The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985), based on the book by L. Frank “OZ” Baum, is one of the few movies that, if I catch it on television, I will call my friends and yell, “DUDE! HAVE YOU SEEN THIS SHIT?!?!?!?!?!”
Other movies that I place in that category are mostly weirdo foreign horror movies like “the Beyond” or “House” (the Japanese one).
So that should tell you something.
It’s not that “The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus” is that weird, because there are tons of fantasy films out there that will have you scratching your head quicker than a cat can lick his ass, it’s the context of L&AoSC that make it weird.
If this wasn’t a Christmas special, one of the last bastions of good old Puritan American values, and if it wasn’t made by Rankin/Bass, the “Frosty” and “Rudolph” people, it wouldn’t be so strange.
But, it is a Christmas special.
And, it was made by Rankin/Bass.
I don’t remember the first time I saw it, but it has always been one of the ones that is kinda hard to catch on TV, for obvious reasons. I just know that I grew up with these images in my head of weird pagan forest gods, mixed up with Santa Claus and Christmas for some reason.
From what I’ve gathered, it was out of print for years. VHS tapes of it were going for well over $100, alluding to the fact that there were probably a lot of other people like me out there who vaguely remembered it and would pay exorbitant amounts of money to have their memories confirmed.
In fact, I purchased the dvd of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” thinking it was L&AoSC. It was not. Good, yes, but it was not the esoteric memory validation I was looking for.
Nowadays, you can easily find it on dvd on amazon, b/w “Nestor, the Long- Eared Christmas Donkey”, which is also a rare Rankin/Bass Xmas gem, but isn’t nearly as eccentric as L&AoSC. If you’ve seen the Don Bluth Christmas classic “The Small One”, then you kinda know what Nestor is all about.
You can also get the book on amazon and on Kindle FOR FREE.
Now that you know where you can get it and watch it yourself, preferably not while on the goofballs if you value your sanity, we’ll get to the main program. You can follow along with me in your book….
Before we go any further, I want to say that if a stoner rock/metal song could somehow be personified by a Christmas special, it would come out as L&AoSC. In fact, I am seriously considering making a tribute video with some random stoner song.
Look at that font! Is this a Christmas special or the new Electric Wizard album? Is this a Christmas Special or a new season of Game of Thrones? You get the idea. I want this font on my computer so bad, I’d be willing to watch “Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey” at least one more time, to get it.
“The Forest of Burzee: An Age Ago”
The film starts in the ancient mythical Forest of Burzum. Errrrr… I mean, Burzee.
I really can’t get over that font. There will probably be a lot of moments in this breakdown where I just kinda geek out for a minute about how cool something looks. Get used to it.
The Forest of Burzee is a place where the Immortals live. It borders on the mortal world, but it is also separate, and no mortal can enter it.
This is Tingler. He is an immortal and is kind of a messenger/trickster kind of character. His main deal is that he can talk to anyone because he knows every language, even the languages of the animals.
Sometimes I wish I could converse with my cat, but then I think it’s really for the best that I don’t know what animals think of me. My cat probably thinks I should lose some weight, shave, and scoop his litter box more than twice a year.
This is the Great God Ak. The Great Woodsman. Chief Asshole of the Forest of Burzee.
Besides Santa, Ak is the main character. And how could he not be? Just look at him! Giant beard, antlers for a hat. I wish I was Ak. He is both good and fearsome.
Here Ak is telling Tingler to summon the other Immortals. They must have a meeting to discuss bestowing the one and only “Mantle of Immortality” on Santa Claus, because Santa is about to die.
Firstly, the “Mantle of Immortality” sounds like some fat loot. The kind of loot you may find when you beat the final boss of a video game, but since you just beat the game, the loot is basically useless.
Secondly, this special is all based around Santa Claus dying. That is some heavy duty shit for the target market for this special, which I assume isn’t mid-30’s grown men with dumb blogs.
This is the Queen of the Forest of Burzee. She is a minor character, and possibly banging the Great Ak. I can’t remember her name, but I felt like she should be included because she looks pretty damn cool. Here, she is all like, “Santa Claus is a mortal! Don’t do it!”
Like most men, Ak doesn’t listen and summons the Immortals anyway.
Most of these don’t ever even have a word of dialogue, but they are all just so awesome looking, you have to see them.
Such is the case with this one. Goddess of Something or Other. Probably Water.
Here comes ol’ Grandfather Shroomeater. This guy is wearing clothes made of mushrooms, is carrying a mushroom, and is so stoned he can’t even open his eyes.
If you think I’m reading too much into that, check out what happens next:
He shoots some kind of shroomjuice, or mist, out of his mushroom scepter…
Which goes all over this little gnome/elf guy, whose eyes get all dilated and he passes out. I am not making this up. That is seriously what happens.
I guess by the time this was made (1985, 21 years after Rudolph), Rankin/Bass was just like, “Screw it, we’re gonna have gnomes gettin’ high in this one.”
Here’s my cameo. The nose is a prosthetic. I had to bring my costume from home. Rankin/Bass didn’t have a lot of money by this point. The hat is a grill that I turned upside down and covered in tinfoil.
That’s not really me.
It’s the God of Eating Chicken Wings & Drinking Beer Every Day. An important role in the Forest of Burzee, but not in this special, because I don’t think he ever opens his mouth.
This muhfugger right here. He is the “Commander of the Wind Demons”. If there is a bad guy among the Immortals, I guess he is it. But really, I think he’s a sweetie at heart. He’s like some black metal dude in corpsepaint that, when you meet him, he’s really just some sweet computer geek that played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in middle school. I should be in a black metal band.
Anyway, he is one righteous looking puppet. Is he supposed to look like a Fall leaf? Maybe so. Look at Tingler! He doesn’t want anything to do with that pointy-head rascal.
I don’t know who these two birds are. I’m just including them for eye candy. One of them has what looks to be an icicle, and the other one has a Christmas tree or something. These are probably the baddest two in the bunch, like when you see a blind guy in an anime movie. Speaking of, I’m bringing back the word “Japanimation”. So these two weirdos are like blind guys in a Japanimation movie: don’t mess with ’em.
Slug guy. Possibly related to the dancer in Jabba’s palace that gets fed to the Rancor.
I also just noticed that every one of these Immortals have their eyes closed! Was ol’ Grandfather Shroomeater dusting everyone with his Goofy Juice behind the curtain before Call-Outs? Probably. These are Immortals, they don’t have to work tomorrow.
Last, and probably least, is this guy who looks like a castaway from the Smurfs. I would approve of him, simply due to his beard, if he hadn’t shaved his moustache off. I hate the Amish beard.
To me, this is one of the most iconic shots of the whole film. A whole metal album could be written just about this one shot alone.
If you are sitting at this table, late at night on a full moon in the Forest of Burzee, you are officially a somebody. Like, if this same meeting were happening in a different dimension, Ak might be replaced with Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolfman would have been coming down the stairs high as Bobby Brown.
These are the chiefs of the chiefs. And they’re gathered here to decide whether Santa(!) should live or die.
“I have gathered you all here to decide whether Santa should live or die.”
See? Told you.
Look at that mofo right there. The one in the middle wearing a tree trunk on his head. I wanna hang out with that guy. Slug God and Goldust (on the right) would probably be lame, but Tree Trunk Mask knows how to party. Slug God probably just wants to get high, hang on the couch, and watch old episodes of “the Young & the Restless”. Goldust is just into too much weird shit, in a bad way, for me to hang with.
“As Commander of the Wind Demons, and as the only one here who could kick everyone else’s ass, I say Santa should die like all the other mortals!”
Ak sez, “You may be right, but let me tell you about my man Santa Claus…”
“I found him in the snow. Having just been dropped there by someone in the middle of nowhere.”
“After thinking long and hard about what might be best for this manbaby, I gave him to a lioness.”
“Great God Woodsman Antlerhead Ak, what the devil is a baby???”
“Let me sing you a song about it.”
In this shot, Ak is singing about how the Immortals don’t know what a baby is because they have always been as they are now. Look at that majestic sumbitch.
Ak’s song about babies drives this she-elf into a Maternal Instinct Overload and she flips her green wig and steals the baby from the lioness and runs into the Forest of Burzee with it.
Now, friends, I realize that to an Immortal, time must seem like nothing. But somehow here, Ak’s song in the present about babies is so powerful that not only does it send Elfgirl into a baby-stealing frenzy, but it somehow melds past and present. Wasn’t this whole meeting about whether Santa should be allowed to die? How did she go back in time to swipe the manspawn from the lioness? This may be a plothole, or it could just be that the Shroom Mist is finally peaking.
Peter Nook: “Great Beardface Antlerskull God Ak! A lioness is raising hell in the forest!”
Ak: “What the fuck, dude?!?!?! Did you steal that baby?!?!?!?!”
Elf Maiden: “Pleeeeeease let me keep it. I NEED A BABY!!!!!”
The Elf-Maiden here is being interpreted as Holly Hunter’s character in “Raising Arizona”.
Lioness: “This tramp ran off with my dinner!”
The Ladies of the Forest need to know what Ak wants to do with the baby.
Ak: “I guess he can stay here. Lioness, you can also stay to watch over him and protect him from ol’ Grandfather Shroomface.”
I have included this shot because it is awesome. Three fairies are sprinkling the baby Claus with some “pixie dust”. I love all the 1980’s fantasy stuff like this. This would fit right in on a movie night, coupled with The Last Unicorn, The Dark Crystal, Legend, and maybe even Heavy Metal.
I also think it’s interesting how Rankin/Bass have numerous stories about how Santa Claus came to be. Like they don’t mind contradicting each other. I don’t know what I believed about Santa’s origin story as a kid, but I was probably pretty confused after seeing all these Santa prequels.
We get a montage of Santa growing up in the Forest of Burzum. In this scene, Tingler is teaching a young Santa how to speak to the animals… yet no one ever speaks to the lioness in her native tongue. Not once. You gotta wonder what she’s thinking this whole time.
It’s also interesting that in this one, just like in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, Santa learns a lot of his skills from the animals. I guess I never thought about how he could slip down a chimney, but I guess “he’s just a magic man” was too simple of an explanation for the folks at Rankin/Bass.
Ak: “Santa. You see that rainbow over there? Cool, huh? Check out my house made of trees. Neat, right? Well, it is now time for you to visit the land of the mortals with me, where everything flippin’ sucks, so you can see them. Since you are one and all.”
Ak: “Up, up, and awaaaayyyy! I can fly toooooo! I am so coooollll!”
After reaching their cruising altitude of 50 gajillion feet, without any sort of protection for Santa Claus, Ak tells him that the mortal world sucks a big one. Not only that, but he’s gonna prove to him how awful humans are and, by proxy, how awful he is.
In a scene reminiscent of “A Christmas Carol”, Santa and Ak visit a farm where indentured servants are picking turnips. The nobleman’s lacky (think Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Django Unchained) threatens to whip a poor boy who tries to snag a free turnip.
I imagine the nobility would be all about a completely unregulated market economy. If that is true, how did this person ever get rich growing turnips?
They then visit the nobleman’s house where he and his terrible family have way more than they could ever eat. It’s so fun to hate the rich, isn’t it?
The Scrooge here says typical rich-guy-antagonist stuff like, “Stephen told me a little scamp tried to steal a turnip today! A TURNIP!!!! Can you believe it? Pretty soon they will want what we have! We have to squash these poor people or they may realize that they want turnips to eat every day! I hate poor people!”
Santa is appropriately disgusted at this behavior. This pleases Ak.
Next they visit a dojo, where little kids learn the art of war. One of the little ninjas whacks the other one with his stick, then the sensei whacks the victorious little bastard.
Ak tells Santa that they are learning to be hardasses, so they can win in war.
Santa: “Men kill each other when they disagree???”
We all nod knowingly.
Ak: “These kids are homeless.”
Santa: “That is a bummer.”
Ak: “These guys are also at war.”
Santa: “Yeah, I already said I didn’t like war.”
Santa: “But Gandalf, why do humans suck so bad?”
Ak: “Dunno, but you better get used to it because you’re not staying at my house your whole life!”
Santa: “Well, everybody, Ak says I gotta go live in the mortal world because I am a mortal. And I’m 18 now and it’s time to get the f—-…..”
Ak: “AHEM! What Santa means is that he feels like it’s time for him to go and live among his native people!”
Santa: “But you said…”
Ak: “Nevermind what I said! Tingler and your Lion Mama will go with you to help you.”
This is the border between the mortal world and the Forest of Burzee. On one side, you have the Forest, and on the other is a frozen tundra. But the tundra is called “the Laughing Valley of HO-HA-HO”, so it can’t be that bad, right?
WRONG. This is the best “shelter” that a multilingual immortal, a teenager with no practical skills, and a lioness can come up with to shield them from the elements. Couldn’t Ak have flown them to Hawaii and dropped them off?
Here they are, relaxing and enjoying the sub-arctic climate in their fancy new house made from Lincoln Logs.
Luckily, a bunch of elves and fairies show up and build them a house that looks suspiciously like a church. Thanks, yall!
Next thing you know, the house is in the middle of a town. I guess Santa moving in would drive property values through the roof. Who wouldn’t wanna live next to Santa? Instead of borrowing a cup of sugar, I could go next door and “borrow” an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle!
Or get read to. Whatever.
“Ho ha ho! I like kids! And I’m getting older!”
Santa gets better at reading to the local kids. His audience has grown from three to five. Take that, youtube! At least back then a bearded guy could read to kids without getting arrested.
One night, as Santa sits in front of the warm hearth, whittling something (a hobby I now desperately want to get into), he hears a noise outside.
He goes out there and finds a lost orphan, nearly frozen to death in the snow!
Santa: “This is my buddy Tingler. He’s kind of a weirdo.”
He also gives the foundling the toy he has been carving. A little black cat with yellow-green eyes, modeled after Santa’s own cat, Poopsy. It is also insinuated here that Tingler, cunning linguist that he is, comes up with the word “toy”.
When Santa takes the kid back to the orphanage the next day, all the kids want “toys”!!!
They even sing a catchy little number, starring toy Poopsies.
They dance around a bewildered Santa Claus, in an effort to charm him into making them all toys.
“Hmmmm…. maybe they all want toys……”
Santa gets to work making toys for all the little orphans, with a little help from his immortal friends and a floating head! eep!
Santa: “I’m gonna give this doll to that little girl I saw in the castle!”
Tingler: “But she’s rich!”
Santa: “All kids need Santa’s love!”
Just then, a brick comes through the window! The plot thickens!
Santa (reading): “Dear Santa, we don’t like you. Quit being nice to the kids. Or we’ll get you bad. – King Agwa”
Tingler: “Oh no! The Agwas! They influence kids to do bad things! They are mean and bad and evil!”
Santa: “Whatever. Eff that guy. We’re making the toys anyway.”
King Agwa: “So! Santa thinks he can disobey me??? I’ll show him!”
Look at these goons. King Agwa is clearly the Alpha here, but the guy on the right looks like he might could be related to Shaggy from Scooby Doo, and the little guy is like the Grover Dill to King Agwa’s Scut Farkus. He’s a toady, for sure.
They grab some rope and disappear! Oh yeah, they can turn invisible.
They tie Santa up and kidnap him to their cave hideaway!
Where he is menaced by….. a cobra? Cobras are so 80’s.
And another 80’s doofy-guy pet, a tarantula. Lucky for him, his gag falls off and he calls to the Nooks, rulers over all beasts, with their secret call:
“Come to me, Nooks!”
I’m not making that one up. I know I have a little fun with the dialogue, but the uber-secret call, to get the Nooks to appear really is, “Come to me, Nooks!” I guess you would have to know what a Nook is to say that, but you hafta wonder how many times someone messed up and accidentally called a cadre of confused immortals out of the ether.
“Who is it, that calls out the Nooks and knows our super-secret phrase????”
Despite not knowing Santa, they rescue him anyway. “Come to me, Nooks! And rescue me from my dead end job!”
Cobra-la: “Sssssss ssssss sss ss sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!!!!!”
King Agwa: “You let him get away! I knew a giant snake would be no match for a bearded fat guy with a heart of gold!”
Santa: “Just got kidnapped and menaced. No big deal. Let’s take these toys to town!”
The Agwas turn invisible and steal the toys. Santa is a dumbass. Why do the Agwas even need to turn invisible to rob a guy? He already knows who did it, and it’s not like they couldn’t just overpower him with muscles and their robust collection of facial bullhorns.
Again, just like in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, Santa must overcome obstacles and bad guys that wish to keep him from getting the toys into the hands of the children.
Santa: “The Agwas have stolen the toys every single damn time I try to get to the city!”
Peter Nook: “The definition of lunacy is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
King Agwa: “Bwa ha ha! Look at all these toys we stole!”
Grover Dill: “Yes! A mint Gen 1 Grimlock! That’s mine! And a zeppelin!”
Santa: “I know what I’ll do! I’ll throw them off by going to town at night! And by myself!”
Good idea, Santa. No one ever gets robbed at night when they’re alone.
King Agwa: “You are so stupid! I laugh in your face and take your toys… again!”
Santa: “Damn! They took the toys again!”
Ak: “King Agwa! You have messed with my buddy for the last time!”
King Agwa: “You don’t scare me, Antlerhead! I do what I want!”
Ak: “Then this means WAR!!! And I see no irony in that at all!”
Ak gets ready for war, which he hates but for some reason has a sweet magic silver axe. I don’t EVER wanna hear another judgey thing come out of your mouth against us mortals, Ak! Your L.A. Privileges are hereby revoked!
Ak: “Oh Great Silver Axe of Decapitation with +10 Dexterity!!! You have never failed me in the past! Smite my enemies once again with your razor sharp blade and lightning bolt proc!”
Santa: “But I wanna go to war with the Agwas, too!”
Peter Nook: “Nah, man. Nah.”
BAM! An army of formidable good guys forms, armed with sticks and flowers, and lead by the powerful Deer God of the Forest Ak, with his silver axe of smiting!
King Agwa: “HA HA!!! Looks like you brought sticks to a dragon fight! Get ’em, Oh Dreadful Wyrm of the Deep Earth!”
Ak: “Oh fuuuuuu…… they got a dragon.”
It’s the baby crazy she-elf! Armed with just a branch!
“NOBODY GONNA HURT MY BABY!!!!!”
Peter Nook faces down a three-eyed troll… in a fez.
No problem for ol’ Peter Nook! “Come to me, shrinking spell!”
Ak: “Begone, foul thing! Or my silver axe will smite you in the balls!”
Magic Silver Axe: “Awwwwww, yeaaaahhhhh…”
Ak & the Gang: 3
King Agwa’s Getalong Pals: Zero
King Agwa: “Let’s get out of here!!!!”
Ak: “The Agwas will trouble you no more…”
Santa: “Really? Why? Are they dead?”
Ak: “Ahem. Well, uh, no. Not exactly. But I gave them a stern talking to. WAR IS BAD, M’KAY!!!!”
Santa: “Now I can deliver all these toys! But they’re too heavy for me to drag! Where’s that Lioness when you need her???”
Tingler: “She’s been dead for 50 years, Claus! A lion’s lifespan is only 10 to 14 years in the wild! Much less at the North Pole!”
Peter Nook: “Try these reindeer on for size!”
The reindeer came from Peter Nook, kids!!!
Santa: “You didn’t tell me they could fly!!!!”
You would think this is the end, but you would be wrong. We get still more “why things with Santa are the way they are” stuff:
Santa: “Door was locked, so I had to go down the chimley!”
Santa: “Socks! This is a good place to put some toys!”
Peter Nook: “You had my reindeer out too long last night, Santa! For some unknown reason, I wanted them back by dawn! From now on, you can only use them once a year!”
Santa: “Once a year, Tingler! When should I go? Which night?”
Tingler: “Hell if I know, man.”
Santa: “I know! Christmas Eve!”
This is the only mention of Christmas in the entire show. Again, I’m not kidding. As though you needed more proof that this interpretation was completely pagan, there is no mention of Christmas being special for any other reason than that it is the night Santa randomly chose to deliver the loot.
I don’t really know why I included these shots, other than they look like classic Rankin/Bass Santa Claus moments.
We go forward in time again, and it’s Santa’s last ride. Tonight, after delivering the toys, he will die. Unless the Immortals decide to grant him the Mantle of Immortality.
Tingler: “We’ll decorate this tree like this every year to remember you!”
This is a strange scene for two reasons:
1. Santa knows he is going to die tonight after his yearly toy delivery. Yet he does it anyway! What a guy! I’d probably lay down on the couch with Evil Dead 2 on the TV and try to sleep through it.
2. No one decorates a Xmas tree to remember Santa. This is neither the pagan roots of the tradition or the co-opted Christian interpretation. Rankin/Bass, you are indeed full of surprises.
Ak: “So you see, yall, if we don’t do something now, Santa will die tonight.”
Completely unexpected outcome, right? It’s like the end of Titanic. Titanic is still on the bottom of the ocean, and Santa is still alive.
Ak: “Behold! The Mantle of Immortality!”
The Gang: “Sheeeeeeiiiiiiit.”
She-elf: “Sleep, my baby. My baby my baby my baby….”
Santa: “Thanks for making me immortal! I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to get caught up on all those episodes of Breaking Bad!”
Ak: “No problem. Except that there was only one Mantle of Immortality. And we kinda want it back. Chevy Chase ain’t lookin’ so good.”
This is Santa’s house that looks like a church. In the credits, which I dodged to get you guys this picture and behind-the-scenes pics like these:
American Horror Story, Season 4: “A Circle of Gods and Goddesses”
Let’s see what else they can co-opt.
BEFORE YOU GO!!!! Let me show you a couple videos I made:
The first is the opening credits to L&AoSC. It includes a badass song about immortality and the arrival of the immortals. You can watch it over and over and learn all their names, which I did not bother to do:
ALSO THIS ONE!!!
This one took me all damn day to finish. I wanted to really convey how much like a stoner/doom metal song this holiday special actually is: