After the success and iconography of Rankin Bass, there was a time when every television station wanted their own animate special for the Christmas season. Many of them meant well with fairly original concepts for a Christmas special but held back with animation that was cheap at best and horrifying at first (especially the early attempts at computer graphics for television). Finding Santa is rather unique because it seems to be the opposite; visually stunning animation lacking in a compelling narrative.
Within a rustic orphanage in Denmark, the 8-year-old boy Julius is having his doubts about Christmas. He enjoys the season, especially the chance to use his creativity to create dolls, decorations, and gifts. But he is then dismayed when the bullies of the orphanage not only harass him but reveal the harsh truth about Santa not being real. Can he still enjoy the holiday when knowing such harsh truths?
But then something magical happens. Julius finds himself magically transported into a wondrous world of snow and ice, far more beautiful than the dank and dirty setting of reality. The magical world is built from the land of his own toys, meaning he can finally have a conversation with that pig toy he created from marzipan. Julius doesn’t question much of any of this, merely accepting that he must pursue an adventure towards Santa’s workshop and stop the evil Krampus.
The story is so loaded with exposition and light delights of dialogue that I’d much rather talk about the keen animation style. The whole film has this simplistic charm of motion graphics, 2D animation, and 3D elements that never for a moment feels dull. The reindeer appear like whicker puppets while the backstory of the Krampus is perfectly portrayed with flat shadows. The bulk of the animation has a detailed blush to the textures with surprisingly nuanced movements. Even the scenes are staged with a surprising amount of perspective and blocking that always feels inventive. Everything about the film reminded me of the most elaborate motion-story attempting to adapt illustrations from a book into an animated experience. There’s a remarkable assembly to such a picture.
I write all this because the rest of the story is a bit of a bore. Julius is your average little boy hero who doubts he is capable of stopping Krampus. Krampus himself is portrayed as a giddy antagonist who could stand to be a little more over the top for a villain with a constant smile. Even the bullies feel par for the course in their mischief. There are so few moments where the characters do little more than talk about finding another character or believing in the true spirit of Christmas.
Finding Santa is at least a safe and timid enough picture that younger kids can enjoy it. And as far as films of that simplistic nature go, this one is by far the most pleasing to eyes. If only it had more charisma and perhaps some faster pacing, this could be just as notable of a holiday classic for more than its mere visual allure.