Friday, December 25, 2009

A Universal Santa Claus

It's Christmas Day, and I have just finished watching the 2000 Universal animated musical of L. Frank Baum's "the Life and adventures of Santa Claus" - so Sony's "Lion of Oz" wasn't the only adaptation of a Baum/Oz book to be animusicalised.

This movie has yet to be released onto official DVD, but this film runs for 1 hr 15 mins, and spends its time well with the adaptation.

Since this is a more current adaptation, it is a more cartoonish approach, but also has a few changes from the book (I will try not to sound like I'm comparing it to the 1985 Rankin/Bass stop-motion version):
* It is (again) narrated by the Great Ak (voiced by Hal Holbrook - sounds familiar somehow) and in the beginning intro he mentions "before televison" - I liked the various panning shots of the beautiful Forest of Burzee.
* There is no Queen Zurline of the Fairies. Instead, Necile (Dixie Carter . . . who?) has two other nymph friends.
* the Pixie Wisk is a new character to join in on the adventure (I thought it was Whisk, and I prefer it with 'h') who can change his form (often into an Awgwa)and sometimes reminded me a bit of Yacko the Animaniac.
* the Baby is at first named Necileclaus/NecileClaus - an extension of the book's Neclaus.
* Just like Rankin/Bass version, Claus' life growing up in Burzee is thrown through a musical montage/
* Blinkie the kitten is introduced at the same time Claus wakes up to his new home - and is adorable.
* the Lord's daughter, Bessie Blithesome, is renamed Natalie and voiced by Kathy Sourcie (remember her? She's Lil from the "Rugrats" series, Narissa in W.I.T.C.H., the Weird Sisters from "Gargoyles" and many others!). I like how from her first introduction during Ak's guide her character is shown clearly, developed and is willing to help Claus with his gifts, even if it means giving up her "friend" that Claus gave her so long ago.
* the Knook Peter is renamed Will.
* Santa Claus is voiced by Robby Benson as a young man (Disney's Beast/Prince from "Beauty and the Beast" - didn't recognise him at first!) and by Jim Cummings as the white-bearded version (Darkwing Duck, Shocker from 90s "Spider-man: Animated Series", most of all Disney's bad guy Pete, and Many others!)
* The Awgwas/Awgawas are rock-like creatures with red eyes - and even have the ability to move through rocks. This wasn't too bad, but it did bring to mind the Rock Fairies known as the Nomes more - one scene even has a possible tribute to Disney's "Return to Oz" by having the King and his shorter, fat, dumb, comic relief "sidekick" (they're named Wagif and Mogorb) show their faces through a rocky wall, as did the Nome messenger (Pons Maar) through Claymation. Though I did like that.
* the best part is how some time of the movie shows young man Claus interacting with the people of the village, getting to known them and they him (I especially like how a big village man sees Claus make friends with Ethan the crippled boy - originally named Weekum - and prove how strong he really is, leading me to believe that he would trust Ethan to help with some work eventually).

What I Didn't Like:
* Why is 'Ryls' pronounced as "Reels", how did the people know of Claus' toys being stolen and WHAT was the necessity of adding an extra 'a' in Awgwas? (that I never noticed till Jared said so, I just thought that's how they were said)
* Most of the character designs and animation. Necile and the Wood Nymphs have wings like butterflies and costumes like fairies did not sit well with me. The Knooks are more like dwarves or gnomes, sometimes with accents - much too cartoonish. The Winged approach applies to Ak is well, but has more colour than before - at least he has Eagle-like feathered wings instead of the fluttery kind. Baum wrote "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" CLEARLY not to be connected with the winged fairy tales of Grimm, etc.
* It was a bit hard to tell whether Claus was a teenager or not - must have been the baggy sleeves - before leaving as a young man. His age is not as specific here.
* Quite a few times the animation wasn't to my liking (or approval). Good characters or Bad characters, it happened quite a bit here and there. I know I shouldn't expect perfection, but I don't like to be distracted by bits of sloppiness or parts lacking on solid body of fluid movement, and occasionally useless movements of the body/face.
* the King of the Awgawas was more simple cartoonish evil and not really wicked enough to me, unlike the stop-motion version.
* Shiegra pronounced "Sheegra" and credited as "Sheigra" (unless that's a typo), and doesn't look lionESS enough.
* I was never particularly keen on that scene where Claus' sculpture of Shiegra frightens the little brother and sister.
* Santa Claus having a white beard when the Awgwas attempt to stop him giving toys to the children - his beard could have been coloured, a cross between his youthful dark hair and elderly white strands.
* Santa Claus' song of his first sleigh ride - he is clearly a Voice Actor and Not a Singer. A few shots were repeated during the non-singing part, his face was animated too joyful, and the selection of shots used during those magical sleigh ride scenes could have been a bit more organised.
* Santa Claus delivers toys during the snowy winter, foot or flight of sleigh, and half the time he doesn't wear gloves? And didn't anyone on the team notice how his lower lip was incorrectly white instead of flesh-coloured (even for a cartoon)?

Don't think that despite my "criticism" I dislike this film, I do like it. I'm just, unfortunately, a perfectionist on some things, and wish this had been done better. Maybe if it had been a theatrical feature, the animation would be better.

If there was to be a new (live-action non musical) adaptation of Baum's "Life and Adventures of Santa Claus", I'd like some scenes with the human friends Claus has made to help him with making toys.

Hope you liked my Christmas Blogs, and have a Happy New Year:

And here's my Christmas video for Youtube (just wish I had taken out the 5 frames of Tyron about to turn around):


Anonymous said...

Animation is animation and it's not yours.

That means it can't always be to your liking and definately nothing to do with your approval.

Nathan said...

I haven't seen this one, but it seems like these adaptations can never retain Will and Peter Knook as separate characters. The Rankin-Bass one just had Peter, but he had some of Will's traits.