Jessica Claus
Andrea Sacino
Dina Lynn
Gary White
Greg Thomas

External links

Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerCricket on the HearthThe Little Drummer BoyFrosty the SnowmanSanta Claus is Comin' to Town • "A Christmas Tree" • 'Twas the Night Before ChristmasThe Year Without a Santa ClausThe First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas SnowFrosty's Winter WonderlandRudolph's Shiny New YearThe Little Drummer Boy, Book IINestor, the Long-Eared Christmas DonkeyThe Stingiest Man in TownRudolph and Frosty's Christmas in JulyJack FrostPinocchio's ChristmasThe Leprechauns' Christmas GoldThe Life and Adventures of Santa ClausSanta, Baby!

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