Director: John Cherry
Cast: Jim Varney, Douglas Seale, Noelle Parker, Oliver Clark
Released: November 11, 1988
Oh my God, how does Vern allow Ernest to come into his home and just destroy it? I would have been screaming at him to "Get out, get out, GET OUT!" Ahem, anyway...
So I have a somewhat vague memory of seeing some of the Ernest movies when I was a child. I'm pretty sure I saw this one, Ernest Goes to Camp, and maybe Ernest Scared Stupid, but I'm not sure about that. What's funny is that when I saw these, there was no adults with us. I was usually with my brother or friend or both, but never an adult in sight except to drop us off at the movie theater. And good God, I don't blame them at all. Considering I outgrew these movies once I turned 12, it had been a very long time since I've seen a movie from the Ernest P. Worrell universe (the EPWU?) and I totally understand why no adult would want to watch these!
In this movie, we follow three characters: there's Ernest (of course), Santa (of course), and a runaway teen girl (er, of course!) Our story begins on the afternoon of December 23 as a plane lands in Orlando, Florida (because when you think of great Christmas locations, Orlando is the first to come to mind). We see two elderly men get off the plane, talking to each other. (I guess they were seat mates? Why didn't they have this conversation while they were on the plane? I'm pretty sure they flew in from Toronto, so they had plenty of time to talk while they were on the plane). One of the men is Santa Claus (played by Douglas Seale). Now he's not wearing his usual red suit with white fur trim and black boots and he's not even portly like your typical image of Santa, but we know he's Santa through the verbal exposition he gives the other man. Plus, he has a white beard! The man asks if this is his first time in Orlando and he replies he flies in every year, though he "usually comes in a different way." When asked where he's from, he replies, "Up north." When asked what line of work he's in, he says, "Toys, mostly." The man asks him if he's here on business, and he tells him he's here "to appoint a replacement; someone to take over my duties." He says there was once a time when he could remember every name on his list and the businessman takes it as he has lots of contacts.
As he's walking through the airport, he attracts the attention of kids who seem to know who he is even though he's not wearing his usual uniform. As he's waiting for his luggage, a big velvet red bag comes out with a white rope tied around it. All he needs to do now is hail a taxi to take him to the Orlando's Children Museum where he will find his replacement.
Lucky for him, Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) is a taxi driver for the city of Orlando and he's headed to the airport right now with a passenger. When we are first introduced to Ernest, he's being his usual annoying self as he sings "O Christmas Tree". He knows the medley, but he doesn't know the words, so he just keeps singing the words "O Christmas Tree" over and over to the medley. To be fair, does anyone know the words to that song anyway? Once Ernest has picked up Santa, he tells the man that he looks like Santa Claud and he probably gets that a lot, but Santa tells him that's to be expected since he is indeed him. Ernest just laughs him off, so he doesn't believe him right away.
A truck full of Christmas trees is driving in front of them and one tree falls off into the road. Ernest decides he needs to stop in the middle of a busy road, back up, and get out to retrieve the tree. This causes other cars trying to avoid hitting him and they all end up crashing into each other or driving off the road. Once he has the tree, he opens the back door and tells his passenger to hold it as he throws it into the backseat, breaking the window on the side where Santa is sitting. I can only imagine the reviews this guy would get if he was an Uber driver!
We next meet the runaway teen girl (Noelle Parker) who has just dined and dashed with a waiter chasing after her. (C'mon, would a waiter really chase after someone like that?) As she's crossing a street, Ernest just happens to be there and he slams on his breaks to avoid hitting her. She gets into the front and tells him to "go, go, go, go", then proceeds to make up a story about how the guy chasing her is her mean uncle who "makes [her] work in that restaurant like a slave" and "keeps [her] locked up in the basement...and [she] just escaped." Now, if you heard this story, your first incliantion would be to call the cops (or maybe your first inclination is that she's telling you a bs story), but Ernest is all like, "You can hang out with us now for the rest of the movie." The girl, who is probably 15 or 16, introduces herself as Harmony Starr and tells them to "remember that name, because I'll be famous someday." Yeah, sure you will. Also, very orginal with the name there, honey.
When Santa introduces Ernest, then himself to Harmony, she pretty much has the same reaction as Ernest and clearly doesn't believe him. When they reach the Children's Museum, Santa doesn't have any money to pay for his fare (all he has is pretend children's money), so Ernest lets him have a free ride.
Santa is looking for a man named Joe Carruthers who was on a local children's show called Uncle Joey's Tree House. It was cancelled three weeks ago so now he has a gig at the Children's Museum where he puts on puppet shows about dinosaurs. I guess this guy is destined to be the next Santa because he likes to entertain children and he has a beard. If you want someone who has a children's show, why not go for someone who's a little more nationally (or internationally!) known, like Mister Rogers? Having a beard really isn't that much of a necessity since Santa can magically make a beard appear on his successor. I don't understand why this random fifty-year-old dude from Orlando is destined to be the next Santa Claus; it makes absolutely no sense to me. Also, why is Santa waiting for the last minute to tell Joe about this new job opportunity? He needs a new Santa by seven on Christmas Eve; shouldn't he have been giving his replacement a little bit more notice? When Santa approaches Joe to try to tell him about his new job opening, he says something about a bunch of names were on a list, but many were crossed off until he was the only one left. Maybe I've been listening to one too many true crime podcasts, but my mind went to a completely dark place as to why these men were disqualified from being the next Santa.
Santa never has the chance to tell Joe about his exciting new offer because Joe's agent, Marty, interrupts him and tells him he's "got a shot for the lead in a movie". It's a Christmas movie, which I assume will be aired on cable in the middle of the night. This thing ain't getting a theatrical release! When Santa tries to tell the men his name, Marty hears it as Santos and refers to Santa as Mr. Santos.
When Ernest goes out to his truck to get some bolt cutters, he sees Santa's red bag in the back of his truck (which got transferred from the trunk of his taxi), and hears jingling sounds coming from it. When he opens the bag, he hears giggling and a glow emits from it. This is the moment when Ernest realizes his elderly passenger from earlier was actually THE Santa. He reveals his theory to Harmony, but she doesn't believe one guy could fly around the entire world in one night and tells him, "It just doesn't quite correspond with the laws of time and travel." Ernest tells her it is possible: "Take the international dateline, multiply it by the time zones, divide it by the accelerated rotation of the earth...carry the one. Allowing for the vernal equinox of the tropic of cancer, he might just pull it off!" OMG, what IS he talking about? Harmony asks if he really is Santa, why is he riding around in planes and cabs? Where's his sleigh and reindeer?
Ernest and Harmony may know not the answer to that, but the viewing audience does. We know that Santa has shipped the reindeer (in huge wooden, enclosed boxes! You'd think Santa would have them shipped in a more humane way!) and they are still at the airport in animal control waiting to be picked up. They are being watched by two morons who think they're Latvian goats.
Ernest and Harmony go to the Children's Museum to see if Santa is still there, but it's closed by now and nobody is there. Ernest shows Harmony Santa's bag. Her exclamation is, "Ooh, groovy Tuesday!" (The hell?) When he opens it, you hear children giggling, plus a train engine, and animals sounds (almost like the jungle). Ernest reaches into the bag and pulls out a glowing orb. It changes into a plastic flamingo with a wreath around its neck. He pulls out more orbs and they turn into cheap and gaudy items. I guess Santa is the only one who can change them into what they need to be. It's too bad none of the orbs turns into a slinky (say, a slinky dog) but this movie does pre-date Toy Story, after all.
Harmony waits in the truck while Ernest goes into the Children's Museum to ask the old woman who works there if she knows where Santa is. She realizes who he is talking about and tells him the police took him yesterday and Ernest's response is, "Santa Claus got busted?", which, I admit, made me laugh. We see Harmony trying to see if she can wish for something from Santa's bag. She says, "What I really want for Christmas is one million dollars in small, unmarked bills." Before she can untie the bag, Ernest comes back and tells her, "Santa's in the slammer!" (Another line that made me chuckle). Harmony quickly tells Ernest that she was just guarding the bag, but he doesn't seem to notice she was messing with it.
The chief takes them to the cell with the most recent offenders and lets both of them in. WTF? They're letting a teen girl into the same prisoner with a bunch of adult men who are in jail for god knows what? I mean, they shouldn't be allowing anyone to go into the cell, but it baffles me they would even let a minor back there. What kind of prison were they running in 1988 Orlando? "Oscar" tells "Mindy", "Be sure to take copious notes! And watch that penmanship!" They see Santa Claus who tells them who he is and Ernest takes this to tell the chief he needs to be isolated and just takes him out and leads him out to their truck. Not sure exactly how they really get away with that, but whatever. They have Santa in their possession now, so it's all good.
Harmony goes back to wearing the outfit she had on before and it makes me laugh that she would take the time to braid her hair in those tiny braids again.
Ernest is going on about how Santa is the most famous person he's ever met, but Harmony still doesn't believe it's him and tells him, "Nobody believes in Santa Claus." Santa tells Ernest, "She's been this way since that Christmas when I brought her a doll instead of a baseball mitt. Haven't you, Pamela?" So now we know Harmony's real name is Pamela. Also, I have a question: if Santa knew she wanted a baseball mitt for Christmas, why didn't he give her that? It's not like she was asking for something outrageous. No wonder she has issues with Santa!
Santa tells them he took over the position of Santa Claus in 1889 "from a German chap", so he's been Santa for the last 100 years. We know he's 150 years old, so he became Santa when he was 50. I guess the starting age to be Santa must be 50 since we'll find out that Joe Carruthers is 50. Santa tells them someone new needs to be Santa because "with the passing of time, the magic fades", but "it's recharged through the passing from one person to the next." He needs to make Joe the next Santa Claus before 7 tonight or else "the magic of Christmas will be gone forever." DUN DUN DUN! Again, why didn't he see to this task sooner?
To try to find out where Joe is, they go to Superior Talent Inc. where his agent, Marty works. Ernest dresses up as an old woman with a walker in a green dress, white shawl, gray wig, pearl earrings, and neck brace. It is quite the getup. He pretends to be Marty's mother and this is how he finds out where both Marty and Joe are.
While Ernest is doing his thing, Pamela and Santa are waiting outside. We find out that Pamela has run away and that she's been gone for a month which seems like quite a long time. You'd think her parents would have called the police and they would have found her by now. She's been out in public in broad daylight, for God's sake. Santa tells her, "Your mother must be worried about you." Pamela denies that she's not who he's thinking of and tells him everyone thinks she's really young, but she's 22. Santa tells her he must have "mixed [her] up with someone whose parents had some problems last year and they got so wrapped up in themselves that they forgot that she needed a little attention, too." Pamela replies, "Sounds to me like she ought to wise up to the way things are, and just start looking out for herself."
Ernest and Santa drop Pamela and the bag back at Ernest's place (for plot's purpose as we will soon find out), then head on to Diamond World Pictures where Joe is working on the basic cable movie which he landed the part for. We see him on a set of a living room with a Christmas tree with two young kids, who are supposed to his character's children. He tells the children to go to bed and they go off screen. He hears a knocking on the front door and when he opens it, a guy in a swamp thing costume with tinsel wrapped around him pops into the set and Joe is supposed to grab a gun (that's just lying conveniently nearby) and say, "Die, you son of a b*tch," but he can't say "b*tch" because the child actors are in ear shot. The director tells him, "It's nothing they haven't heard before," but Joe says they're never heard him curse before.
So the big reveal is that the movie is called Christmas Slay and Marty even reveals the name of the movie earlier when he's talking to Joe with Santa around them. Santa and the audience (well, excluding the audience who actually have a brain) are supposed to think it's Christmas Sleigh, but of course I knew it was gonna be S-L-A-Y. What's funny is that if you watched it with closed captioning, they have it as S-L-E-I-G-H until this moment when the director tells him it's S-L-A-Y and that "it's about an alien from outer space and he comes and terrorizes a bunch of kids over Christmas vacation." Yeah, they're totally playing this movie at 3 am on some obscure channel. Okay, so surely Joe knew the premise of this movie and knew it was called Christmas Slay, and NOT Christmas Sleigh, so why did he agree to take the part of this role? It seems to be very out of character for him. Was he that hard up for money? Was he just volunteering at the Children's Museum? It just seemed like he had some moral scruples about taking this part, and he even tells the director and producers that he has some problems with the script such as the violence and bad language. Then why are you even in this movie? Honestly, I don't see what Santa sees in this guy that makes him such a great contender to be the next Santa. It's too bad The Christmas Chronicles wasn't out yet, cuz then Santa could have given the job to Kurt Russell. He makes a way better Santa than this random local children's show show host from Orlando. Of course, Kurt Russell was 37 in 1988 so he may have been too young at that time. Also, who the hell in their right mind would want to be Santa? That just seems like the worst job ever. Yes, go ahead and call me a Scrooge.
Santa is finally able to talk to Joe about being the next Santa. He tells him he needs to leave by seven to deliver presents to make sure all the over a billion children in the world receive their gifts before it turns daylight. Joe asks him why he just can't continue being Santa Claus and Santa Tells him he needs to pass the torch on to another: "If it is not passed on, the flame flickers and dies."
We get to see why Pamela stayed at Ernest's home while Ernest and Santa were at the studio. She keeps taking orbs out of the bag, wishing for them to be something good, (i.e. something valuable such as a stereo or some jewelry) but instead they just turn into crappy toys. There was one popular '80s toy with My Pet Monster so she probably could have made some money with that. She hides all the toys around the house which is quite the feat considering that some of them are quite good-sized. She decides she needs more time and takes a red blanket from the couch and turns into a bag, putting feathers in it. When Ernest and Santa return and tell her it's time to help save Christmas, she tells them, "I think I've got something else to do." Oh, like that's not suspicious at all!
So she leaves with the real bag, leaving the fake one in the truck. Ernest drives Santa to Joe's house and when Santa lifts the bag onto his shoulder, you can tell right away he knows something is wrong and that Pamela has the real bag. When Joe asks why he's the Chosen One, Santa tells him, "Because you have the qualities; the understanding of children. You have the magic inside you." Uh-huh, sure. He tells Joe the real bag was taken, but he has "absolute faith that it will be returned." Joe tells him, "Thanks, but no thanks" and Santa dejectedly leaves, but not before he tells Joe to "search your heart; there must be something that can convince you of the truth."
There will be something that will convince him of the truth and that will be the moment he knows he's destined to be the next Santa. It's when he's at a meeting with the movie people and looks out the window and sees Santa riding his sleigh being pulled by the reindeer. Only what he doesn't know is that it's actually Ernest driving that sleigh, not Santa. When Ernest goes to the airport to pick up the reindeer, two Helper Elves fly in from Toronto (I guess there's a direct flight from the North Pole to Toronto? Totally makes sense to me), but as they're transferring the sleigh and reindeer in a big truck, it gets a flat tire so they have fly the sleigh and reindeer. As Ernest puts it, "It's time to slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies on laughter's silvered wings." I did love the "Oh, brother!" reply of one of the elves. It's a whole big thing where Ernest can't control the sleigh and they're doing loop-de-loops and fighter jets are trying to chase them and Ernest even pulls a level that takes him into outer space. Why is that even an option? Does Santa also deliver gifts to the alien children? There must be some kind of magic that keeps Ernest, the elves, and the reindeer alive without any protection from the elements as they're orbiting around the Earth.
Meanwhile, Pamela goes to the Am Track station and dumps a bunch of change and dollar bills on the counter and asks the guy how far that will take her. She tells him she wants to go "anywhere from here." Like that doesn't look suspicious. He tells her she can get to Miami and the next train leaves at 6:40. She wants to know if there's anything sooner, but there isn't. She sits near a mother waiting with her two children. The older boy keeps telling his younger sister there's no such thing as Santa Claus. Pamela starts to feel guilty when she overhears the girl ask her mom how Santa fits all his presents in one bag and glances down at the real Santa bag she has in her possession, knowing that over a billion children will not be waking up Christas morning to their gifts because she's such a selfish cotton-headed ninny muggins and that she sits on a throne of lies. When the mother leaves the children to use the bathroom or get something, the brother tells his sister (again), "There's no such thing as Santa Claus" and Pamela comes up to them and says, "Where do you get off? Don't say that to her. There is a Santa and this is his magic sack." Good Lord, I can only imagine what the mothers' reaction would have been if she had been there. Instead of thanking Pamela for coming to her defense, the little girl is all, "If that' Santa's sack, then why do you have it?" Yeah, good question. So we see Pamela run to the Children's Museum to give the bag back. I guess the Children's Museum was the unofficial place where everyone would meet. She tells Santa she's been doing a lot of thinking and she "really got things figured out" and called her mom (which we don't see). She plans to go home. I still don't know why exactly she left in the first place.
Joe pulls up at 6:57 to take on his duties as Santa. When he asks Santa, "Is the job still open?" Santa tells him, "For the right man it is" and holds out his hand for a handshake. When Joe shakes its, he has a beard and is wearing the Santa suit which makes me realize we never see original Santa in his Santa suit.
All they need is the sled. Ernest comes hurtling down from outer space and hooray, Christmas is saved! The new Santa lets Ernest fly in the sleigh with him since he's already had some experience flying it and Ernest asks if there's any any room for "an honorary elf" and they let Pamela climb abroad. The old Santa, now going by his old name, Seth Applegate, gets to have a hot date with the old lady who runs the museum. And the one billion plus children around the world will get to open their gifts the next morning! Everyone is happy and Christmas has been saved!