Variations on a Christmas theme: Transportation Edition
Continuing on from our article last week, this week we are going to look at Santa’s main forms of transportation: the reindeer and the sleigh. Again, these are two very basic concepts, but how different films interpret them is interesting to see. We will first look at the reindeer, followed by the sleigh or whatever form of transportation Santa uses.
When it comes to Santa’s reindeer, you pretty much have two options. Those two options are fairly simple: with or without Rudolph. For the most part, filmmakers seem to stick to the idea that Santa only has eight reindeer. This is seen in many classic films such as Elf, Rise of the Guardians, and Arthur Christmas. Even The Santa Clause films also embrace the concept of there being only eight reindeer. This is something I’ve never fully understood, and I’d be interested to hear how kids receive this information. If a child has been told that Rudolph is part of the reindeer, and then doesn’t see him in the films, does he react? Or does he even notice? I’d be curious to know whether or not it’s a licensing issue that prevents filmmakers from using a ninth reindeer. Or, perhaps it’s just the idea that staying with the basics is best: eight reindeer, very symmetrical, and acting as a unified front.
Something interesting that I hadn’t considered before is whether or not all of the reindeer are required to fly the sleigh. For years I just assumed that without having all eight reindeer, the sleigh wouldn’t fly. This concept is explored rather hilariously in the film Arthur Christmas. In their determination to get a present to a little girl, Arthur and his team start their trip with eight reindeer, but they certainly don’t finish with it. This is a concept I would like to see explored in other films, as well as possibly some explanations as to why Rudolph is not included as a reindeer.
Ah, the sleigh. The main vehicle by which Santa delivers presents to all the boys and girls of the world! For the most part, filmmakers stray very little from this well-established concept. Every major film about Christmas that I’ve seen so far, has Santa riding in some sort of sleigh. The only exception to this that I can think of is in the film Arthur Christmas. In that film, Santa has gone more high tech and now flies a very stealth military–like piece of aviation equipment. Interestingly enough, it also features the original, more common, sleigh that we’ve come to associate with Santa Claus.
Where there is a bit of difference is in how the sleighs function. For the majority of the sleighs, the reindeer are a key requirement. But one of the films that treats this a little bit differently, and I might add very creatively, is Elf. In that film, the sleigh not only runs because of the reindeer but flies because of Christmas spirit. Due to how little Christmas spirit there is now (no doubt because of how commercialized Christmas has become), Santa’s sleigh also now comes with a special Kringle engine. It is the combination of both the engine and the reindeer that now allow the sleigh to fly, and as far as I know, it’s the only film that does that.
So there you have it. If there are any future filmmakers who may plan to do a Christmas movie, take note: the sleigh could use with a little bit of an update, and if you can’t use Rudolph, at least explain to the kids why he’s not there.
Next week in our final Variations article before Christmas, we will be taking a close look at the man himself, how he is portrayed, and how he came to be. Tune in next week!