Santa Claus: The Movie begins just how you'd expect a movie with that title to begin, exploring the origins of St. Nick, from a beloved avuncular type delivering toys in a wintry Bavarian landscape, to the red-suited, jelly-bellied icon we know today. This first half-hour does a great job convincing us this is "really" how Santa came to exist -- how his reindeer can fly, how he ended up at the North Pole, even how the naughty
ice list was created (it was the brainchild of Ms. Claus sometime in the 18th century). But it wouldn't be a true "Santa biopic" without some form of conflict, and this is where Jeannot Szwarc's film takes a permanent detour from its sweet beginnings. Screenwriter David Newman makes the rest of the movie about the modern-day corruption of Christmas at the hands of an evil toy tycoon, played by John Lithgow, who does a lot of cackling, bugging of his eyes and chomping on cigars. Lithgow's character gets an edge on the competition with the help of an elf named Patch (Dudley Moore), who had been Santa's head assistant, but banished himself after his automated toy-assembly techniques turned out a lot of dangerous, subpar toys. It's a standard Hollywood lesson regarding the evils of technology, but Newman delivers it in a peculiar way, having Patch's hit "toy" not be a toy at all, but a lollipop sprinkled with magic dust. Santa Claus: The Movie gets really off-track in its final act. For starters, the big finale takes place in the middle of January, a cardinal sin for Christmas movies. But worse is that saving the day relies on the reindeer performing a complicated loop-de-loop maneuver they couldn't manage earlier in the film -- when flying straight ahead would have been more useful under the circumstances.