Dec. 22 – Santabear’s High Flying Adventure

Original air date December 24, 1987.

As we’ve maneuvered through the countdown for 2022 the theme of The Christmas Tape has stayed strong. And today, I am going down a rabbit hole because of that tape. If you read the first entry this year, you may recall I talked about a Cinnamon Toast Crunch commercial that contained a contest for kids to win a set of teddy bears and a cardboard airplane. The brand was Santabear, and as part of that commercial there’s some animation of Santabear and Miss Bear flying in a similar airplane to the one kids could win (unless they lived in Vermont, sorry children of Vermont). It wasn’t unusual for cereal companies to commission short pieces of animation to sell product, but it would be odd to do so just to tie-in a contest. My suspicions were correct, as many years later I finally decided to investigate this Santabear and figure out what that brief cartoon was featured in the ad.

To know the story of Santabear is to know the story of Dayton’s, a department store founded way back in 1902 by George Draper Dayton. The first store was located in Minneapolis and would expand over the years, but largely remain regional. Eventually, it would absorb another store: Hudson’s. That merger occurred in 1969 forming the Dayton-Hudson corporation, which still exists today and is a place you’ve probably shopped at. It’s just known by a different name: Target. Target was originally the discount version of Dayton’s, but it eventually became the more popular store and is thus the dominant brand now. Most Dayton’s were also swallowed up by Target when it acquired Marshall Field’s in 1990. Marshall Field’s was apparently viewed as the stronger brand so it was allowed to exist in place of Dayton’s and many stores were rebranded. The store wasn’t really part of what Target was becoming though, so that part of the business would eventually be sold to Macy’s in 2006 and the name was discontinued.

The reason for my curiosity.

That last part is really only important to the story because it’s what happened to Santabear once Dayton’s ceased to be. In 1985, Dayton-Hudson started a line of Christmas themed teddy bears. Basically, each year a new bear was released in stores that patrons could purchase. It was viewed as popular enough that Dayton-Hudson commissioned some animated specials starring Santabear. The first of which was Santabear’s First Christmas and it was released in 1986. The second is the subject of today’s post and was aired on Christmas Eve 1987 and is called Santabear’s High Flying Adventure. As you could have probably guessed from the title, an airplane features into this one and it’s the animation that was featured in the commercial that I’ve seen hundreds of times over the years. Dayton-Hudson must have felt pretty strongly about the character’s potential too, because it features some actual celebrities in Kelly McGillis (who was featured in Santabear’s First Christmas as a narrator), John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper, the latter of whom went uncredited. I honestly can’t even figure out where his voice was used, but IMDB lists him as being part of the cast.

This is Santabear, a mostly harmless, inoffensive, slightly boring, character.

The special begins with a song and title card as we watch what appears to be Santabear (Bobby McFerrin) end up in a giant snowball that rolls all the way to Santa’s Work Shop. The song is sort of whimsical and was composed by Felix Cavaliere, along with the rest of the music. I believe this song is called “Out of the Blue,” and it ends with Santabear reaching up from his snow pile to knock on the door of the work shop. A pair of elves, one male and one female, answer the door to find the bear covered in snow. The female elf (possibly voiced by Glenne Headley, but hard to say as the credits are sparse) scolds Santabear for being out in the snow. When she asks what he was doing, he holds out a paw which contains two, tiny, high-top sneakers. She can’t believe he was out looking for something so insignificant while they’re all busy getting ready for Christmas, but Santabear reminds her that these shoes are rather important to whomever lost them. Santabear then heads inside and we see a bunch of rats running on a belt of some kind to power some of the machines. One rat is one the floor fubbing its feet and bemoaning their missing shoes, which Santabear promptly hands over.

Santa and his minions. They’re somewhat unique looking, and I’ll give some credit for Santa having a multiracial group of elves (though these ones are all white).

The rat is gracious of Santabear for finding his shoes, and so is another gentlemen in the shop: Santa Claus (Malkovich). He thanks Santabear for what he’s done, then politely orders everyone back to work. I should take the time now to mention this special looks pretty terrible. Santabear is cute, but the other designs are pretty basic. Santa has a European look to him as he’s more slender, features a long coat, and has holly on his hat. The animation though is poor. They apparently spent all of their money on the cast, though I honestly don’t know how expensive it would have been to hire John Malkovich back then. McGillis probably cost something, but Dennis Hopper apparently didn’t if he’s uncredited. It’s possible his agent discouraged him from having his name appear in a voice role out of fear of getting typecast, but he had some decent roles under his belt come 1987 so maybe he was just doing a favor for someone.

So this angry looking bear kicked out of the North Pole is definitely going to be the villain of this one.

We jump forward a bit and the elf from before, possibly the head elf, is taking a group photo complete with old-fashioned flash powder. As Santa hangs the new picture on the wall, or simply looks over a collage of old ones, Santabear notices a bear that looks like him in one of those pictures. Santa tells him that bear may look like him, but he isn’t anything like him. That’s Bully Bear, and he’s the only time Santa has ever been wrong about one of his helpers. Bully Bear was so selfish that he tried to steal all of the presents for himself. Santabear has such a pure and innocent reaction to this pointing out that no one could ever play with that many toys. Santa had to kick him out and warns Santabear that no one has seen Bully Bear since last Christmas and that should he ever run into him he needs to tell someone right away. The elves have all been putting themselves to bed during this conversation, they sleep in bunk beds carved into the wall, while Santa places Santabear in his own, traditional bed. After saying good night, the rat from earlier pops out from behind Santabear’s pillow and asks him to sing a song so he can fall asleep. Santabear says he knows one and it goes something like, “The world can be so very wide, can make you feel so small inside.” The rat asks how the rest goes, and Santabear says he doesn’t know as he’s been making it up as he goes. The rat asks for just a little more, so Santabear continues, “I’d like to be by your side, for you to bare in mind.” I have a feeling he’ll finish that song before this one is over.

Definitely an uncommon sight from inside of a sack.

The next morning the elves are back to work and Santabear is helping. They’re passing presents along a line to Santabear who places them in Santa’s sack. As Santabear looks inside though, he sees two eyes peering back at him. He quickly calls for Santa and tells him someone is in the bag and that he saw two eyes that looked exactly like his looking back at him! Santa immediately thinks it’s Bully Bear and a bunch of elves leap fearlessly into the sack. They rummage around some until all of the elves pop back out, all but one who stands up in the sack holding a wrapped present. It has reflective paper on it and he tells Santabear he just saw his own reflection looking back at him. Santabear inspects it for a long moment, making faces and all that, before everyone has a hearty laugh.

The animators get a lot of mileage out of this one shot.

Later that day, the reindeer are all hitched up and ready to go. All eight of them! Santa is seated in his sleigh with a map that just has a compass rose written on it. I’m sure that will be very useful. Santabear pops up from the sack to secure it tight and the sleigh takes off. Only this special doesn’t even try to animate a sleigh pulled by 8 reindeer leaving the Earth, we just skip right to them flying. As they fly above the clouds, and the animation makes liberal use of the same shot, Santa instructs Santabear to look down. They’re apparently over the South Pole and he tells Santabear that life is so hard there that the creatures who live there don’t know if they should believe in Santa or not. That’s why, he has a second, smaller, sack of gifts he wants Santabear to deliver himself. Santabear vows to bring Christmas to the South Pole, and Santa straps a parachute to his back and sends him on his way. I’m starting to think Santabear isn’t fun to ride around with all night and Santa just wanted to get rid of him.

A polar bear at the South Pole is rare enough as it is, but a polar bear fixing an airplane?!

Santabear parachutes down to the ground and immediately spots some smoke in the air. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s fire, there’s fireplaces. It’s also clearly a town because there are visible buildings, but good detective work, nonetheless. As Santabear starts walking towards it, he hears singing. It’s a woman’s voice and she’s singing his lullaby! Impossible! Santabear goes to check it out and finds a bear just like him working on an airplane. It’s a female bear though with a green ribbon in her hair, and when he explains his mission, she informs him he’s about as far away from Christmas as you can get. He then asks her where she heard that song and she says she made it up. Santabear then insists he made it up, and the two get a little stand-offish with each other. Santabear then decides to continue the song, “You know that I will always love,” and the girl bear finishes the line, “will always want to be part of.” They continue by alternating more lines to add to the song, “Will always hold so high above, the one I bare in mind.”

Well, this day just keeps getting weirder.

The last part they sing together, but then they immediately start eying each other suspiciously which is not the turn I expected. They’re both rather flabbergasted at how they could know each other’s song, which causes Santabear to ask just who this bear is? Her name is Missy (McGillis), and that’s all we’ll know for now. She starts confirming Santabear’s story and gestures to his sack. When Santabear looks over, the sack is moving! Two, white, bear legs pop out of the bottom of it and it takes off running. Santabear gives chase, while Missy fires up the airplane she’s been working on. She catches up to Santabear and tells him she’s going that way anyways and to hop in. This should be a short chase.

It’s rather hard to outrun an airplane, especially when you can’t even see.

As the plane takes off, it makes some rather unsettling noises. Santabear questions if Missy knows what she’s doing, but she insists she has it all under control. Plus, she knows where that sack is heading because there’s really only one place to go around here and it’s that town Santabear saw earlier. He asks if her family lives there, but she tells him she has no family – she’s an orphan. The two then fly over the sack, and basically keep circling back since they’re flying much faster than a sack of presents can run. Missy eventually adjusts her speed to fly over the sack and Santabear is able to grab onto it. As he pulls it into the plane, the legs pop out further and throw the balance off resulting in a disastrous crash. I hope that thing has a black box.

Oh my God! It’s the bear from the picture!

The plane is stuck in the snow, but Missy looks okay. There are presents strewn about, and Santabear pops his head out of a snow bank to survey the damage. As he does, the sack rips open and out comes another bear. He looks like Santabear, except he’s wearing a blue jacket and a hat. Santabear remarks he knows him from somewhere, but can’t quite place it. It’s Bully Bear (McFerrin), you dope! While Santabear just stands there trying to figure out what’s going on, Bully Bear ties up his hands, takes his hat and scarf, and swaps clothing with Santabear. Santabear doesn’t fight back, but just asks what he’s doing? Bully Bear tells him he’s out for revenge, revenge against Santa for telling him “No” last Christmas! He figures, the only thing worse than no Christmas, is a Christmas that involves getting nothing but broken toys from Santa, and that’s what he plans to deliver. He shoves a bow in Santabear’s mouth to keep from speaking further and slaps a Most Wanted poster on him for good measure so anyone who finds him will know, for certain, that he’s Bully Bear.

I’m sure these cops will be useful…

A waddle of penguin cops show up on the scene. They’re dressed like old timey, 1920s, cops complete with billy clubs. When they come upon Santabear and remove the ribbon shoved in his mouth, they’re immediately told what happened, but since Santabear is now dressed as Bully Bear they don’t believe him. Even Missy is too stupid to know it’s Santabear, but then again, she did just meet him. Maybe he should sing the lullaby? He’s not that quick-witted, apparently, and when Missy notices that Bully Bear (disguised as Santabear) took off with his presents she has a quiet cry for she’s all alone again. The real Santabear produces a present that’s addressed to Missy that must have been on the ground. The cops take it though and tell Missy she can have it after she tells her story to a judge which she indicates that she’d be happy to.

Aww, Santabear is sad.

We next see Missy exiting a police igloo with present in hand. She gets to her plane, and looking down at the gift, a tear escapes her eye. It’s cut with Santabear doing the same in his holding cell, which he apparently shares with an ugly rat. As Missy works on her plane, she starts to sing the lullaby and it finally occurs to Santabear that’s a way for him to show her he is who he says he is. Unfortunately, once he starts singing, Missy has already fired up the plane and can’t hear him. She starts to pull away, but the engine conks out which is enough to allow her to hear Santabear continue the song: “The weather’s different every day, what comes around must go away, but you can count on me to stay, I’ll always bare in mind. I wonder if they’ll come a time, I wonder if I’ll ever find, I keep on waiting for a sign, someone to bare in mind.”

And now he’s happy!

Missy hears him singing, while the cops remark he makes a lot of noise for one bear, but he’s singing about as softly, and gently, as one could. They start to dance though like it’s a song worth dancing to. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything, but it sounds like a lullaby and those traditionally do not rock. He continues singing though, “I know that I will always love, will always want to be part of.” It’s at this point Missy reaches the window of his cell and now knows he is the real Santabear. She starts untying the bounds on his wrists and the bear just keeps on singing, “You can travel far and wide, go too far and hurt your pride. When you need someone on your side,”

One of the few shots I’ve seen from this special, many, many, times.

Before he can finish that line, and I don’t know why I’m so committed to sharing every line of this song, Missy rips the wall off of the prison with her plane. Santabear is left clinging to the bars that were on his window to the outside world, and he climbs up the rope and into the plane, with Missy’s help. The cops are left to just run outside and jump up and down and it’s hard to tell if they’re angry or cheering them on. They were just jamming with the bear so maybe they’re mad to lose their music. As the pair fly, Santabear ditches Bully Bear’s clothes and finds a red pilot’s hat and goggles in the back seat. He puts them on, and this shot of the pair flying is the one that was featured in the commercial that got my curiosity going. It’s rather satisfying to finally see its origins after all these years.

When did she switch to the red bow? Was that her Christmas present?

As the two fly, Santabear asks where they’re off to. Missy, who has traded in her green ribbon and bow for a red one, indicates she wants to get as far away from where they were as possible. Santabear disagrees as he’s determined to stop Bully Bear. It’s important for the people of the South Pole to believe in Christmas! Missy doesn’t really want to, but when Santabear tells her he’s going to that town with or without her she just smiles and banks hard indicating she’s turning around.

This bear is here to F-up Christmas!

It’s dark now and the music is rather ominous. The snow-covered town is quiet and lifeless, which is a shame as I’m rather curious who could possibly live here. We then get a shot of Bully Bear, still dressed as Santabear, posing by a chimney with his sack of toys. He does look kind of cool and badass, I have to admit. He pulls a toy airplane from the sack and happily snaps it in half. He remarks to himself how he can’t wait to see the faces on these people when they find their broken gifts. He goes to toss it down the chimney, but Missy swoops down in the plane and Santabear snatches the broken toy from Bully’s hand before it can enter the home.

Are we about to “bare” witness to a truly epic showdown? Not likely.

Bully Bear angrily grabs the sack of presents and looks like he’s prepared to move to another house as Santabear drops in. Finally, it’s the battle we’ve all been waiting for: Santabear vs Bully Bear! Bully Bear dangles the sack of presents over the edge of the roof, holding the toys hostage. Santabear tells him not to do it, as if he were dangling a child or something, but Bully Bear just smiles his sinister smile and lets go. Missy is on it though as she swoops down and saves the sack of toys and gets a thumbs up as thanks from Santabear.

I’m guessing Santabear is not going to let gravity solve this problem for him.

Bully Bear uses this as a distraction to try to make a break for it. He slides down one side of the roof to jump onto, and climb up, the next then repeat the process. Santabear gives chase, and I’m left wondering why Bully Bear is running in the first place. Does he think he can’t take Santabear in a fight? We’re being deprived. As Bully scampers across the rooftops, he sounds like he’s getting winded, which must be what allows Santabear to get the drop on him. He tries to go back, but he slips on a roof and falls. He’s only able to save himself by grabbing onto some icicles. Lucky for him, this is the South Pole were icicles are likely at their strongest.

Don’t you hate how every time you fall off of a building your clothes come off?

Santabear looks on with worry as Bully dangles there. Bully starts trying to bargain with the bear, saying he’ll give him anything he wants if he just lets him go. Santabear indicates he made a promise to Santa and he’s not breaking it and urges Bully to allow him to save him. He reaches out a paw, and Bully reluctantly agrees that he has no choice at this point. He takes it, but rather than let Santabear hoist him up, he pulls him off the roof! The two bears appear headed for Splats-ville, but Missy grabs a parachute from her plane and tosses it to the cops who have gathered in the town and they hold it open to catch the falling bears. Somehow, the bears have both lost their clothes as they fall so you can probably guess what waits for them on the ground.

Can’t Santa just look into their soul or something to solve this problem?

They slam into the open parachute and start tussling around inside just as Santa Claus arrives via the same animation we saw earlier. That’s how you save money, folks. Santa comes upon the two, nude, bears and asks how he can know which one is Santabear? The one that is obviously Bully tries assuring Santa it’s him, while Santabear insists it’s him, as the pair approach the man in red. Santa then tells the pair to tell him what the true meaning of Christmas is. Bully says, “Something for nothing! Getting presents!” He’s clearly not a criminal mastermind. Santabear informs him that “It’s giving presents, especially the ones you can’t wrap.” Guess who aced this test?

The animation for this special is probably below average, but they were really good at making Santabear look cute.

Santa scoops up Santabear in his arms and tells Bully he hopes he understands that he’s responsible for the things he says and does. When Bully asks about the stuff no one sees or hears, Santa confirms especially those. There aren’t a lot of animation flourishes in this thing, but one does occur as Santa lectures Bully that features Santabear start to slip through his arms, and he basically catches him and repositions the bear like a baby. It’s cute. After Santa says his piece, the others start to cheer while Bully just kind of kicks at the snow and looks a little embarrassed. He then tries to slip away, but the penguin cops grab him and take him away.

This is all the resolution you’re going to get.

With Bully gone, Santa turns to Missy and remarks, “I don’t think that we’ve met.” Santabear introduces Missy to Santa as his very best friend. I feel like that rat who lives under his pillow would be disappointed to hear that. He tells Santa that without Missy’s help they never would have stopped Bully Bear. She tries to downplay her importance, but Santa won’t let her. He tells her that she deserves a very special Christmas present: a family. He scoops the two bears up in his arms and tells her “Our family.” Aww!

Time to say “goodbye” to Santabear, which the world apparently did for good 15 years ago.

We cut to the reindeer in flight, and at least it’s a different shot this time. Santa is in his sleigh and he’s got Missy’s plane behind him being towed via a rope. Missy and Santabear are riding inside it and it would appear that Santabear ditched his pilot’s hat for his old look. He waves down at the town which we cut to see is now lit up with Christmas lights. We then see the precinct and the penguin cops have a long line setup there. I think the implication is it’s a Christmas feast? Maybe they’re just handing out the presents Santabear brought? I don’t know, but there’s a sign on the igloo that says “Closed for Christmas.” Inside, we find Bully peeling potatoes and looking rather unhappy. We cut back to the sky and the image fades out on a shot of the plane.

At least Bully Bear got what was coming, though I have little confidence in that jail’s ability to hold him.

That’s a pretty anti-climactic ending, no? I thought maybe we’d get to see a little of Missy’s arrival at the North Pole or perhaps find out they’re siblings or something. Maybe that was for a planned sequel that never happened? I don’t even think they finished their song, and did Missy ever open her gift? Is that where she got the red ribbon? Either way, it’s an unremarkable end to an unremarkable special. I suppose it made sense to take Santabear to animation if it was selling well in stores, but it didn’t seem to move beyond this. It probably didn’t help that Dayton-Hudson stores were regional and I know where I grew up there were none so I had no idea about this Santabear thing. If not for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch contest I’d have known even less. It looks rather cheap and it pretty much relies on the same song for the whole thing. I guess I should give it credit for not relying on public domain songs, but maybe it would have been nice to hear some “Jingle Bells” or something for the sake of variety?

Santabear would be a thing until 2007 or so. Surprisingly, Target didn’t want him so once Dayton-Hudson stores changed over to Marshall Field’s that’s where Santabear went. I think he had one crossover with the Target dog, Bullseye, but that’s it. When Macy’s acquired the store Santabear apparently came with it. There was a final Santabear in 2007, but it’s been mostly quiet since. At this point, it’s probably unlikely to come back since Macy’s, or whoever actually owns the rights, let some big anniversaries pass it by already. It seems like there’s a decent amount of Santabear fans out there with massive collections of the plush creations, but it’s far from mainstream.

I guess we’ll just have to wonder what came next.

As for the 1987 bears, I did buy them, though much later in life. I got them as kind of a gag gift for my sister one year. They weren’t very expensive, though I did pass on the airplane. It appeared to be made of cardboard or a similar, cheap, material and actually doesn’t even look like the plane in the special. It was yellow and red as opposed to red and white, but maybe that’s because they had plans for it in a later sequel since the plane was christened Santabear Express. As you could have likely assumed, this isn’t a popular Christmas special and it’s not aired anywhere. It looks like it was rebroadcast for at least a couple of years if YouTube can be believed since some list the broadcast date of their recording. And yes, this thing is all over YouTube in various states including the original 1987 broadcast with commercials! I would say if you’re curious, seek that out. If you’re really into Christmas specials, you can also find this special on VHS and likely for not much money.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 22 – Extreme Dinosaurs – “Holiday on Ice”

After looking at what I considered to be a pretty good cartoon yesterday, I’m feeling like I need to take-in some trash today. It’s to the late 90s we go and the Bohbot/DiC Street Sharks spin-off Extreme Dinosaurs! Ah yes, everything was extreme around this time. Surge was packing the soft drinks aisle in stores,…

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