Movies & TV

50 Years Later, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town Is As Immortal As the Bearded Man Himself

The stop-motion classic influenced everything from Tim Burton to SpongeBob.
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Let’s admit it: As a society, we have been nowhere near skeptical enough about Santa Claus. For whatever reason, we have collectively agreed is acceptable—nay, encouraged—to force-feed to our children a lie. But myth or not, there seems to be an undeniable plot hole in the part of the legend where we all apparently agreed it was totally cool for an estranged old man to break into our house via chimney once a year.

Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way trying to take down Santa Claus. (Technically, I’m indebted to him for some decades of gifts, so that would also just not be strategic.) All I’m saying is context is key. And for a long while there seemed to be some significant inconsistencies about the man in red's history. That is, until one television special came along to set the record straight 50 years ago.

When Rankin-Bass’s Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (SCICTT) first aired on CBS on December 14 of 1970, viewers were greeted by the face of a spry, blue-eyed mailman by the name of Special Delivery, “S.D.,” Kluger. Voiced by Fred Astaire, the stop-motion-animated puppet hopped out of his truck and began to read letters from his mailbag, filled with questions written by children around the world asking about the legend of Santa Claus. “I have all the answers,” S.D. Kluger assured, before breaking out into the film’s titular song. Now, a half century since its release, it’s high time we take a similar second look at the origins of this iconic Christmas special.

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Much like the story of Santa Claus, SCICTT’s legacy has often been spread by word of mouth. And, just like the entourage that would help Kris Kringle reach his final form, there are plenty more contributors than meets the eye that helped SCICTT put “one foot in front of the other." From the mind behind its storyline, to its “Animagic” team in Japan, to the wonder of catching it on television each year, there’s a bit of magic sprinkled throughout each step that has made the film as immortal as Santa Claus himself.

When it comes to SCICTT, perhaps the person closest to having “all the answers” like S.D. Kluger is Rick Goldschmidt. The official Rankin-Bass historian, Goldschmidt has come to serve as something of a final living link to the production company’s notable contributors, including founders Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. The footprint of Rankin-Bass is inextricable from pop culture. Tim Burton has cited Rankin-Bass as an inspiration for his own career, while shows like SNL, SpongeBob Squarepants, Community, and MadTV have all released their own Rankin-Bass parodies. Goldschmidt, who wrote about SCICTT in his book The Making of Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town and The Daydreamer, says that the film came at a time when Rankin-Bass was “hitting their high-water mark” following the success of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964 and Frosty the Snowman in 1969. However, Goldschmidt says that what made the film truly timeless was the story at its core.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.

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* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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