Ernest Saves Christmas

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A man who claims to be Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) arrives at the Orlando International Airport on December 23.

Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) is working as a taxi driver. He takes a passenger to the airport, but speeds and the passenger falls out of the taxi. Ernest later picks up Santa Claus, who tells Ernest that he is on his way to inform a local celebrity named Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) that he has been chosen to be the new Santa Claus. Joe had previously hosted a children’s TV program named “Uncle Joey’s Treehouse” in the Orlando area similar to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with emphasis on manners and integrity with the catchphrase “They never get old. They always stay new. Those three little words, Please and Thank You.” It got cancelled three weeks before and Joe must settle for a new job reading stories to children.

While they are driving, a runaway teenage girl (Noelle Parker) calling herself Harmony Starr joins Ernest and Santa in the cab. When they get to their destination, Santa possesses no legal currency (only play money), so in his giving Christmas spirit, Ernest lets him ride for free. The decision ultimately gets Ernest fired. As a dejected Ernest leaves the taxi garage, his former boss throws out Santa’s sack, which it turns out Santa had left behind.

Santa arrives at the Orlando Children’s Museum to talk to Joe, but is interrupted and rebuffed by Joe’s agent Marty Brock. Marty misunderstands Santa’s name, thinking he said “Mr. Santos,” and continues to call him by that name, even when he tells him his real name. He begins to worry as he then discovers that he had left his sack in the cab, and becomes more discouraged as he realizes he is becoming forgetful in his old age (he’s 151 years old, as his passport shows he was born in 1837). Joe does not believe Santa’s story and Marty has him arrested. Meanwhile, Ernest goes over to his friend Vern’s house to put up a Christmas tree, much to Vern’s distress (as with the original commercials that first introduced Ernest, the audience never sees Vern’s face and only his point of view). Ernest discovers the magic power of the sack, and realizes that the owner really is Santa Claus. He and Harmony immediately set off to find Santa and return it.

On Christmas Eve, having learned of Santa’s imprisonment, Ernest poses as Astor Clementh, an employee of the governor and Harmony as the governor’s niece Mindy, and they help Santa escape from jail by convincing the police chief that Santa believing that he is Santa Claus is “infectious insanity” and he must be taken to solitary confinement. Ernest disguises himself as an Apopka snake rancher (Lloyd Worrell from Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It’s My Family Album) who sneaks Santa into a movie studio and speaks to a security guard about delivering the snakes to people who direct horror films. Meanwhile, Marty presses Joe to move on from his children’s show career, shave his beard, and instead land a part in a movie as a father and family man, since he is good at working with kids; however, it turns out to be a horror film titled Christmas Slay about an alien which terrorizes a bunch of children on Christmas Eve; this offends Santa so deeply that he punches the director in the eye. Joe accepts the part but feels uncomfortable swearing in front of the kids on set.

Harmony is fascinated by the power of the sack, and hopes to find gifts of monetary value inside. She steals it, replacing it with one filled with feathers, and attempts to run away yet again to Miami. Santa tracks down Joe at his home, but has nothing to show except the fake sack. Joe politely but firmly declines the job.

Ernest heads to the airport to pick up the sleigh, reindeer, and two of Santa’s elves before they hit rush hour traffic. But their truck is disabled and Ernest decides to drive the sleigh to the Children’s Museum. His inexperience, though, leads him and the elves on a wild, out-of-control ride through Orlando. Meanwhile, Joe is overcome by conscience when the director refuses to tone down any of the profanity and violence in the film. He sees the haphazardly-flying sleigh from a distance, and realizing that Santa was telling the truth all along, is overcome with joy and runs off to find him.

Joe finds Santa at the Children’s Museum and accepts the job. Harmony returns with the real sack, apologizing to Santa (who reveals that her real name is Pamela Trenton.) The sleigh arrives just in time and Joe asks Ernest (saddened that the adventure is over) to drive for the first night, while Pamela (who decided to go home) hitches a ride as an honorary elf.

The film ends with the words, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!,” followed by a sleigh dash that spells, KnoWhutImean?, one of Ernest’s catchphrases. Meanwhile, Chuck and Bobby were looking at the letter “E” for what it means. Suddenly, you see the Easter Bunny’s ears when they come out of the cargo box, and Chuck rolls his eyes and squeals like he is screaming for help.

REVIEW:

Growing up, there were two flavors of man-child that graced Saturday morning TV, Pee Wee Herman and Ernest P. Worrell. Technically, there was a third and fourth in Ed Grimley and Weird Al Yankovic, but Ed Grimley’s show only lasted one season and Weird Al isn’t a character, so to speak. Ernest went on to star in a somewhat successful string of films. Since tomorrow is Christmas and I haven’t done a true Christmas film this year, unless you count Holiday Inn, I figured this would be a great opportunity to enjoy Ernest Saves Christmas.

What is this about?

When Santa Claus decides to retire and pass on his magic bag of Christmas surprises to a new St. Nick, A perky teen runaway and hapless taxi driver Ernest P. Worrell must convince a skeptical kids-show host to take over the post of Father Christmas.

What did I like?

Characters. Here we are nearly 15 years after Jim Varney’s death and I still don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. Other than Ernest and the voice of Slinky Dog in the Toy Story franchise, I can’t really name a major role he was in, save for maybe Jed Clampett in that awful Beverly Hillbillies remake. That being said, I believe he was just so good at what he did, no one would take him seriously as anything else. Ironic, since the guy that is in line to be Santa in this film has that exact same problem. Varney is a true chameleon, transforming from Ernest, to an elderly woman, to some greasy lawyer-type, and also to a snake rustler. All character with their own distinct personalities, quirks, and what have you. I believe some of Varney’s characters were so good that they got their own special/direct-to-video film, but don’t quote me on that one.

Good guys. Sometimes it is good to get a film that doesn’t have a specific antagonist and is just about letting the story unfold as it may. In this case, while the agent guy seems as if he’s a giant douche of epic proportions, he isn’t anything more than an annoyance. There is no one interfering with Ernest as he helps Santa, no one stopping Joe from becoming the new Santa, and no one telling that runaway chick to do bad things. Sometimes less is more.

Christmas Spirit. Ernest is a simpleton, I think we can all agree on that. While he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he does have a sunny outlook on life and that becomes quite infectious, especially in a Christmas movie. Now, this is not one of the more inspirational Christmas flicks, you would be hard pressed to not find yourself filled with some sort of spirit after watching and that is the sign of pretty good Christmas flick.

What didn’t I like?

Runaway. So, out of nowhere, Ernest is joined by some runaway that latches on to him for the rest of the film. Why? My guess is because the film needed someone young and also a female, so put the two together saved time. Why did she have to be a runaway? I don’t know. Why did she have to be borderline annoying, yet cute? No clue. Could the film have done without her? Yes, indeed!

Agent. In a film that is this good-natured, there was only one “bad guy” and he was the sleazy agent. Everything stereotypical that you can think of this guy was. For that, he was a good character, but the fact that he had Santa Claus arrested and really served no other purpose for the rest of the film kind of puts him on the naughty list for this flick. Had he become a better person by film’s end or something like that, this would be an entirely different conversation.

Santa Clause. Although I’ve never seen it all the way through, I can’t help but notice how the basic plot of The Santa Clause seems to have been “borrowed” from this film. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I guess that it’s ok. No…no, it’s not! Look, I realize Disney needed some kind of Christmas franchise and that’s fine and dandy, but with all those geniuses working over there, surely they could have come up with something original, rather than ripping off an idea from the Ernest P. Worrell catalogue!

Man, I have missed Ernest. It really is a shame that Netflix doesn’t have his films available. I just happened to have seen this one back in the fall and said that I’d probably get to it around the holidays and here are. Ernest Saves Christmas is arguably his best film, though I think Ernest Goes to Camp was better reviewed and received. Funny thing is, this is the one that is the least about Ernest. Vern only appears as a quick, and random, cameo because…well, it’s Ernest. The few flaws I have with this film are very minor things that are mostly nitpicking. This is a Christmas flick that the whole family can enjoy without fear of scenes being too violent, harsh language, gratuitous sex, etc. A truly holsum flick this is and I highly recommend it!

4 out of 5 stars

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