Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Paradigm Entertainment
Believing in those things that cannot be seen is one of the hardest things that we as humans can do. That is because the need to see in order to believe is something that is seemingly ingrained in mankind. Yet sometimes, just sometimes, believing in those things unseen without actually seeing them can and does make us and our lives better. That is the message at the center of the 1991 ABC holiday special Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus, which was re-issued this past October via Shout! Factory. It is also one part of what makes the 142-minute (two hours, 22-minutes) movie such a worthwhile watch this and any holiday season. It will be discussed shortly. The work of the movie’s cast is just as important to discuss in examining this movie as its central message (and by direct connection, the movie’s story). The bonus interview with Andrew J. Fenaday, the movie’s Executive Producer and co-writer rounds out the movie’s most important elements. When it is set alongside the other noted elements, all three combine to make Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus a touching, memorable holiday standard that should be in any family’s holiday movie collection.
Shout! Factory’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of ABC’s classic 1991 holiday special Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus is a must have for any family’s holiday movie collection. That is proven in part through the movie’s central message, which is tied directly to the movie’s story. The movie’s central message is one of hope and faith. It says to audiences that sometimes, just sometimes, believing in those things unseen without actually seeing them can and does make us and our lives better. Given it’s not the first time that such a message has been presented in any movie or TV special (E.g. The Year Without A Santa Claus, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Polar Express), but it is no less impacting here as in those presentations. The world needs those occasional reminders, especially considering the world’s current state. The way in which that message is delivered here (the movie’s story) illustrates that message quite well, too. It does so through a two-part story that sees not only Virginia (Katharine Isabelle — Insomnia, Freddy vs. Jason, Ginger Snaps) looking for something in which to believe but also her father James (Richard Thomas — The Waltons, It (1990), Wonder Boys). While Virginia’s desire for truth about Santa is simple on the surface, that need for something positive to believe in is far deeper, especially with her being in her formative years. James’ need for something in which to believe is so important because he is an immigrant, and he just wants to be able to give his family a better life. Having so much trouble trying to find stable work makes believing things can get better makes difficult that ability to believe things will get better.
Even newsman Francis Church (Charles Bronson — The Great Escape, Deathwish, The Maginificent Seven) finds himself in need of something in which to believe having lost his wife and daughter as the story opens. It is Virginia’s letter that gives him something in which to believe and ultimately emotionally heal. It kind of makes Church’s very name rather ironic in the long run. Of course everyone gets their happy ending. Given, life does not necessarily always have a happy ending, not believing in something doesn’t make us or life any better either. That being the case, it proves the importance of this story’s message for its presentation along with the story itself. That message (and the story through which the message is delivered) is only part of what makes this recent re-issue so enjoyable. The work of the movie’s cast is just as notable as the movie’s story and message.
In regards to the cast’s work, both the main and supporting cast deserves credit for their part in the movie’s presentation. Richard Thomas and Richard Bronson are the movie’s real stars, despite the movie’s title, story and message. One can’t help but root for James and Francis as they struggle with their situations — James as he tries to be that provider for his family and Francis as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his family. While the men’s situations are so different, it is clear in the performances that each actor fully embraced his character’s role and situation. Richard’s reaction as James is harassed by his former co-workers is spot on, and makes one feel so strongly for him. In the same breath, when he brings home the Christmas surprise for his family at the story’s end (that surprise won’t be given away here) leaves one wanting to stand up and cheer for him. On Bronson’s side, audiences will applaud him just as much as they will Thomas for his acting. Both men really come across as method actors in their roles, fully embracing the men and their situations. That embracing is, perhaps, what keeps either from going over the top in their respective performances, and in turn keeping audiences fully engaged and entertained throughout the story.
In regards to the supporting cast of Ed Asner (as Church’s editor, Edward P. Mitchell), Tamsin Kelsey (as James’ wife Evie O’Hanlan) and Colleen Winton (as Francis’ co-worker), their work is just as impressive to note as that of Bronson and Thomas. Asner, already having racked up plenty of accomplishments and accolades years ahead of this movie (including his time on Mary Tyler Moore, Roots and Route 66) plays the editor/semi-father figure to Francis expertly. Asner showed each time he was on camera that he knew his was a supporting role, yet still made Edward a strong foil to Francis. While Winton’s resume was not as extensive as those of her cast mates at the time this movie was released (who was best known by then for her work on the 1988 movie Watchers), she still played her part expertly, too as Andrea worked to bring Francis back to his old self. In the same vein, Kelsey’s work as Mrs. O’Hanlan makes Evie such a warm character even as little as she is on-screen. Yet even as little as she is on-screen, her chemistry with Thomas makes her so believable and entertaining. She is that loving mother who works hard even as a housewife to be the best she can be, which is fully admirable. Between her work, that of her fellow supporting actors and that of Thomas, Bronson and Isabelle, it becomes clear in examining each why each actor’s work on camera is so important and impressive here. Each actor put his or her best foot forward throughout, not trying to outdo anyone else, but rather playing off of his or her cast mates. The end result is a group of performances that collectively does just as much for this movie as the movie’s story and its connected message. Those collected performances are not the last of the movie’s most important elements, either. The bonus interview with Andrew J. Fenaday, the movie’s Executive Producer and Co-Writer rounds out the movie’s most important elements.
C. Courtney Joyner’s interview with Fenaday adds its own special touch to the movie’s home presentation because of the insight and entertainment that it offers audiences. One of the key insights offered through the interview comes as Fenaday talks about casting Bronson as Francis Church. He reveals that Bronson had in fact had his own tragedies not long before taking on the role of the famed reporter — both his wife and his agent had died not too long before he took the role — who had lost his wife and daughter before receiving Virginia’s letter. On a lighter note, Fenaday also jokes about his work on so many action flicks and how it played into this movie’s fight scenes being added to its presentation. That moment is one of the interview’s most memorable of its light-hearted moments. There are also discussions about how Fenaday came to take part in this TV special’s creation, its life as a stage play and so much more. The whole interview proves to be a fully in-depth presentation that audiences of all ages will enjoy and appreciate. When it is set alongside the main feature’s story (and message) and the work of the movie’s cast, the whole of those elements makes this movie truly a special holiday presentation — one that should be in every family’s holiday collection.
Shout! Factory’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of ABC’s 1991 holiday special Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus is a release that deserves a spot in any family’s holiday collection. As has already been noted above, that is due in no small part to the movie’s story and the powerful message contained therein. The cast’s work on camera adds its own special to the movie’s presentation. The bonus interview with the movie’s Executive Producer and Co-Writer Andrew J. Fenaday puts the finishing touch on the movie’s home presentation. Each element is important in its own right to the movie’s presentation. All things considered, they make this re-issue of the holiday standard a must have for every family’s holiday collection. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online now at:
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