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.
The special's narrator, 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. Kluger's 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. 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 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, a powerful wizard who dislikes anyone trespassing on his land.
The animals then bring the baby to the other side of the mountain, to Rainbow River Valley, 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.
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, 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 for violating the law, 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. The Kringles also move from Rainbow River Valley onto Winter's mountain, since he now granted them unlimited access across his territory.
Kris becomes burdened every night with the ever increasing demands, while the Burgermeister implements harsher measures to ensure that he does not succeed. After Kris simply delivers toys by entering the unlocked front doors of the homes, the Burgermeister orders all doors to be locked tight, where Kris starts using chimneys to deliver them, which then has the Burgermeister begin searching houses outright, which the children outsmart by hanging 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. He has Grimsby jail the Kringles, Topper and Winter, while he awaits to capture Kris, who surrenders willingly once he sees Topper caught. With the Kringles and most of their allies now in the dungeon, the Burgermeister personally has the children watch as he destroys their toys, declaring they will never play with toys again, much to their despair. 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 reindeer, the Kringles, Kris, Topper, and Winter escape, enraging the Burgermeister.
After having spent months of being an outlaw and discovering that their home on Winter's mountain was destroyed by the Burgermeister's 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, making more toys for the children in Sombertown. Eventually, everyone in Sombertown realizes how silly the Burgermeister's laws were once the Burgermeister and his descendants died off and lost power over Sombertown. 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 Brothers, 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 special contains the following songs:
- "The First Toymakers to the King" sung by Tanta and the Kringles
- "No More Toymakers to the King" sung by Burgermeister Meisterburger and Grimsby
- "Be Prepared to Pay" sung by Kris
- "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" sung by Kris and Winter
- "My World is Beginning Today" sung by Jessica
- "Wedding Song" sung by S. D. Kluger
- "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" sung by S. D. Kluger and the Westminster Children's Choir
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.
- 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.
- Composer Maury Laws said that this was his favorite television special to work on.
- 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. The scene where Burgermeister Meisterburger lights the bonfire of toys has been cut at one time as well, but has since been reinstated.
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.
|Fred Astaire||Special Delivery Kluger|
|Mickey Rooney||Kris Kringle|
|Keenan Wynn||The Winter Warlock|
|Paul Frees|| Burgermeister Meisterburger|
|Joan Gardner||Tanta Kringle|
|Robie Lester||Jessica Claus|
| Andrea Sacino|
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town at the Internet Movie Database
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town at TV Tropes
- ABC Feature Page for Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
- Archived ABC Feature Page for Santa Claus is Comin' to Town