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Why Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town Is Basically The Perfect Superhero Origin Movie

Kris Kringle
(Image credit: Rankin Bass)

No matter how many years go by, it never feels like the holidays for me unless I watch at least one Rankin Bass Christmas special. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a classic standby, but, of course, there are many others with their merits (and less problematic). Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is among the other big classics, especially in today’s modern era where it mimics the genre of superhero origin movies so well. 

What’s that, you say? You never thought of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town as the perfect superhero origin movie? That’s not too surprising given that the movie came out in 1970, back during a time when superhero movies were barely a thing and not the mega-successful genre. Perhaps it’s for that reason I spotted out all the tell-tale signs of a quality superhero origin story in the classic, and why that could put it over Rudolph and other specials this holiday season.

Elf finding a young Kris in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town

(Image credit: Rankin Bass)

Kris Kringle Was Born Into Adversity

Kris Kringle’s origin story starts off in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town as it does with many other heroes: with adversity. An orphan is taken in by good elves, disgraced by a changed world and policies. The Kringle elves were once a proud family with the title as the “First Toymakers to the King,” but those days are long gone. Though their honor is gone, they raise the child, Kris Kringle, who then vows to restore his family’s honor and their roles as proud toymakers once more. 

Like Batman trying to rid Gotham City of crime, Kris’ job is to bring toys to a town without toys. It’s not an easy task, especially when Kris is not nearly at the level he’ll eventually reach as Santa Claus. We, as an audience, know who he’ll become, so it’s cool to see the beginning, which isn’t something often touched on in Christmas movies. Well, unless you count The Santa Clause as another origin story, which I guess could if we’re talking about the existence of a multiverse in which multiple Santas exist across multiple worlds.

Topper being arrested by the police

(Image credit: Rankin Bass)

Topper Is The Ultimate Sidekick 

If Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have taught us anything, it’s that the hero is only as good as his sidekick. Characters like Katy, Foggy Nelson and X-23 enhance the abilities and mystique of the leading man, and in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, that’s Topper. Kris stumbles upon this lost penguin on his way to Sombertown, and the two become fast friends. 

The best thing about Topper is that, like any good superhero sidekick, he’s fully subscribed to some batshit scenario. This penguin was living out in the cold all on his lonesome, and some red-headed goof just shows up and is like, “Hey man, want to help me deliver some toys to kids?” Topper doesn’t even think twice and risks life imprisonment for this dude at one point. He’s a real one, without a doubt, or just a penguin that has no idea what’s going on the entire time. Honestly, when it comes to sidekicks for heroes, does it really matter?

Kris meeting the future Mrs. Claus

(Image credit: Rankin Bass)

We See How Important Moments Crucial To The Character Happen

The perfect superhero origin story shows us how all the signature characters, gadgets and accessories surrounding a hero came together. Iron Man did this well, but I daresay that Santa Claus is Comin' to Town does it the best. This movie features the small things like the creation of the Santa suit and the introduction of Mrs. Claus, but we also get the origin of Santa’s magic and the explanation behind how reindeer fly! Who would’ve thought just a few kernels of magic corn would keep them going for so long? 

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town also presents new info, such as how the tradition of Christmas gets started. It’s kind of crazy how a guy delivering toys to a joyless town frequently turned into a once-a-year gig for the entire world. Quite frankly, had this special been made in 2021, you’d think someone would’ve jammed a few sequels in there to really flesh out that transition. Franchising issues aside though, the movie is great for laying down important lore for an iconic character, even if the validity of it as widely-accepted canon is questionable.

Rudolph in Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town

(Image credit: Rankin Bass)

There Is A Major Cameo From A Star In The Same Shared Universe

Cameos from stars of other movies isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for a great superhero origin movie, but I’d say it’s definitely an added bonus. It’s always a nice treat when a Marvel or DC hero make an unexpected appearance in a superhero’s origin film, even if it’s just a brief and rather meaningless cameo. Superman’s appearance in Shazam! is a great example, even if that isn’t even Henry Cavill in the shot at the very end. It’s the thought that counts, and also paired with the tease of a future collaboration. 

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town pulls off a major cameo from about the biggest star Rankin Bass has in its roster of characters. In the scene explaining the origin of flying reindeer, the children listening to the story mention Rudolph as one of the reindeer potentially responsible for Santa’s escape from jail. The narrator reminds the children that Rudolph is an entirely different story and moves on from there. Of course, the story is that Rudolph isn’t even born into well into Kris’ run as Santa Claus, so of course he wouldn’t be involved in the breakout from prison. His father Donner is, though, although he isn’t placed a pedestal any higher than any of the other reindeer. 

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is one of the best Rankin Bass animated specials out there, but in the era of DC and Marvel movies, it may be the absolute best. Of course, that’s probably not true for those who aren’t fans of the superhero genre, though the box office seemingly indicates those folks are in the minority of moviegoers.

Holiday movies are all the rage during December, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a way to watch Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town on television or streaming. CinemaBlend will likely be delving out takes on holiday movies all season long, so be sure to stick with us!

Mick Joest

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.