632. Father Christmas – Dave Unwin

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SUMMARY: Father Christmas decides to go on holiday to relax after another busy Christmas but he encounters numerous problems at the various places he visits. Ultimately, the Christmas period cannot be put off forever and he sets out on another night-flight to deliver presents to the children of the world.

WHY IT’S HERE: Another Christmas cartoon adapted from the works of Raymond Briggs, ‘Father Christmas’ takes place in the same universe as Christmas classic ‘The Snowman’ and is very much made in the same style, even if the material is slightly less melancholy-tinged. This is due to the fact that the film was storyboarded by ‘The Snowman’ director Dianne Jackson and was due to be directed by her as well, but sadly she was suffering from cancer (from which she died the following year) and the reins were passed to Dave Unwin instead. Unwin does a fine job of recreating Jackson’s style but with an added splash of irreverent humour, making ‘The Snowman’ and ‘Father Christmas’ favourites to be screened back to back during the Christmas period.

Voiced by comedian Mel Smith, ‘Father Christmas’ is surprisingly crude in places. The traditional jolly central character is depicted as curmudgeonly, gluttonous and heavy-drinking, leading to scenes of drunkenness, hangovers and excessive diarrhoea. A distinctly less enjoyable American version of the film removes all of these scenes and, revoiced by William Dennis Hunt, makes Father Christmas far jollier and removes all instances of his much used phrase “Bloomin'”, replacing it with “Merry”. This, of course, sucks everything that is unique and appealing out of ‘Father Christmas’ and viewers are advised to stick with the original.

‘Father Christmas’ is based on two Raymond Briggs books, ‘Father Christmas’ and ‘Father Christmas Goes on Holiday’, and the film nicely merges the two stories, giving us an initial glimpse of what Father Christmas gets up to for the rest of the year, before ending with a triumphant Christmas delivery, accompanied by the charming song ‘Another Bloomin’ Christmas’. Mel Smith is excellent as the voice of Father Christmas, making him grumbly and irritable but also sympathetic, kind and dedicated. Unwin ties the short to several other Raymond Briggs creations. Ernest the milkman from the book ‘Ethel and Ernest’ is seen on his rounds and the snowman and the boy from ‘The Snowman’ are seen once again partying with Father Christmas, reassuring anyone upset by the original ending of that short that the snowman would come back every winter. Less reassuring, however, is the presence of Jim and Hilda Bloggs from Briggs’ darkest work ‘When the Wind Blows’. These characters are seen drinking in a Scottish pub while Father Christmas is on holiday. Given that their ultimate fate is to die from the fallout of nuclear war, imagining them as part of the same universe as ‘The Snowman’ and ‘Father Christmas’ is somewhat troubling!

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