‘Santa VS The Snowman’ belongs on your holiday movie marathon

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By all accounts, “Santa VS The Snowman” is filled with cliches. And I love every second of it.

Every winter, entertainment writers revisit mainstream holiday movies. “Home Alone” and others are classics for a reason, and yes, “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. However, there’s one underrated gem these articles never mention.

O Entertainment, the studio behind the Jimmy Neutron series, released the 1997 TV special “Santa VS The Snowman,” which was rereleased in 2002 as IMAX Pictures’ “Santa VS The Snowman 3D.” During one of its holiday season reruns, when I was young enough that I didn’t think twice about Santa’s mass breaking-and-entering scheme, I saw the film at the St. Louis Science Center’s IMAX theater and instantly fell in love.

Although Santa (Jonathan Winters) gets top billing, the film is a character study about the silent Snowman, whose tragic downfall explores deep themes about the consequences of isolation. In this regard, “Santa VS The Snowman” was ahead of its time. Every movie studio churns out sympathetic villains nowadays, but O Entertainment wrote a multifaceted antagonist created by societal ostracization over two decades before 2019’s “Joker.” (Yes, I’m going there.)

When Santa’s sleigh accidentally breaks Snowman’s beloved icicle flute, Snowman follows the sleigh to Santa’s workshop and discovers a new flute. Having never met anyone who could teach him what stealing is, Snowman touches the flute, resulting in a maximum-security lockdown and a daring escape. He harmlessly attempts to learn about his neighbor, but Santa’s elves respond with exclusion, mocking and brutality.

Snowman desires Santa’s popularity, but continued prejudice enrages him. Why are the elves so cruel when they’re meant to bring joy? Why is Santa beloved while he’s bullied? Santa breaks into every house on Earth, so isn’t it hypocritical to place his village on lockdown when someone enters his workshop? Eventually, Snowman loses his cool. He doesn’t just want to be like Santa – he wants to be Santa.

The once-innocent Snowman, tired of living in a society that fails to empathize with him, declares war on Santa. He resorts to corporate espionage, forges his identity and finally creates a private military of snowmen to challenge Santa. A famous proverb summarizes Snowman’s character: “the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

Unfortunately, Snowman’s hubris catches up to him in the emotionally devastating finale. After usurping Santa, he delivers his first present – only for everything to tragically collapse. This is visually represented by his snow reindeer melting over a chimney; Snowman feels the warmth he desired, but when the metaphorical village burns, the snow melts too.

Even before Jimmy Neutron’s movie and series, O Entertainment created groundbreaking 3D animation. The TV special aired two years after “Toy Story” and three years after the first season of “ReBoot.” Both of these are trailblazers, but “Santa VS The Snowman” is a lower budget short film that still pulled it off. Compared to O Entertainment’s later filmography, it’s aged like last year’s fruitcake, but it’s good for 1997 television.

Those lucky enough to see the IMAX release know that “Santa VS The Snowman” was truly designed for IMAX. Directors promote beautiful cinematography and scale to convince audiences that IMAX is the ultimate way to experience movies like “Dune.” Perhaps they’re right, but does “Dune” feature Santa addressing the audience and directly pointing at the one naughty-lister hiding in the theater? I didn’t think so.

Animated films are infamous for celebrity casting, especially if Chris Pratt gets another lead role, but this star-studded cast fits the story. Along with cameos like Ben Stein, the highlight is Mark DeCarlo, a name Jimmy Neutron fans recognize as the iconic Hugh Neutron. DeCarlo’s second greatest role, Flippy the Elf, proves that compassion remains in Santa’s village.

Of course, it wouldn’t be “Santa VS The Snowman” without humor. It’s filled with puns, sight gags, a post-credits blooper reel and even a musical number. Film lovers may notice references to classic cinema; the climax features a tribute to the Battle of Hoth from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” complete with igloo AT-STs and reindeer speeders.

This is purely speculation, but the film is prophetic about the Star Wars prequels, despite preceding their release. It features two armies of identical soldiers, one of which was cloned. The film was rereleased the same year as “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,” and most elves are voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, who voiced every clone in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Coincidence? I think not.

Stop. If I’ve somehow unironically convinced you that “Santa VS The Snowman” is unironically a masterpiece, I have to break the kayfabe. I swear this is the last Star Wars reference for now, but what I told you is true, from a certain point of view.

I’ve exaggerated the film’s quality a bit. Its 3D animation borders on nightmare fuel at times, it relies on dated reference humor and the plot is so shallow that I’m amazed an overanalyzing media studies major like myself drew any coherent themes out of it. By all accounts, “Santa VS The Snowman” is filled with cliches.

And I love every second of it.

Would I say “Santa VS The Snowman” is among the greatest holiday stories ever? Absolutely not. If I wanted to discuss excellent filmmaking, I would’ve written one of those articles I mentioned about mainstream holiday films because people remember them for a good reason. Where’s the fun in that, though? Why write about the movies everyone already loves when this movie brings me unspeakable joy?

Every year, I show “Santa VS The Snowman” to friends that haven’t seen it, and I’ve always formed lifelong memories by doing so. My high school book club turned it into an annual tradition, and I’ve shared it with friends from out of town. I still remember a friend who completely lost it after hearing awkward lines like “you’re the bomb diggity, Santa.”

Although its positive aspects aren’t Oscar-worthy as I’ve suggested, writing about “Santa VS The Snowman” like this is the only way to express its magic. The creators clearly enjoyed working on the film and made it a blast to watch. Like this article, it’s completely ridiculous, filled with every trope imaginable and has way too many Star Wars references.

To my knowledge, no streaming service includes “Santa VS The Snowman,” and I’ve never seen it air on TV despite originally being a TV special. The Science Center’s last showing was a few years ago. Besides buying the DVD on Amazon, YouTube reuploads are your best option. It’s a shame – if it were on streaming, people would discover this fantastic holiday watch.

The best part of streaming is finding movies you’d never watch in theaters, whether they’re unironically amazing or hilariously bad. Having good qualities and numerous flaws, “Santa VS The Snowman” falls under neither extreme, but it’s just as enjoyable as either one.

If this article convinced anyone to seek out “Santa VS The Snowman,” then I’ve done something meaningful with my life. Now all that’s left for the year is to share it with friends who haven’t seen it. To any of my friends reading this, that isn’t a statement. It’s a warning.

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Opinions Editor | + posts

Sean Mullins (she/they) is the opinions editor and webmaster for the Journal. They are a media studies major who has participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Their passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment opinions articles. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club.