Growing up, I loved the old Rankin-Bass Animagic specials: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Year Without Santa Claus, and my favorite, Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
Authored by Romeo Muller, also known as Mr.Christmas (see the fan info written by George Zadorozny), Santa Claus is Coming to Town has some of the catchiest tunes and funniest lines of all the Rankin Bass specials (I love the Winter Warlock shouting out "I guess I'm not such a loser after all!") And except for The Little Drummer Boy, it is the most Christian of the bunch.
The story, narrated by postman SD Kluger (voiced by Frad Astaire), tells of the early life of Kris Kringle, an orphan adopted by the Kringle Family of Elves. These Elves were the first toymakers to the king, but now they didn't deliver their toys anymore because the Winter Warlock on his mountain blocks the way to the villages on the other side of the mountain. When Kris grows up (voiced by Mickey Rooney), he volunteers to take the toys over the mountain.
In the village of Sombertown, he finds that the Burghermister Meisterburger (one of the more entertaining villans of animated history-- strangely, the only person in the village with a german accent - but remember this was 1970 -- germans still weren't too popular then -- think East Germany under soviet domination) has issued a draconian decree forbidding toys. And so Kris delivers his wares, and runs off to the mountain where he is captured by the enchanted trees of the Winter Warlock. But through the gift of a choo-choo train, he melts the warlock's heart and makes him good.
The rest of the story shows how Kris overcomes Meisterburger's silliness, falls in love with the town schoolmarm, Miss Jessica, and eventually moves to the North Pole.
At this point you are thinking "Most Christian, Russ -- at what point is the gospel even mentioned?" OK, don't think this too much of a stretch. Watch the scene when Kris and Jessica are wed. Astaire clearly says "they went before the Lord" in a grove of pine trees because they were considered outlaws. As they come into the grove, you see how the elves and forest creatures have decorated the trees -- and chief among the ornaments are Christian Crosses. But most surprising is the Winter Warlock, who has been "dis-enchanted" and lost all his magic powers. Just as the wedding is about to begin, he prays "please, give me just a little magic" and the trees light up with Christmas lights. Let me write that again THE WINTER WARLOCK PRAYS.
Then, as Kris and Jessica decide what single night to do the deliveries, Astaire narrates "He chose the holiest night of the year, a night of profound love..." Christmas Eve.
And then, my favorite subtle gospel insertion is also in my favorite song. Kris has just given the Winter Warlock a gift -- nobody gives mean old warlocks gifts, you know -- and that icy heart just melted away, revealing a kindly looking old man. Winter then says "Ah, but will it last, at heart I'm a mean old warlock" -- and Kris says being good is just as simple as putting one foot in front of the other -- leading into the peppy song:
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' 'cross the flo-o-or
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' out the door.
You never will get where you're goin'
If you never get up on your feet
Come on! There's a good tail wind blowin'
A fast walkin' man is hard to beat!
If you want to change your direction
If you're time of life is at hand
Well don't be the rule -- be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.
If I want to change the reflection
I see in the mirror each morn
Oh, you do?!
You mean that it's just my election
To vote for a chance to be reborn.
Re-read that last verse -- sung by the warlock. "...a chance to be reborn" is not accidental language (neither I think, is the word play with election). Now before you get all hyper-calvinistic on me, let me state that I'm well aware that the song seems to teach "bootstrap redemption" -- just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can be good. Such teaching flies in the face of everything that is true about grace (go back and read Ephesians chapter 2). However, remember that the song only comes AFTER the warlock's heart is melted by an unmerited gift that he didn't deserve! (admittely, the gift is a choo-choo, but this is, after all, a children's story)
I'm telling you, there's good stuff going on in this flim. After thanksgiving, break it out and watch for yourself -- I hope you'll be delighted at what you see.
Soli Deo Gloria