News Column

Cool Kris Kringles and Punching Pere Noels

Dec. 6, 2011

Aaron Sagers

Santa Claus

Santa Claus has survived for 400 years -- or longer, if he is the same Greek Saint Nicholas from the 4th century -- through harsh Arctic climates, constantly changing geopolitical landscapes, increasingly invasive technology and booing Philadelphia Eagles fans.

Plus, let's face it, when it comes to sliding down chimneys in the middle of the night into strange homes, a fire waiting below is really the least of Santa's worries. Risk is somewhat expected for the world's most famous home invader whose visitation schedule is well publicized; in addition to being a fat moving target in bright red, Santa never knows when some nutjob has been good all year just so they can set out a batch of arsenic cookies with a glass of strychnine milk.

Thankfully, we already know Santa has achieved immortality, and mastered time and space - as well as tamed wild reindeer, commanded an army of mythical elves and managed to outsmart NORAD's Santa Tracker every year even though his address is public. One could further assume that behind the well-known largesse of a holly jolly man who loves all good little children, there is bearded tough guy who wields a mean candy-cane nunchaku and probably hangs out in biker bars in his off-season.

In the new animated film "Arthur Christmas," Santa runs a high-tech paramilitary operation in order to deliver toys to the world's children in one night. In that spirit, instead of the doughy, dimply holiday mascot, let's celebrate the 10 best cool Kris Kringles, punching Pere Noels, survivalist Santa Clauses and fierce Father Christmases of pop-culture.

"Elf"

Step aside Edmund Gwenn and Richard Attenborough (from both versions of "Miracle on 34th Street"), because Ed Asner is the better Santa for New York City in this 2003 modern classic. Instead of being committed to Bellevue, this Santa runs the risk of being thrown into Riker's Island after squaring off with the Central Park Rangers and putting them on the "Naughty" list. Squinty and grumpy, Asner's Santa is an old soul who gets the job done but brandishes a tire iron when threatened. And who can forget this advice about the Big Apple from the savvy world traveler: Gum on the street isn't free candy, so don't pick it up; there are 30 Ray's Pizza restaurants that claim to be the original, but the real one is on 11th; "Peep Shows" are not where you get a sneak peak at toys before Christmas.

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"Futurama, Vol. 2: Xmas Story"

There may be a day when a flesh-and-blood Santa decides to call it quits. But just like Superman, Santa has a robot clone to back him up. However, just like Superman's, that robot clone is insane. Created by Mom's Friendly Robot Company, Robot Santa Claus runs the holiday in the 31st century. Unfortunately, Xmas has become a day of terror because robo-Claus' naughty-or-nice programming is out of whack and everyone is judged naughty - and most likely destroyed. Armed with weapons such as T.O.W. missiles (wordplay!) and bicycle guns created by his Neptunian slave laborers, Robot Santa manages to wreak havoc while also bringing people together, even if it does mean huddling together in hiding for a day.

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"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"

Father Christmas is pretty dedicated to his job of giving, but when his gifts also involve having children do his dirty work to take out a nemesis, even better. In the 2005 film adaptation of C.S. Lewis' first "Narnia" book, the Pevensie children are on the run from the White Witch who has kept the world inside the wardrobe pretty cold for 100 years. When her hold over Narnia begins to slip, the kids run into the jolly old arms dealer. Because there's no age limit or waiting list for receiving weapons at the North Pole, Santa gives a sword and shield to Peter, a bow and arrows to Susan, and a dagger to Lucy. Then he takes off to let them clean up the mess. As one of the few grown-ups in the story who isn't evil, and isn't a talking animal, Santa is like Narnia's answer to Nick Fury - a fairly savvy tactician who'd rather not get his hands dirty.

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"Robot Chicken: Season Four: 'The Robot Chicken Full-Assed Christmas Special' "

Before he can become a double-0 Claus, Kris Kringle must have two naughty kills, or so that's what Robot Chicken suggests in a sketch aping "Casino Royale." Voiced by Seth MacFarlane of "Family Guy," this Santa is royally ticked at little Jaden for "flashing his wee-wee at the maid." He takes out his mom in a brutal, bloody fight scene in the kitchen before surprising Jaden in his bedroom - but after removing the cartridge from the naughty boy's gun. Santa delivers a .32 caliber lump of coal before Mom springs back to life, launching a Christmas-themed homage to the James Bond opening sequence. As far as tough-guy mythical figures, who might also be spies, this Santa tops the nice list. Check it out on the excellent "Robot Chicken: Season Four" DVD.

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"The Nightmare Before Christmas"

Although he is kidnapped by the trio of Lock, Shock and Barrel, the surly "Sandy Claws" of this 1993 animated musical "The Nightmare Before Christmas" proves he can put up a solid fight. He manages to avoid being frightened of the monstrous Oogie Boogie and instead attempts to reason with the villain (in song, of course).When that doesn't work, he squashes the remainder of Oogie, literally like a bug. Then, he snatches his hat back from Pumpkin King Jack Skellington and saves the day. What is Santa's punishment for Jack's botched attempt to merge Halloween and Christmas? Snow, forgiveness and Halloween Town on the "Nice" list.

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"South Park, The Hits: Vol. 1: 'The Spirit of Christmas' "

Although the beef between Santa and Jesus is well known, it wasn't clear how violent their relationship had become until "South Park" chronicled the feud in bloody detail. While Jesus may have a point that Christmas is about commemorating his birth, Santa takes issue with this and contends the holiday is about giving. When they decide to end it once and for all, because "there can only be one," Santa holds his own with wicked moves. He even manages to spin Jesus around and fire blue trapezoids (presumably of fury) into the Son of God. The battle ends in a truce after Brian Boitano's wise words of peace, but the Messiah clearly had an upper hand at that point. Still, Santa makes clear he is not to be trifled with, as he shows in "South Park" episodes "Red Sleigh Down" and "A Woodland Critter Christmas," where he trades in trapezoids for heavy artillery.

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"Thor"

The character of Odin - as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the 2011 film adaptation of the Marvel comic - is a direct inspiration for Santa Claus. According to "real" myths, the Norse god of Asgard would lead hunting parties through the sky on the winter solstice of Yule on his eight-legged horse, which could fly. Children in Germany and the Netherlands would then leave treats out for Odin's horse Sleipnir, a kindness the god would reward with gifts. Compare that to the bearded, eye-patched Asgardian clad in gold who not only kicked major frost giant butt in the film, but also offered his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) the gift of leadership. Of course, when Thor lands on the naughty list, Odin strips him of his godlike powers and his hammer Mjolnir (not to mention exiling him to Earth) until he starts acting nice. Talk about getting a lump of coal.

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Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World

He is the one home invader people hope will visit. He knows when ninjas are sleeping or awake, and always catches them off guard. When he is seen kissing mommies, fathers thank him for dropping in. It is an honor to be on either of his lists. Letters to him only require a name and no postage - although he has his own Lane and always has a seat reserved at shopping malls. Jesus shares billing with him on his own birthday. Ever since the Dos Equis ad campaign began in 2006, the Most Interesting Man in the World has proven to be remarkably similar to a cool Claus in his downtime. The icon of masculinity whose hands feel like rich, brown suede is a traveler of the world and friend to all - even to enemies who list him as their emergency contact. What's even cooler about MIMW as Santa is that the actor who plays him is Jonathan Goldsmith, a man who has saved a mountaineer and sailed the high seas - and is still more interesting than you. And in case you don't believe in Santa, that's OK since he is the life of parties he has never attended.

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"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"

In this 1964 sci-fi stinker, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," Martians kidnap Santa to provide a little fun for the children of Mars. As if a kidnapping could ever go wrong, the evil Martian Voldar tries to kill Santa because he assumes Claus will lead to the downfall of Martian society. Being the pro that he is, Santa does start making toys for the Martian kids but then anoints the Martian Dropo to assume the mantle of Father Christmas on the red planet. The Kris Kringle of the film not only deals with interplanetary matters and overcomes Martian captivity, he also apparently utilizes mind control and brainwashing powers on alien children.

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"Santa Claus"

Instead of traveling to outer space, Santa actually lives in space, in the Toyland castle, in this 1959 Mexican movie, "Santa Claus." He also utilizes child labor and plays the organ, which does not sit will well with Lucifer. While teaming with the wizard Merlin and the Roman god Vulcan - and riding on Vulcan's mechanical reindeer - Santa battles nasty children who want to capture him (there is a serious Santa-napping issue in pop culture), a rabid dog and a demon from hell. Thankfully, the jolly gift giver kicks butt, takes names and delivers toys by the movie's end.

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Aaron Sagers writes about all things pop-culture each week, but you can follow him daily on Twitter under AaronSagers and on his site, www.paranormalpopculture.com. He can be contacted at sagers.aaron@gmail.com.



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