“The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus” was the best Rankin/Bass “Animagic” TV special ever!

By on December 24, 2017

If you’re a fan of Christmas TV oddities like those of us here at Night Flight HQ, we hope by now you’ve had the chance to see probably the weirdest and possibly the best Rankin/Bass Christmas stop-motion animated special ever, 1985’s The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus.

If you haven’t seen this one yet, let us try to describe it for you below by pushing a few words together

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The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus was written by Julian P. Gardner, who based the teleplay and song lyrics on the 1902 story by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum.

This one-hour TV special — which aired for the first time in the U.S. on December 17, 1985 on the CBS network — was produced and directed by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass.

Rankin & Bass are probably best known for producing Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), as well as one of our favorite Halloween TV specials, 1967’s Mad Monster Party, which we told you about here.

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The story begins in the fictional forest of Burzee, where a council of immortals have gathered to discuss the fate of Santa Claus.

We learn from the Great Ak — the Master Woodsman of the world who is apparently a wizard with big wooden horns atop his head and he wields a silver axe — how he’d found an abandoned baby boy in the snowy woods on the border of the Forest some sixty years earlier.

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The Great Ak gives the boy to the lioness Shiegra, who licks the child’s head, but — after hearing about the abandoned infant — a wood nymph named Necile steals the boy from Shiegra and brings him to the Great Ak, begging him to let her raise the child as her own.

It is against the law to bring a human into the Forest, but the Great Ak decides to allows Necile to raise the child while Shiegra stays to protect them.

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Necile names the child “Claus,” because the word means “little one” in the language of the forest.

Little Claus was raised by immortals in the forest to live a sublime life immersed in peace and harmony, but as an adolescent, the Great Ak takes him to see the mortal world, where he discovers that the rest of the world is rife with cruelty and suffering.

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Claus learns that he must live there and make it better, leaving the Forest behind.

He moves into a workshop in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho — along with Shiegra and Tingler, a Sound Imp — where he dedicates the rest of his life to making children happy. He’s assisted by a group of Ryls, Knooks, and Wood Nymphs from the Forest.

He learns that the best way to spread joy and happiness where there is none is to give them toys, the first of which is a small wooden black cat (modeled after the kitten Blinky that Necile sent to them) which he carves and then gives to an orphan boy named Weekum.

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Claus decides that all children rich or poor should receive toys for Christmas, learning how to sneak into their houses without being seen.

We learn he’s only allowed to use the reindeer to deliver toys on Christmas Eve, but this causes a conflict since that date means Claus only has ten days to make enough toys for the journey (we also learn his first two reindeer are named Glossie and Flossie).

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Not everyone is happy that Claus is bringing happiness to children. There are child-hating monsters called the Awgwas who oppose Claus’s efforts to bring joy to the children that they torment.

The Awgwas try to stop Claus from making and delivering toys, sending him a warning at first, but after Claus ignores their warning, the Awgwas kidnap him. Claus turns to the Knooks, who help him escape.

The story goes on from there, but we’ll let you discover what happens next on your own.

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As Claus grows old and closer to his mortal death, he suggests that his friends remember him by decorating a tree every year.

The council — having heard about Claus’s lifetime of doing good deeds — vote to give him the Mantle of Immortality. Now known as “Santa Claus,” he delivers gifts to children every Christmas Eve.

Along the way we’ve learned the details of Claus’s amazing life, along with the origin of just about every Christmas tradition associated with Santa Claus, from toys, stockings and lighted trees to reindeer and Santa’s sleigh.

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This was Rankin/Bass’s final “Animagic” stop-motion production ever to be filmed in Japan, where it aired on December 24, 1986 under the title Santa’s Secret and Great Adventure (サンタの秘密と大冒険, lit. Santa no Himitsu to Dai Bōken).

This was also the only Rankin/Bass Christmas special without a celebrity narrator and all future Rankin/Bass TV specials and series would be traditionally animated from this point onwards.

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The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus was released on VHS tape in 2000.

We’re not exactly sure why this bizarre, pagan taken on the Santa Claus legend didn’t exactly take off with audiences, considering it was based on a great original Frank Baum tale featuring puppet animation of forest nymphs, fairies, dragons, Knooks, Sound Imps, water spirits, wind demons, light elves, Awgwas, Ryls and an axe battle between good and evil!

Just about anything the great Rankin/Bass team were involved with is worth seeing, and The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus certainly has everything you’d want to see in a weirdo Christmas saga around this time of year (’tis the season!).

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.