Monday, December 14, 2009

Ora E Sempre...

Born in our present state
Never were babies we
Live where no mortal has lived
With a nobility
Yet none humanity
We have no children or kin
Ora e sempre
Today and Forever
For ages and ages to come
'Till the last trumpet sounds
To the first cracking of Doom!

I can see the scene now. It's 1985, and the family's sitting down to watch the new Rankin-Bass special The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus. It's the folks who gave us Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy, and it's based on a story by the author of The Wizard of Oz? Well, there was that Return to Oz movie earlier this year, but this is about Santa Claus, so of course it's going to be sweet.

The special starts and we see Santa flying across the sky, singing about bringing toys to children, then we see the title and hear a voice say "In all this world, there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child." Then, we go to the Forest of Burzee, an age ago? And there's this little guy running around announcing the arrival of the Immortals? Isn't this about Santa Claus? Who's this guy with antlers on his head? And why is he saying that tonight will be Santa Claus' last sleigh ride?

Yeah, I'll bet a lot of families were confused.

So, the story begins with Ak calling the Immortals to decide if they will give Claus the Mantle of Immortality. To lay out his request, he tells them of the life of Claus, how he had found Claus as a baby outside of Burzee, how Necile decided to adopt Claus, how he had exposed Claus to humanity, and how Claus decided to help humanity and moved to the Laughing Valley of Hohaho (where it is always winter in this version). He goes on to tell how Claus invented toys and befriended children, how the Awgwas tried to stop Claus before Ak intervened and destroyed them, and of Claus' journeys with the reindeer.

So, the story does stay very close to the book, with some changes. Tingler (a sound imp and a new character) and Shiegra accompany Claus to Laughing Valley, and Shiegra does not die. The Christmas Tree is not Baum's symbol of charity, but a memorial to Claus.

In addition, there are songs, including the song of the Immortals (typed above), the catchy "Big Surprise" sung by children at seeing the first toy cat, "A Child" sung by Necile upon seeing Claus, "Babe in the Woods" sung by the Wood Nymphs as Claus grows from baby to young man, and songs by Santa Claus which are directly from the book.

The stop-motion animation is perfect. Of course, it is Rankin-Bass, so we do have characters with oversized heads, but it's charming in its own way. The voice acting is excellent as well, and all the voices fit their characters well, when the target audience is considered.

This is worth checking out, however, it is only aired during a low-viewing period on ABC Family and edited down to half an hour. It was available on VHS, but went out of print before that format died. I managed to get a copy and do a VHS to DV transfer, but I was delighted to discover it has finally been officially released to DVD. (Click here to buy it!)


Anonymous said...

I can't imagine how they edited more than 70 minutes down to 30.

Nathan said...

But if the immortals have no children or kin, what about the Gnome King's children? (Yeah, I know they weren't in the Rankin-Bass version, but still.)