Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)


If you’ve never heard of Rifftrax, stop what you’re doing and look them up. Now. I owe a lot to the these guys; without MST3K veterans Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, I wouldn’t know about the magical little film Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. This is a tough one to sit through. In fact it would be completely unwatchable without their commentary. It’s frustratingly incomprehensible and you’ll be tempted to turn it off, so consider yourself warned. Now sit back, put your gorilla suit on and stick your sleigh in the sand; let’s begin.

As Christmastime draws near, Santa (Jay Ripley) travels the world doing some covert espionage, spying on little children, judging all of them as he writes up his cruel list. I didn’t realise making a list meant the poor guy had to physically travel around the world and take a census of every single child. Kind of takes the magic out of it. Hey, what if a kid was hiding in some back alley somewhere and he didn’t see them? How would they get on the list? Hell, I guess this means ol’ Saint Nick actually travels the world four times in a year, rather than the preconceived notion of one: First to make the list, then two more times to check it, then to finally deliver presents to the nice and coal to the naughty. It’s like he’s doing a bunch of rehearsal takes before the real thing. And speaking of rehearsal takes, this film sure could have used them.

It also could have used some competent location sound recording. Santa is introduced as a barely-audible incompetent moron who somehow managed to lodge his sleigh in an inch of sand on a hot Floridian beach. The reindeer tried to pull him out, but the heat was too much for them and they had to return to the North Pole without him. Left alone, the big guy sings a terrible tune on the muddled audio track. Even the film’s narrator, who sounds a little stoned, has that distinct 70s home video sound quality. I think I managed to make out what Santa was saying though:

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“I don’t like sand…. it’s coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere.”

So if the reindeer couldn’t get his sleigh out of the sand, who can he turn to? Why, the local neighbourhood children, of course! Now I’m really not sure what is happening in this next sequence, so bear with me on this attempted interpretation. After a brief montage featuring random children playing (including one kid jumping off a roof, likely attempting suicide), the kids freeze in place, stuck in time, mid-action. Some girls jumping rope, two kids wrestling, and a boy playing baseball all become still as a statue. Then I’m not sure how, but Santa’s voice reanimates the children when he calls them by name. Sorry, that’s not completely true either, since some of the kids don’t even get names. Santa calls some of them Steve or Susan, but others just get ‘Kid! or ‘Girls!’. The movie fails to explain how the children can hear him. Is he speaking telepathically, and if so, why did he need to freeze them in place in order to do so? Someone needs to answer for these bizarre editing choices.

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Here’s one of the freeze frames…. and I thought this was a kids movie.

Answering the call, the unfrozen children run to Santa, following the voices inside their heads. Curiously, they all arrive at the exact same time and in one group. It’s not clear where they all were when they were contacted via freeze-frame, but they get to his sleigh together as if they all lived right next to each other. As the kids scurry off to see Santa, they run past Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These two are in the movie because they’re such well known Christmas icons, I guess.

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“Hey look, Santa is stuck,”‘ is their only contribution to the proceedings.

So the kids gather around Santa’s sleigh and the jolly old man explains his predicament to them. He seeks their advice, requesting suggestions on how he can get the sled out of the sand. Now, I must question Santa’s thought process here; he is a grown man with magic telepathic powers asking a bunch of kids to solve his problems. What could the kids possibly come up with he isn’t already capable of himself?

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This. This was the children’s first idea.

When the ‘man-in-a-gorilla-suit-pulling-the-sleigh’ plan doesn’t work, different kids take turns bringing various farm animals to Santa while he reclines in his sleigh doing nothing to contribute to their effort. These kids are trying to help him, and he literally just sits on his ass and tells them to hurry up. They bring in a cow, a sheep, a pig, and even a (short-eared) donkey, attempting to hook the animals up to the immobilised carriage. If eight flying reindeer couldn’t pull the sleigh out of the millimetre of sand it is stuck in, I don’t think one sheep will do the trick. But bless their hearts, the kids keep showing up with more and more farm animals, with no explanation of where they are getting them from. I think the production may have put the child actors in danger, given how obvious it was the animals didn’t want to be there.

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Santa soiled his pants realizing how much harm the children were in.

When none of the animals are able to help, Santa does the noble thing and gives up. There is just no solution to this problem, so he quits. What a great message, kids. He stops trying and gathers the children around to tell them a story. Here’s where the trainwreck falls even further off track. If it wasn’t a baffling mess already, it’s about to become one. Here we go!

Thumbelina (1970)

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Santa tells the children the story of  Thumbelina, a fairy tale that has nothing to do with Christmas. It’s a story that can’t be considered allegorical either, since it doesn’t parallel the ‘sleigh-in-the-sand’ situation in any way. So why on earth did he choose to tell this story? Well Santa did pick Thumbelina for a very specific reason, but his decision is less about the children and more about business. You see, the producers of this film already had rights to an hour-long Thumbelina movie, and they wanted to repackage it as a feature-length Christmas special to increase revenue and advertise the theme park they shoot their films in. They hastily threw together Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny, a sloppy framing device to shove  Thumbelina into. Both films were commissioned by Pirates World, an amusement park in Florida that was closed and demolished shortly after DisneyWorld opened up nearby.

So the first few minutes of Thumbelina is just an advertisement for Pirates World. A woman (Shay Garner) visits the park, taking in all the smiling faces and fun rides around her while singing the unbearably shrill overture ‘If I were Thumbalina’. She enters an indoor exhibit-thing, a plain-looking room with a table. Resting  on the table is a cheap shoebox diorama with a crappy speaker box  (awful sound again!) next to it that narrates the story of Thumbelina. So remember now, the children on the beach are listening as Santa tells the story of a girl at a theme park who is listening to the story of Thumbelina through a shitty speaker.

As the story is relayed to her, the girl imagines herself in the titular role, born out of a flower from a witch’s spell. She’s only two inches tall, but loved nevertheless by her spinster mother (Ruth McMahon).

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It’s a face only a daughter could love.

Not long after being born, Thumbelina is tragically kidnapped by a frog, who expects the mini-human to marry her green amphibious son. Now, it’s creepy enough that they aren’t even the same species, but the girl is only a few days old. I don’t think she’s in any place to commit her life to another being. Luckily, Thumbelina manages to escape the clutches of the evil frogs by chewing through the stem of the lily-pad they trapped her on.

After she gets away, she is stuck in the cold of winter. She takes shelter with a kind mole who goes by the extremely creative name of…. Mrs. Mole (Pat Morrell). Mrs. Mole takes her into her home, a curiously well-lit underground mole tunnel, until the winter ends. That’s when her neighbour, Mr. Digger (Bob O’Connell), returns from a trip. Much like the frogs, Mr. Digger instantly expresses interest in marrying Thumbelina. Why do so many people want to marry this girl?  She has only been alive for a few months at best, so I’m pretty sure it’s is illegal. It’s like wanting to marry a baby. But despite her protest, Mrs. Mole advises Thumbelina to accept Mr. Digger’s proposal because “he is very rich,”  and it’s the only way she will “be taken care of forever.” That’s all marriage is all about, right there.

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Let’s take a moment to appreciate the sets.

Now it’s painfully obvious that every set in Thumbelina looks like a bad play thanks to styrofoam backdrops and paper maché costumes and props. The framing is usually kept wide with characters cheated to face the camera, the same way stage actors perform towards their audience. I’m willing to bet the film is just a recording of an actual play Pirate’s World put on in the early 1970s. The terrible look and blocking makes sense then, if we’re really watching a children’s play at a crappy theme park. Every line reading, from every actor, is delivered with the same bored inflection people use when they read the news. I’m guessing that’s because the cast had to do the same short play six times a day for annoying guests at the park.

At least the guests were treated to a happy ending, when the park was demolished. It’s just too bad this footage survived the destruction. The day before Thumbelina is wed to Mr. Digger, she finds a frozen bird in one of the mole tunnels. I guess the bird wound up underground because he took ‘flying south’ a bit too literally. Thumbelina rescues  him by putting a blanket over his back to thaw him out, ignoring that a winter’s worth of cold would kill an animal. Amazingly though, the blanket works. Once he can speak again, our winged friend introduces himself as, you guessed it: Mr. Bird. With this name-species continuity, it’s astonishing Thumbelina’s name wasn’t Ms. TinyHuman or something similar. To repay her for saving him, Mr. Bird ‘flies’ Thumbelina away from the moles. (8)
It looks so real.

Mr. Bird takes her to a place called the Kingdom of the Flower Children, a city among the flowers with a populace of tiny people just like Thumbelina. As soon as she touches down, the Flower Prince (Mike Yuenger) is immediately enamored with her. Just like every other male character in this story, he instantly insists on marrying her. But this time, the infatuation is mutual and Thumbelina finds love and happiness, becoming a princess when she commits to be with the most awkward looking guy on the planet.

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From her suitors, I would have picked the Frog, personally.

After all these adventures, Thumbelina never bothers returning to her mother, despite missing her so much after being kidnapped by the frogs. It seems that’s all forgotten once she finds her scrawny prince. So as the Thumbelina story wraps up, the speakerbox concludes the tale for the girl listening at Pirates World. The girl stares blankly ahead, providing no indication of whether she enjoyed the story or not. As she leaves the exhibit, she meets up with her boyfriend. Then I guess Santa tells the children about the closing credits that roll as the couple walk hand to the park exit.

With the Thumbelina story concluded, we finally return to the beach. Now if you’ll remember, the movie we are watching is called Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and, over an hour into the runtime, there is still no mention of a rabbit who serves ice cream. But he has to show up eventually, right? Otherwise that would be one hell of a misleading title. Well that may be so, since the kids run away after Santa finishes telling his pointless story. He’s left alone, again, on the beach in the sand. All seems lost, and there’s a good chance Christmas won’t happen this year. Or so you think!

In an exciting turn, the kids all come back, piled in a go-kart sized fire truck driven by the titular Ice Cream Bunny! When the character we’ve all been waiting for finally arrives, he’s just another guy dressed in a terrifying animal suit. The Ice Cream Bunny never says a word and doesn’t give anyone ice cream, so I’m not sure how he got his name. Maybe instead of a fire truck, he should be driving an ice cream truck? Thankfully though, he has arrived from Pirates World in time to save Christmas. He is hero of the day by simply giving Santa a ride. That’s right, after all that struggle, the solution is for Santa to jump on the fire truck and drive off with the bunny. It would have saved everyone a lot of time if Santa had just called himself a taxi two hours ago.

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This guy will visit your nightmares tonight.

Also, this ending doesn’t make sense based on the rules established earlier in the film. When Santa first collected all the children and asked for their advice, one of the kids suggested that Santa simply take an airplane back to the North Pole. Santa can’t do that though, he says, because he can’t leave his sleigh behind. Then in the final moments of the film, Santa abandons his sleigh, still stuck in the sand. Once he has left with the Ice Cream Bunny, the kids rejoice because the sleigh just vanishes, presumably having teleported back to the North Pole. If they could just teleport the sleigh back, why was their so much struggle to get it out of the sand? Hell, if they can teleport, why does Santa even need the reindeer in the first place?

SatICB 8Because only Ice Cream Bunnies can teleport Christmas sleighs.

I’ll leave you with this fun little fact: Thumbelina wasn’t the only film Pirates World inserted into their Christmas movie. That’s right, they also did Jack and the Beanstalk. There’s another version of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny out there with an entirely different middle section crammed between the festive bookends. Those Pirates World folks sure were desperate.

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