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"Mama, when was Santa Claus born? Why doesn't he ever die?" Based on the popular children's book by L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz), this 75-minute animated version of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus provides answers to these and other pressing questions from the 3- to 8-year-old set. As in Baum's book, the quiet, moderately paced video steers clear of Christian references, focusing instead on wood nymphs, pixies, and magic. A wizardly fairy named Ak (voiced by Hal Holbrook, who also narrates the tale) helps the young Nicholas (Robby Benson) understand human misery and charges him with the task of serving mankind. Nicholas's talent for charming little children and brightening the lives of the poor--and poor at heart--soon turns into a lifelong career. Baum's imaginative scenario involves many bumps along the way; most unusual is a fight between good and evil (here demonstrated by a group of naughty thugs who curiously resemble rock Pokémon). Lush, realistic backgrounds of misty forests and blustery, snow-laden towns contrast surprisingly with roughly drawn characters, detracting from the film's overall quality. But a pleasing Celtic score and a strong message of hope, giving, and caring easily outweigh this minor flaw. Puppet animators Rankin and Bass did a shorter version of the same story in the '80s. --Liane Thomas
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