5TH Annual Countdown to Christmas – Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
Cast: Jay Clark (Jay Ripley) as Santa Claus (True Grit)
Shay Garner as Thumbelina (Humongous)
Bob O’Connell as Mr. Digger (Dark Shadows)
Partially based on Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen
Directed by R. Winer
Plot: It’s Christmas Eve and the elves are worried. The reindeer have returned but Santa and the sleigh are missing. It appears that he’s stuck on a beach in sunny and hot Florida. He cries out for children to help him and they attempt with a wide variety of livestock…and a gorilla…on a beach. When they are unable, he passes the time by telling them the story of Thumbelina. But who is the Ice Cream Bunny and what does he have to do with this movie?
Personal Thoughts: Once upon a time, children were apparently starved for entertainment. Before the days of the internet and 24 hour TV, they would run to the movie theater for those wonderful kiddie matinees. Usually, some bizarre Mexican horror flick or European fairy tale was shown. But, every once in a while, they would get a movie like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. This is essentially a poorly made effort to make a quick buck or two. There is the wrap around story of Santa on a beach with horribly dubbed in voices and musical numbers from the kids. Within, there is another slightly better made effort. I watched the Thumbelina version but there is apparently a Jack and the Beanstalk one out there too. Poor Shay Garner, who stars as Thumbelina, appears to be bored out of her mind but it’s actually not a bad effort at the classic tale. It just has nothing to do with Santa. Once we get back to the beach, with 10 minutes to spare, the Ice Cream Bunny shows up in an antique fire engine that can barely move thanks to being weighted down with a bunch of the kids. His job is to drive Santa back to the North Pole.
After Santa is gone, the sleigh disappears and according to the narrator, the sleigh is waiting for him. Now, I have no idea who this bunny is but if the sleigh could magically be transported back to the North Pole, why did he need the children and the Ice Cream Bunny to save him? Major plot hole aside, this bizarre oddity is worth seeing at least once. At least it’s better than Christmas on Mars (2008)…I think.
- Segments were filmed at the Pirate’s World amusement park, which existed in Dania, Florida from 1967 to 1975. It was successful in its’ earlier years but when Disney World opened in 1971, it didn’t stand a chance. It was also a venue for many late 60s and early 70s rock acts, including Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
- Some prints contain the Thumbelina story (made in 1970) while others have Jack and the Beanstalk, both films made by Barry Mahon.
- Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn have an incredibly odd cameo. Barry Mahon wanted to make a Tom Sawyer film but abandoned the idea. Their cameo is all that remains of that unfinished film.
- Winer never made another film, so it’s likely a pseudonym for another director…or common sense kicked in.
- Jay Ripley is actually an accomplished TV and film actor, including roles in Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The Waltons. His biggest film appearance was alongside John Wayne in the original True Grit (1969).
- This was the film debut for actress Shay Garner. It would be another 12 years before she made another movie, Humongous (1982), and even left her mark on the Star Trek universe with a guest role on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1991.
- The children in the film are billed as being from Ruth Foreman’s Pied Piper Playhouse, which boasted a 40-year tradition of helping aspiring young actors and artists in Florida. Her story is actually an amazing one. It’s well worth the time to read and learn more about this local legend.