Thursday, November 29, 2018

Romeo Muller, Jr. and Rankin/Bass' Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town

How to Get from Sombertown to Beautific Joy:

Romeo Muller's Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

Copyright 2018 by George Zadorozny

Beneath the dazzling and delightful surface of this remarkable film, Rankin/Bass's greatest writer Romeo Muller (superbly supported by the songwriting team of Maury Laws and Jules Bass) explores in many ways two questions fundamental indeed: how should we live in a world beset by so much sorrow and strife and heartlessnessso much spiritual darkness? Is there a way from that terrible darkness to a life-giving light?

The storytelling framework is established in the lighthearted introduction hosted by Fred Astaire in his Animagic guise as mailman S.D. ("Special Delivery") Kluger, who promises to answer all the children's mailed questions about why Santa Claus does all sorts of things unique to him. Astaire/Kluger then sings the title song and after the credits transitions into telling the story proper, which begins in Sombertown. An abandoned baby—bearing the nameplate Claus—is taken to Sombertown's mayor, Burgermeister Meisterburger, and his reaction to the note found with the baby begins to tell us just how somber a place Sombertown is. For that note contains nothing but the most reasonable of requests:

"Please sir, take care of my child, and protect him from the dangers of the Mountain of the Whispering Winds. He will be exceptional if only given the love he needs."

The Burgermeister coldly and angrily spurns this request, and orders the baby taken to the orphan asylum. Magical happenings intervene of course and baby Claus quickly ends up in the abode of the ever-cheerful and delightful toymaking Kringles, who indeed give the baby—renamed Kris Kringle"the love he needs."

And that is the key dichotomy. Sombertown is somber not just because all the buildings are gray, and all the clothes the people wear are grayish or gray or black, and even (with one exception) everyone's hair is gray or black—Sombertown is somber because, under the thumb of a loveless tyrant, it cannot give love.

And that is also the fundamental problem fueling the Winter Warlock's stone-cold mercilessness, and Jessica's icy denunciation of Kris Kringle's daring to bring toys to the children of Sombertown. And Kris Kringle overcomes both not so much by merely giving each a present but via the meaning inherent in that gift-giving.

That meaning is suggested towards the end of the film, when Kris, now Santa Claus and married to Jessica, has so many requests for toys that he can hardly keep up with the orders and so must deliver the toys on only one night a year. "But on which night should I go out? I wonder ...."

Astaire/Kluger the narrator answers: "It wasn't a hard decision to make. They chose of course the holiest night of the year—the night of profound love—which was the perfect night for giving ... Christmas Eve."

And what is it that makes Christmas Eve the perfect night for giving? Although Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town is primarily a secular film and touches but lightly on the religious underpinnings of Christmas, nevertheless there is no denying that here it evokes a key doctrine of Christianity, namely, that on Christmas God the Father gave to mankind his Son so that all could achieve after death a beatific and transfigured resurrection, and endless, glorious, and dazzlingly transcendent life. 

Whether or not any given viewer of Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town holds that belief, nevertheless it explains just what the narrator means when he says Christmas Eve is the perfect night for giving, and is the holiest night of the year—the night of profound love.

And the choo-choo that Kris Kringle gives to the Winter Warlock melts his icy heart, and the China doll that Kris Kringle gives to Jessica thaws her icy denunciation of Kris Kringle's daring to bring toys to the children of Sombertown, precisely because Kris' gift-giving is done not to move merchandise but to reflect on a human scale the profound love of the divine for humankind—which the Winter Warlock and Jessica (unlike the Burgermeister) prove still capable of accepting, leading to their transfigurations into fully loving beings

The magic in the gift-giving is human love intertwined with divine love. And giving and accepting such transfiguring love is precisely how to get from Sombertown to beatific joy in Romeo Muller's Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, as summarized towards its close: 

"But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa—and learn to give, as only he can give—of ourselves, our talents, our love, and our hearts. Maybe if we could all learn Santa's beautiful lesson, maybe there would finally be peace on Earth, and goodwill toward man."

No comments: