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As narrated by polar postman S.D. ("Special Delivery") Kluger (Fred Astaire), a family of toy-making elves adopts a foundling baby and decides to call him Kris Kringle. When Kris grows into a young man (Mickey Rooney), he offers to take the toys the elves have made past the mountain of the evil Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn, Ed Wynn's son) to the children of Sombertown. Unfortunately for Kris, the leader of the town, Burgermeister Meisterburger (Rankin-Bass favorite Paul Frees), injured himself shortly before by tripping over a toy left by a child and subsequently banned all toys from the town. The story details how Kris outwits the Burgermeister, but is eventually forced to run from his soldiers to the safety of the North Pole.
The script, by Rankin-Bass's usual writer, Romeo Muller, uses elements suggested by The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Oz author L. Frank Baum; Rankin/Bass would produce a more direct adaptation in 1985. The music followed the favored R/B formula, starting with a classic Christmas tune and adding original songs by Maury Laws and co-producer Jules Bass.
- Adaptation Distillation: Pretty much every trope associated with Santa is put into the plot. Whoda thunk that the first Christmas trees were the ones Kris and Jessica decorated for their outlaw wedding in the wild?
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Apart from the obvious Kris Kringle, there's also the Winter Warlock and his tree monsters, Willy Willow and Peter Pine.
- Amusing Injuries: Happens to Burgermeister Meisterburger at least twice, including once in the form of an Ass Shove.
- Anachronism Stew: Although the story allegedly takes place several centuries ago in a medieval walled city, the clothing is mostly Victorian (and Jessica seems dressed for 1910); later scenes mix Victorian adultwear and kids in jeans. A character is seen at a desk with a touch-tone telephone from the 1960s and Kris is seen giving a child in Sombertown a toy train. Also, a toy automobile is visible in one of the piles of confiscated playthings in the Burgermeister's home. This could've been done to give it a timeless feeling.
- Applied Phlebotinum: Magic feed corn that makes reindeer fly!
- and apparently, the effect is permanent.
- Beardness Protection Program: Why Kris originally grows his beard.
- Bilingual Bonus: German-accented Tanta Kringle's name sounds like the German word tante, which means "aunt."
- Also "That's why they call him 'Santa', isn't it?" Until you learn "santa" is Spanish for "saint" this line can be meaningless.
- Blithe Spirit: Kris, upon visiting Sombertown.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Burgermeister Meisterburger doesn't figure out that the only way to stop Kris Kringle's toy delivery service was striking at its heart until after Kris devises the "toys in the stockings" gambit to conceal the toys. His own soldiers are just as dumb, overlooking the stockings when searching the houses as well as Winter's magic corn when arresting him and the Kringles.
- Captain Obvious: Kris's observation to Tanta Kringle that "I'm a man now!" Double points for having this declaration immediately follow the Narrator's announcement that Kris was now a man.
- Also nearly every damned time the origin of some part of the Santa legend is shown, the kids the narrator is telling the story to feel the need to point it out. Made particularly annoying since the kids are very bad actors.
- Christmas Elves: The Kringles (well, the males in the family) appear to be little old men with beards.
- Christmas Special
- Continuity Nod: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer makes a brief cameo, with S.D. Kluger telling us that his origin is another story.
- Cool Car: Kluger's snowmobile/truck
- Crystal Ball: A crystal snow ball! This is what Santa uses to know whether you're naughty or nice.
- Dark Reprise: "No More Toymakers to the King."
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Jessica... about five seconds after Kris meets her.
- Trope could also apply to the Winter Warlock, once Kris gives him the toy train he's always wanted. He literally defrosts.
- Disc One Final Boss: The Winter Warlock is hyped up in his debut scene as the potential Big Bad...but Burgermeister Meisterburger winds up having that position instead.
- Disney Acid Sequence: The song Jessica sings, "My World is Beginning Today," and its animation are straight out of The Sixties. Psychedelic, man. It's so out of place that lots of channels airing the special actually cut out that scene.
- Disproportionate Retribution: What spurs the toy-ban? The Burgermeister tripped on a toy and broke his leg in the fall. Upon discovering the cause of his accident, Meisterburger declares It's Personal.
"I hate toys...and toys hate me. Either they are going, or I am going, and I am certainly not going!"
- Don't Explain the Joke: "So that's why he __________!"
- Door Step Baby: Kris himself.
- Unique in that the person who owned the doorstep Kris was left on (Burgermeister Meisterburger!) had no interest in raising a child, and had the baby sent to an orphan asylum. It's only due to the forces of nature and some friendly animals that Baby Claus ended up with the Kringles.
- Environmental Symbolism: Sombertown and its citizens are done in drab grays with occasional muted blues or purples (right down to their hair), whereas Kris and the Kringles are bright and colorful.
- Everything's Better with Penguins: Topper.
- Evil Laugh: Burgermeister Meisterburger delivers one after announcing his intention to initiate a worldwide manhunt for Kris. It's the last thing we ever hear him utter while he's onscreen (his reading of the WANTED poster shortly afterward doesn't count).
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Sombertown. The whole town is somber.
- First-Name Basis: What the Winter Warlock tries to be on with Kris after his Heel Face Turn. However, Kris continues (for centuries) to address him as "Mr. Warlock." It just may be that Kris is trying to sound formal, since Winter, after all, is a very important friend.
- Friend to All Living Things: Kris.
- Gallows Humor: Kris actually makes a light-hearted joke about the Sombertown-wide toy ban he had just learned about after giving Jessica the dolly she had always wanted: "Watch out for that dolly. She's a hardened criminal, I hear."
- The Ghost: The children who want to know about Santa. Justified as they are really just personifications of questions asked in the letters to Santa.
- Happily Adopted: Kris, by the Kringles.
- Hair of Gold: Jessica.
- Heel Face Door Slam: Happens to Burgermeister Meisterburger: "Excuse me, sir: you're breaking your own law."
- Heel Face Turn: The Winter Warlock.
Mr. Warlock, if you please!
- Then, later, after his icy heart (literally) melts:
- Hero of Another Story: Rudolph.
- Hey, It's That Voice!: Paul Frees, voice of the Burgermeister and his lackey Grimsley, as well as assorted other minor characters, is probably best remembered as Boris Badanov from Rocky and Bullwinkle, and is also the "Ghost Host" from Disney's The Haunted Mansion rides.
- Hot Librarian: Jessica, the schoolteacher of Sombertown.
- I Have Your Penguin: The Burgermeister finally lays a trap for Kris and catches him coming out of a chimney. Kris surrenders when he realizes they've already captured Topper.
- Ill Girl: One of these was what led to Kris discovering that he could use chimneys to enter locked houses. "Susie, a tiny little girl who was very, very sick, had asked Kris for a toy Noah's ark. Kris just couldn't disappoint her." It's left ambigious just what the extent of her illness is..."very, very sick" could very well be a stand-in for "dying".
- Important Haircut: Kris's beard.
- Incredibly Lame Pun:
Winter Warlock: Don't mind the tree monsters — their bark is worse than their bite.
- Ink Suit Actor: Kris (Mickey Rooney) and the narrator, S.D. Kluger (Fred Astaire).
- Letting Her Hair Down: Jessica, during her song sequence.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Topper the penguin. For some reason, while sputtering after the penguin's display of affectionate gratitude, the word 'topper' comes out of Kris's mouth and he decides that's what the penguin's name will be.
- Micro Monarchy: The setting.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Topper. Justified, as he was looking for the South Pole and ended up in the Arctic Circle by mistake.
- Narrator: Fred Astaire's Arctic mailman, S.D. Kluger.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Topper the penguin.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: Grimsley proves how scarily competent he really is when he and a Meisterburger posse bust the Kringles' toy-making operation (leaving only Jessica unscathed in the ambush):
Grimsley: NOBODY is going to do ANYTHING! You are ALL under arrest for defying the law and making toys... [points to Winter] and for being an accomplice to Public Enemy Number One, KRIS KRINGLE!
- The Obi-Wan: Winter becomes this after the face turn.
- Only Six Faces: The King in Tanta Kringle's song "First Toymakers to the King" has the same character design (at least facially) as the Doctor who attends the Burgermeister and the father of the children who find toys in their stockings.
- Post Kiss Goofiness: A kiss on the cheek from Jessica causes Kris's eyeballs to roll in his head, and he says "Golly!" like some country bumpkin.
- Redheaded Hero: Kris.
- Royal Decree: Burgermeister Meisterburger does one that outlaws toys and Toymakers in the town.
- Rhymes on a Dime: All of the male Kringles — other than Kris — have first names that rhyme with Kringle, such as Wingle and Dingle.
- Santa Claus
- Shout-Out: To Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
- Single Palette Town: Sombertown is gray, which makes Kris' red coat stand out all the more.
- The Smurfette Principle: There is apparently only one female Kringle. Then again, she is explicitly called "the elf queen", and is twice the size of the males; maybe they have a biology similar to bees...
- Title Drop: When the Title Theme Tune is sung at the beginning and at the end, and very nearly when Kris Waxes Lyrical to the kids of Sombertown (See below).
- Ultimate Authority Mayor: Burgermeister Meisterburger, who has the power to ban toys "throughout the land, from sea to sea."
- Wanted Poster
- Waxing Lyrical
Kris Kringle: You better watch out. You better not cry, you better not pout.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of the "very, very sick" Susie, who vanishes from the story once her role in inspiring Kris to come down chimneys is complete.
- Yes-Man: The ludicrously underrated character Grimsley, who tends to steal every scene he's in. If you don't know who he is, he's the one with the Pickelhaube (Prussian spiked helmet) and the little moustache, who sounds kinda British. And is adorable.