Christmas films, especially those with good old Santa’s name in the title, generally tend to follow the same well-worn path.
Someone, oh let’s say Santa himself, gets into trouble, caught in a situation that a man of hundreds of years experience and worldly-wiseness has never encountered in all his years circumnavigating the world every Christmas Eve.
It make sense right? After all the old fellow, for all his present-making ability, affinity with children and ability to out-GPS Google, doesn’t exactly hang out habitually in neighbourhood bars with his fellow man discussing the whys and wherefores of life, gaining some sort of understanding of the world as it is now.
(Odd considering his masterfully stalker-ish surveillance techniques but then watching something is not always the same as understanding it.)
So in peril and unsure of the best way forward, he seeks the help of an ordinary boy or girl, preferably someone with a strained parental relationship in need of some festively-induced healing, and finds himself back on the road in no time, with Christmas saved and one more family closer to all that joy and peace and goodwill to all men.
It’s an intoxicatingly warm-and-fuzzy recipe and one that the Christopher Smith-written and directed film Get Santa sensibly cleaves to in almost every way.
But lest you think this means that it is some hopelessly-derivative, eggnog-addled tale of just-in-the-Nick-of-time redemption, the script throws in all manner of very British, gleefully subversive touches that give Get Santa the sort of visual and narrative originality, even under the weight of those festive tropes, that make it an amusing diversion in the midst of Christmas busyness.
It helps that the elves of casting appear to have gone out of their way to bring on a stellar cast who manage to be funny without veering into slapstick pantomime, moving without delving into cloying Christmas melodrama, and capable of delivering a heartwarming message without hitting us over the head with a white board and a pack of large colourful crayons.
Veteran British actor Jim Broadbent is perfectly cast as Santa-in-peril, bringing the right mix of uber-capable, caring toy giver and endlessly-cheery babe-in-the-modern-woods naivety to the role.
Arrested by the police after his new test sleigh crashes in the English countryside and his reindeer are rounded up by animal control, Santa Claus finds himself in the most un-Santa’s Workshop of locations – a British prison.
Insisting to the last that he is the REAL Santa Claus – he is akin in his tenacious refusal to relinquish his identity to the prisoners who forever insist they are innocent – he implores anyone who will listen to help him, lest Christmas be cancelled.
The only person who does listen, of course, is Tom (Kit Connor) young son of Rafe Spall’s Steve, recently-released from prison and desperate to re-connect with his son who is reasonably happily ensconced in a picture-perfect new home with mum Alison (Jodie Whittaker) and new husband “Toby”/Tony (Joshua McGuire).
Encountering Santa just before he is thrown in jail, Tom believes without a shadow of doubt that he is the real deal, begging his dad, who coincidentally is the one of the few people who’s actually seen the real Santa at work (though he barely remembers it), to help Santa by springing him from imprisonment, rounding up the reindeer and the sleigh and getting Christmas back on track again.
In a young boy’s mind this is all very doable, taking no account of the conditions of his dad’s parole, his mum’s new relationship or the logistical realities of getting the whole Christmas show most firmly back on the road, or in the sky as the case may be.
In anyone’s books, this sort of undertaking should be almost immediately condemned to failure but this is Christmas, and Santa we’re talking about here, and so not only is it possible, kinks in the road and obstacles notwithstanding but most eminently, cold hearts warmed up again, doable in the most inspirational of ways.
What saves Get Santa from drowning under the weight of the treacly earnestness of these sorts of well-meaning Christmas films is the very British, slightly-seditious humour threaded throughout, the use of farting as a communication tool with reindeer (best you not query that one too closely; safe to say kids LOVE this) and a script that transcends the genre’s tropes and cliches with gleeful alacrity.
The scenes where Santa is prison-pimped with corn rows and schooled in a menacing swagger by the barber () – he really only pulls this off with the aid of a very street rap song, the temporarily-tough spell broken the moment he opens his “Ho Ho Ho!” Mouth – are priceless, as are the attempts by fellow prisoner Sally (Warwick Davis), whom Santa initially assumes is an elf, to help him escape through a non-Santa sized tunnel.
But what really gives Get Santa are a lovely sense of difference from the usual festive fare is the emotional authenticity that Broadbent, Spall and xxx bring to their roles and the story overall.
It’s not always an easy thing to bring to any film but made all the more challenging in a Christmas story where pretty much every emotional button has been pre-pushed and reaction pre-set.
But these three actors manage it beautifully, infusing the film with much more realness than a film of this type usually allows for.
It means that everyone else in the film, including the inevitable “baddies” in positions of misused or badly-executed authority who naturally succeed at nothing and are eventually irrevocably swayed by the Christmas spirit, can get their festive Pantomine best on, without sacrificing some genuinely heartwarming moments.
Yes Get Santa ticks all the festive film boxes, assembled all the usual tropes in tinsel-draped rows and serves up the sort of seasonal message it’s almost illegal not to deliver but it has so much fun doing it, and invests so much palpably real emotion into every frame that you don’t begrudge one moment of its anti-Bah Humbug! festiveness.