|SANTA VS. THE SNOWMAN (abc, 1997)|
Why was it such a misfit?
This is one I've wanted to write about for a long time, ever since I saw it on its one and only network airing, the B-side to a double bill that followed The Online Adventures of Ozzie the Elf. There are a lot of Christmas specials out there that try to be cute and cuddly and tug at the heartstrings a bit. Then there is Santa Vs. The Snowman, which is mainly about a gigantic violent war between Santa's elves and an army of Frosties, narrated by Don LaFontaine. You never forget something like that.
Santa Vs. The Snowman also features famed comedian Jonathan Winters as Santa, and....no one as the Snowman, because the Snowman never speaks. It's explained at the beginning of the special that the snowman (who doesn't have a name) never learned how to talk because he grew up isolated, surrounded by no one. Instead, he communicates by playing his flute to the stars.
"Then one day, the stars answered BACK," LaFontaine says in his gritty tone. That means a meteor shoots in from out of nowhere and hits dead center on the Snowman, shattering his flute. Visibly irritated, the snowman decides to venture away from home for the first time in his life.
As it turns out, he's just a short waddle away from Santa's workshop. The snowman has no knowledge of Christmas, and has never seen anything like Santa's place before. He's dazzled by the pretty lights and all the presents, but what impresses him the most is Santa Claus. He watches the elves fawn over the man: "We love you, Santa!" "You're the greatest!" "You're the bomb diggity!"
"Oh we all love Kris Kringle!" they start singing. "He makes our sleigh bells jingle! Yes, everybody loves Santa! Everybody's his friend! Don't you wish you were Santa too? Everyone would be in love with you!"
"Ho Ho Ho! Don't
let me interrupt! I know you've all been hard at work
here, so I thought I'd bring you some hot cocoa!"
As the snowman is watching all this, he notices a red flute sticking out of one of the toy bags. A perfect replacement for what he just lost! He opens the window wide and grabs it right away -- and sets off a massive alarm.
With bright flashing lights and whoops blaring throughout the area, the snowman gathers enough to know he's in trouble. He dashes away as fast as he can, belly-sliding under the front barricade as it closes behind him.
But he's not out of the woods yet -- he's literally still IN the woods and a bunch of patrol elves on snow speeders are chasing him. He trips and drops the flute, but has no time to double back for it. The snowman winds up stunbling into a large crevice, where he hangs precipitously from an icicle. The elves, peering down from the top, can't see him from that angle and assume he fell over. After they speed away, the snowman climbs back out.
One transition later, the snowman is now lounging in his bed back at home, taking in everything he just experienced. What stuck most in the snowman's mind was how admired Santa was. How the elves couldn't stop singing his praises. And, apparently, people from around the world felt the same. But why wouldn't they like someone who visited them all and gave them free stuff? That must be a swell job. If only the snowman could have that job.
Well....why the heck not?
The snowman realizes if HE was Santa, everyone on Earth would love HIM. He decides that the jolly fat man has held his position for long enough, and it's time for new leadership. He's made up his mind. He's taking over the North Pole!
But he's just one snowman...think his goals are too ambitious? Not so. He's got a plan...and the first step is casing the joint. Donning a disguise, he joins a crowd of animal tourists who are visiting the workshop on a guided train path led by a lethargic Ben Stein-voiced elf named Spunky. "Welcome to Santa's wonderful world of Christmas," Spunky drones. "We ask that you please refrain from using any cameras or recording devices while on the tour, thank you." The snowman is holding an ice cream cone with a secret camera inside.
The train stops at a window where a portion of the workshop can be seen. "This is where the magic happens. The elves must meticulously craft over a billion toys per week..." The snowman aims his cone and discreetly takes pictures.
Meanwhile the train is being watched by security cameras, but the two elves on guard duty are more interested in talking about their personal lives than what's happening on the monitors. One of them DOES sense that one of the riders is behaving a bit sketchy.
"Hey, look. Is that
the same snowman that broke in last night?"
The snowman might have gotten a completely clean break this time if he hadn't hopped off the train to admire Santa's sleigh. He just couldn't resist, so strong was his desire. He's immediately tossed out in the next shot by three security guards, who mock him by suggesting he "must've had a brain freeze, ha ha ha!"
Well, now he's just mad. The snowman HAS to take over the workshop now, but where will he get the necessary forces to break through the heavy security? It's actually simpler than you think....since there's no shortage of snow around, snowmen are easy to make more of. So he spreads some ice cubes around and hundreds of snow-minions pop out of the ground. Then, in his living room, he draws up a battle plan and waits for Christmas Eve.
That day, one of the monitor elves is telling the other about the time he got caught by his wife wearing her dress (no, really, that's in there) when the radar suddenly picks up an unidentified intruder at the border. And then another. And then another! Suddenly there are glowing dots all over the map and the pair are in a panic. "HOLY NIGHT! WE'VE GOT A SITUATION HERE!"
Here's where the special kicks into gear and we get to the good stuff. Santa is notified of the situation and a ground trooper named Flippy is scoping out the area. "They're EVERYWHERE! So many! I don't know how much longer I can--" Flippy is cut off when he's ambushed and buried in snow. "FLIPPYYYYYYY!!" yells a guard in anguish.
"Go to RED ALERT!" Santa orders his men. He enters his war room, because Santa naturally has one, and the giant monitor reveals the true extent of the situation: about 500 snowmen, marching directly toward Santa's workshop. They even have AT-ST snow walkers with igloos on top!
"Easy, men," Santa cautions. "Let's see what their intentions are."
He announces over loudspeaker, "THIS IS SANTA OF THE NORTH POLE. YOU HAVE ENTERED A RESTRICTED AREA! WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE?"
His assistant reports,
"We've received nothing so far....Hark! Incoming
message! Message reads.....GIVE ME CHRISTMAS."
From this point forward, it's one giant war and it's GLORIOUS. Santa yells "SCRAMBLE THE REINDEER!" and a bunch of elves in pilot helmets saddle themselves up and take off. They zoom around the AT-ST igloos in a scene pretty much taken from Empire Strikes Back shot-for-shot, except what brings one down isn't a tow cable, but a simple ice pick wedged between the ice blocks. "WOOOOO-HOOOOOOO!" the elf yells in victory while doing loops in the sky.
It's now complete chaos and mayhem over the next few minutes: A few highlights:
The elves bring out an oven that dings and disgorges heated gingerbread men, who embrace random snowmen and melt them.
An elf sneaks up on a snowman with a bow that reads "HAVE A BLAST THIS CHRISTMAS!" He pulls a string and the bow explodes, reducing the snowman to a flurry.
Elves start chasing the snowmen with hair dryers while screaming "SLEEP IN HEAVENLY PIECES!!" The dryers reach the end of their cords and pop out of their sockets, causing the elves to retreat while the snowmen spit ice cubes at them.
Back in the war room,
Santa's assistant reports "Defenses are
A missile explodes over the warzone and small pieces of mistletoe drift toward the ground on little parachutes. When the snowmen see the plants, they immediately start hugging and kissing each other, leaving them vulnerable.
Finally the voice of LaFontaine is heard again: "THE BATTLE RAGED ON, WITH NEITHER SIDE CLAMING AN EASY VICTORY. NEVETHERLESS, SANTA KNEW THE BATTLE HAD TO END. CHRISTMAS WAS ONLY HOURS AWAY."
"I can't wait any longer. I've got toys to deliver!" Santa declares. "Prepare my ASSAULT VEHICLE. Santa's COMING TO TOWN."
It's at this point that Mr. Claus enters the battle himself with HIS GIANT WEAPONIZED NUTCRACKER MECH! How can anyone not love this?
But the snowman is even prepared for THIS development! He sends a radio message, the ground cracks open and out emerges his OWN secret weapon, A GIGANTIC ICE MONSTER!
The ice monster and Santa stare each other down! They trade blows! Santa pulls a lever and shoots bullets -- they seem to have no effect on the creature!
But then he pulls out his big gun -- literally -- that shoots flames and melts the snow monster down to miniature size. The monster looks up and sees he's now smaller than an elf, and retreats in fear.
OHOHO!" Santa laughs maniacally. It appears he's
won! He exits the nutcracker to discuss the snowman's
terms of surrender.
The snowman responds by whistling in the other direction. About 10,000 reinforcement snowmen appear at his command! He was only pretending to be defeated. This brilliant ploy grants him victory. Santa and the elves have no choice but to surrender at this point, and the snowman locks them all in an ice cage.
"Snowman, this is crazy! I'm Santa, not you!" Saint Nick pleads. "Think of the children! They're not gonna buy it!" The snowman doesn't listen, and hops into his own ice sleigh led by flying snowmen who will deliver the toys this year.
As he soars above the air in his sleigh, the snowman basks in the euphoria of his victory...and of dreams realized. Now that he's Santa, the children of the world will love him. He touches down on his first rooftop to deliver his first present.
It's at this point that the snowman's not-well-thought-out plan reaches its first serious snag. Chimneys are hot. They're for fire smoke to escape. If he enters the traditional way he'll be toast, so...he just waddles to the front door and picks the lock with an icicle.
The snowman plops his bag of toys next to the fireplace and starts taking them out. A little girl is awoken by the noise and runs to the living room to meet Santa. She gets a snowman instead who hands her a doll made of ice.
She seems happy anyway, and kisses the doll -- and then her lips become stuck to it. After that the doll breaks, and she's not happy at all. The snowman reaches into the bag for a replacement toy, but finds the rest of them melted next to the fireplace. This really WASN'T a good idea! What will he do now?
Fortunately, the cage didn't hold Santa for long. There was one elf the snowman didn't lock up -- Flippy, who finally digs his way out of the snow just in time to free everyone else. Santa mounted his own sleigh and zipped to the snowman's location in record time. And the snowman now knows this wasn't a job meant for him.
Santa gives the little girl the doll she was meant to have, then tells her to head to bed. Outside, the snowman figures he's about to receive some heavy punishment, but Santa knows he's sorry. "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" he shouts, and hands him the red flute.
"It's yours. It was ALWAYS yours. You just took it before I could deliver it to you," Santa says. He then tells the snowman "the spirit of giving isn't just for Santa. You can do it on your own, without taking over my entire operation, and give people happiness THAT way." The snowman agrees this would probably have been easier.
Then the snowman hops into Santa's sleigh and LaFontaine closes things out: "The smowman and Santa became good friends after that. Which is all the snowman really wanted anyway...a friend."
Santa Vs. The Snowman was created by computer animator Steve Oedekirk. It may not have become a holiday tradition, but don't feel bad for Odekirk....his next creation, Jimmy Neutron, fared far better.
Why didn't it fit in?
Santa Vs. The Snowman 3D was released in IMAX theaters five years later. Despite the advancement of computer animation within that span of time, it was mostly the exact same thing, just with a third dimension added and a new introduction and ending produced to pad the experience into 30 minutes.
The new intro is Santa, once again voiced by Winters, addressing the audience with the usual "there was once a Christmas that almost didn't happen, let me tell you about it." But he also pulls a few 3D ginnicks while he's there. He tells the viewers they've all been very good this year, but that he has a quota of naughty children he needs to fill. So he pokes his arm out of the screen and points at random people while covering his eyes. "Eeenie, meenie, miney...you're naughty, YOU'RE naughty..."
Then he perks back up and says "HA HA, I'm just kidding, there's no naughty list quota!" After that he opens a storybook and the cartoon plays out as normal.
After the end scene, Santa comes back and says "So that's the story, and the snowman and I have been best friends ever since. Why, just last week I schooled him in the art of snowball fighting. You see, the key to a good snowball ambush is to sneak up on your target...." As he's saying this, the snowman is doing just that, and at the moment Santa says "let 'er fly" he's struck in the back. They're just goofing around though and he and the snowman have a good laugh as the cartoon fades out.
But wait -- there's still more! There's BLOOPERS. Remember the early 2000s when every animated film was doing these? Well, this one does it too. Maybe it's because the gimmick is way past stale, but none of the outtakes did the trick for me, not as well as the special itself.
That's Santa Vs. The Snowman 3D, and it really is in 3D. It was released to DVD in 2004 with pairs of red and blue glasses included in the box. So whenever you like, even though you have no IMAX screen in your own house, you can create a torrent of bullet-shooting elves and weaponized snow in your living room. You can't ask for a better present than that.