Saturday, December 7, 2013

Best Versions of Santa Claus

In making this list I ended up being half and half between Santa in print and screen adaptations, so I am including two top five lists instead of one top ten.

Best Versions of Santa in Print
5. Coca-Cola Ads
Whoever got Santa to be the lifetime spokesman for Coca-Cola deserves a promotion and paid vacation.  Even though this is an ad campaign a lot of us have an emotional connection to it.  Coke really brought the look of the American Santa to popularity, it is one of the most influential designs ever that has been imitated by every other entry on the list.  These illustrations of Santa are warm and genuine and he just seems like a natural fit for Coca-Cola as the soda company seems to represent more than a business just like Santa represents more than just presents.

4. Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This is a story built around the anticipation of meeting Santa Claus.  This book is the story of the wonder of a child and the payoff of meeting Santa does not disappoint.  In just a few illustrations Van Allsburg paints a short, but effective depiction of a generous, powerful, almost awe-inspiring man who gives the narrator the first gift of Christmas.  Santa does not feature prominenantly in the book, but he leaves a clear impact on the child as he grows up.

3. Santa with Elves by Norman Rockwell
I really could include any Norman Rockwell Santa painting, the legendary artist really captures the feel of an iconic American Christmas with his covers to the Saturday Evening Post.  This is my favorite.  Santa is exhausted and the dutiful elves are finishing up his toys.  The posture of a sleeping Santa is just perfect.  Rockwell has several other pictures featuring the big guy which represents many facets of the character.

2. Night Before Christmas by C. Clement Moore
I remember one Christmas my Grandma and I tried to recite this entire poem by memory, we succeeded.  I love that we both had this committed to memory and clearly loved it.  This is the definitive Santa Claus story.  The story of a man who witnesses St. Nicholas' yearly visit.  This is a pretty basic story, but there is such a sense of wonder to it.  You feel the magnificence that the narrator feels.  A poem that is definitely about emotion, just like the jolly old man himself.

1. Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus by Francis P. Church
A little girl wrote into a newspaper to find out if Santa is real.  The writer could have lied to her or he could have hurt her imagination.  Instead he expanded the imagination of many and found some truths that we all need to hear.  As much effort as we put behind knowing or proving that something exists or doesn't exist we all need to believe in something.  This is what Santa really accomplishes.  A symbol and feeling of good well that makes things better.

Best Versions of Santa on the Screen
5. Frosty the Snowman
Rankin-Bass has many versions of Santa, he appears in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (where he is kind of a jerk), The Night Before Christmas (which is the weirdest Santa I have ever seen), The Year Without a Santa Claus (which is a special that makes no sense), Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (which is great and you should look up) and of course their most iconic version of Kris Kringle in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.  However I really like Santa's short appearance in Frosty. This is a Santa who comforts a little girl, is friends with animals, defends the right to live of a magical creature and defeats a villain by threatening to not deliver him any more Christmas presents.  This Santa is kind, funny and gets things done.

4. Santa's Workshop
The jolliest Santa ever created.  This is one of my favorite designs of St. Nick, I love how boisterous and constantly happy he is.  This is clearly a cartoon character and that adds to the fantasy and fun of him.  He also runs the best North Pole ever.  This is one of the best Silly Symphonies ever and it lead to a sequel short in Disney's adaptation of The Night Before Christmas.  Even though Disney does not do much with this short (they really should be airing it annually) it remains popular.

3. Arthur Christmas
What is better than one Santa Claus?  How about four?  This movie is one of the best depictions of a modern family that I have ever seen in a movie.  There is the old Santa who is set in his ways and wants to prove his worth, the current Santa who is absent-minded, Santa's eldest son who is overly practical and the screw up youngest son.  These are all relatable characters, everyone has these family members.  There are great dynamics among them and they all are sympathetic in their own distinct ways.  The ending of this seems very much inspired by Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus.  While these four Clauses are constantly fighting for credit and to prove their worth they realize that to the kids it does not matter who actually gives the gift because Santa to them means something much more than an actual person.  This is an incredible movie that many have yet to discover.

2. The Santa Clause
I love this movie and watch it every year.  Tim Allen proves his chops as an actor here as he plays a struggling single dad and a loving Santa Claus.  Tim Allen interjects humor very appropriately throughout the movie as he undergoes a perfectly executed character arc.  The relationship with his son, Charlie, makes this movie stand out as this is such a unique take on a father/son movie.  This movie is full of fantasy, comedy and a surprising amount of heart.  It is creative, clever and still holds up.  A modern Christmas classic featuring on of the best takes on Father Christmas.

1. Miracle on 34th Street
This is the best portrayal I have ever seen of Santa Claus and one that I don't know if it can be topped.  Gwenn won an Oscar for this role and it was absolutely deserved.  I have a difficult time analyzing this one, because when I watch this movie I don't see a performance I really do see Santa Claus.  This character does not just believe that he is Santa, he is.  The audience never has any doubt in his identity, which gives this movie a sense of joy rather than cynicism.  This Santa Claus loves everything about being Santa.  He has strong standards about the role he plays, is constantly generous and playful, just every type of quality you would hope to see in Santa.

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