Santacize: The Ultimate Santa Battle Round 1

Noah Thornburgh

There is a peculiar genre of films no other holiday can claim: Santa Claus films. Every year, these films drop in through the chimney in a freshly fitted red suit with white trim to match the new beard. The genre, known variously as “rookie Claus,” “suddenly Santa,” or “Santacize-me,” owes its story foundations to the legendary Kris Kringle himself. The films are characterized by a character taking on the role of Santa Claus and denying or accepting their miraculous turn of fate.

In the spirit of the holiday season, there shall be a tournament, in which four stupefied Saint Nicks shall be analyzed side-by-side, to determine who among them is most worthy of the Santa Claus role.

Round 1: Tim Allen in 1994’s “The Santa Claus” vs. Jack Skellington in 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas

May the best Santa survive ruthless critical examination.

Round 1 begins with two steadfast classics of the genre: “The Santa Claus,” where Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, a dispassionate toy manufacturer in desperate need of some holiday spirit, and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Tim Burton’s claymation wonder, where Jack Skellington, voiced by Chris Sarandon and sung by Danny Elfman, is a dispassionate scare manufacturer who desperately desires holiday spirit.

Scott is thrust into the Santa role after he spooks the original Claus off of his roof. After some urging from his son Charlie, played by Eric Lloyd, Scott dons the suit and boards the sleigh with son in tow, delivering toys before being whisked to the North Pole.

It’s not as strong a start as it appears. “I don’t believe in this Santa business,” Scott says to the very-obvious elves, who have just led him through Santa’s workshop into his intricately decorated master bedroom where silk Santa pajamas await him. Sure buddy, this Santa business isn’t real. Scott starts off with some lost points for failure to believe.

Skellington, on the other hand, is the unofficial leader of Halloween Town, where his desire for new experiences leads him to Christmas Town. He is immediately overcome by holiday cheer, believing right away in what Scott over in the North Pole was still denying. Points for Jack, who is full of spirit.

Unfortunately for all those rooting for Jack, things go off the rails. He selfishly assumes the role of Santa Claus, organizing his own toy workshop in Halloween Town and ordering the kidnapping of the real Santa, voiced by Edward Ivory. Scott, on the other hand, successfully completes his first Christmas run, out of a desire to make his son happy. Scott regains his lost points and Jack loses his gained; The contest is even, but not for long.

Jack’s Christmas is nightmarish: zombie reindeer carry a skeletal Saint Nick to countless chimneys, where Jack deposits Halloween-themed toys that attack the poor children, still reeling from meeting Jack’s garish grin. Jack doesn’t realize what he is doing, but it’s far too late. The military mobilizes against his unwitting reign of terror, gunning him down amidst his attempts at Santa’s signature belly laughs.

Poor Scott’s Christmas has the opposite problem. His genuine attempts at sleigh-powered gift delivery are hindered by his divorced wife and her boyfriend, played by Wendy Crewson and Judge Reinhold, respectively; although, from their point of view, it’s quite understandable. From the outside, Scott resembles a crazed man who has abducted his son by masquerading as a fairy tale figure–something he should have thought of before spiriting Charlie away, but alas, live and learn.

Our contenders end their respective films with two very different conclusions. Jack realizes Christmas isn’t for him, and maybe he shouldn’t have terrorized the planet’s children to fulfill his fantasies. Scott has finally regained a belief in Santa Claus, embraced the role as his own, and continued on in two, somewhat less watchable, sequels.

Jack, for all his failures, has one saving grace: he freely chose to be Santa. He acted upon his intuition and tried to be Santa because that’s what he wanted. Scott, in an odd subtext of “The Santa Claus,” is essentially bound by contract to the concept of Santa as soon as he puts on the suit. Questions like how much of his actions were a result of free agency, and how much were a result of the mystical force that literally mutates him into a rotund, beard-wielding, ho-ho-hoing cheer-giver, are left unanswered. At least the misguided Jack Skellington wasn’t subject to magical brainwashing.

Even so, Santacized Jack was a tremendous failure; Jack himself realizes that by the end. This round goes to our questionably willing Scott Calvin, who, with the help of some hi-tech elves and wildly intelligent son, managed to make his Christmas a success. Scott will move on to face the winner of next week’s showdown:

Vince Vaughn’s from 2007’s“Fred Claus”  vs. Arthur Claus from 2011’s “Arthur Christmas,”