Since last week we looked at Elf, it seemed only right that this week we look at one of its biggest influences: A Year Without a Santa Clause. Elf‘s director, Jon Favreau, took a lot of the visual style from Rankin & Bass, who produced the animated holiday films in the mid-20th century. His primary visual influence was Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but I would argue one of his greatest story influences is A Year Without a Santa Claus.
The made-for-TV-movie has a dual story-line. The first is that Santa wants a holiday because the amount of Christmas cheer in the world is becoming less and less every year. The idea of “Christmas cheer” or “belief in Santa Claus” is a common one in holiday films. Elf uses it as a literal engine in Santa’s sleigh. When there isn’t enough cheer in the world to power the magical sleigh, there is an engine that Buddy and Papa Elf have built to help power Santa on his journey.
The second storyline is Mrs. Claus, Jingle, and Jangle, and their search to prove to Santa that there is a lot of Christmas cheer and find Santa-believers. This is more in line with what Buddy does in Elf, as he tries to get his father on the “nice list” through good works that raise the holiday spirit, and we see those effects in the third act as everyone tries to save Santa in Central Park. Mrs. Claus, Jingle, and Jangle have similar effect on the world as we’ll seen when breaking down the script. Let’s get into it!
Protagonist: Santa Claus
Want: To Take a Holiday
Need: To believe in the world
Antagonist: “kids today”
Personal: Snow and Heat Miser
Extra-Personal: The modern world
Pre-Existing Life: Setting up at world at the North Pole we all know and recognize.
Inciting Incident: A doctor checks on Santa and tells him to take a break and rest. The world doesn’t believe in him anymore anyway.
First Act Decision: Santa wants a holiday. Mrs. Claus panics sends the elves, Jingle and Jangle, to go find some Christmas cheer so Santa will believe in himself and the world again. Santa learns what Mrs. Claus has done and goes off to find the elves and the reindeer, Vixen, before she gets sick from leaving the North Pole.
Reversal: Jingle, Jangle, and Vixen fly right between Heat and Snow Miser and take hits from both sides causing them to free-fall. Jingle, Jangle, and Vixen land in Southtown and question some kids on if they believe in Santa, including a boy named Iggy. As they talk, the local pound tickets Vixen (thinking she’s a dog) and take her away. Santa arrives in town and meets Iggy and his family. He has dinner with them and Iggy’s dad confesses he’s actually seen Santa and believes in him, causing Iggy to decide he believes in him too.
Midpoint: Jingle, Jangle, and a new-believer, Iggy, go to the Mayor’s office to convince him to let Vixen go. The Mayor laughs in their faces, no believing they’re elves. He says he’ll give Santa a parade and a holiday if they can make it snow in Southtown (which never happens. Meanwhile, Santa gets Vixen out of the pound and flies back to the North Pole.
Reversal #2: Mrs. Claus picks up Jingle, Jangle, and Iggy and they visit both Snow Miser and Heat Miser, trying to strike up a deal so that Southtown will get some snow. The Misers refuse and so Mrs. Claus goes above their heads to their mom, Mother Earth. After meeting with her, a deal is struck.
False Climax / Low Point: Santa returns to the North Pole and decides to finally rest and get better. It snows in Southtown and so the Mayor calls to give Santa a parade in a holiday. Children around the world send gifts and letters to Santa, giving him the Christmas he deserves. Santa walks around the North Pole and finds he’s all alone, and no elves are working. He’s lonely.
Third Act Decision: Santa receives a letter from a little girl who writes how sad her Christmas will be without Santa Claus. He decides that Christmas must go on and yells for all the elves to get back to work.
Climax: Christmas goes off without a hitch and Santa glides through his Southtown parade.
This movie runs a short 51 minutes, so the big story beats don’t have entire sequences of “set up”, “action”, “climax”, and “resolution”. Instead, it’s one line of dialogue or a beat. On top of this, you have songs that might not even push the story forward or even tell us about the characters. I laughed very hard when re-watching this movie as I realized that Mrs. Claus has a whole song, “I Can Be Santa”, where she ponders taking over Santa’s job so he can rest… and then decides not to, simply because it was BELIEVABLE. Wasn’t that her goal? But the moment Jingle and Jangle think she’s Santa, she announces that it won’t work, which prompts her to send Jingle and Jangle on a scheme. Then she immediately blows the secret to Santa.
Mrs. Claus is the heart of this movie, but she is really terrible at follow-through and is neither the protagonist or antagonist. Arguably, Jingle and Jangle are driving the B-Story, but you could throw Mrs. Claus in there too since they’re a team.
The film is a great way to show fun world-building, a clear theme across multiple storylines, and also fast pacing that children’s content often requires. It also gives us the greatest antagonists of all time in Snow Miser and Heat Miser, with the best character introduction songs.
Honestly, this movie puts you in such a great mood that I’m going to go watch it again. See you next time!