Santa Claus has been the subject of countless films and television shows ranging from wholesome to weird. He is one of the most versatile and timeless characters within pop culture. His origin has been told and retold, most notably in the stop-motion classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town. This mythological figure has even encountered the devil and Martians in cult B-movies from the 1950s and 60s. Now, imagine him living in an urban environment. Writer-director Klaudia Kovacs’s Brown Paper Bag reinterprets this icon as an ordinary man (John William Young) prepping for the holiday season in his Southern California home.
Initially, the 3-minute short seems to be a sad story of a lonely old man walking home with a brown paper bag. The rotund, bearded man places the bag on the table and smiles at it. Is he a recovering alcoholic proving something to himself? This is when the narrative unexpectedly takes a heartwarming turn. The bag contains whipped cream, which he uses to top off his hot chocolate. The drink instigates the man’s Christmas spirit. This is the point where notable Santa imagery shows up.
“The drink instigates the man’s Christmas spirit.”
Part of the charm of Brown Paper Bag is its minimalist nature. Is this man Santa? If so, is he the real one or a department store performer? The filmmaker’s concept is fascinating as she strips away the imagery associated with Santa Claus. There are no reindeer or elves. The North Pole is never shown. It would be interesting to see Kovacs provide new interpretations of other holiday characters like Cupid or the Easter Bunny. A new subgenre of cinema could be born. John William Young is convincing as a possible Santa.
The director cast the right actor to portray this character. Young’s facial traits capture Santa’s personality, from his blue eyes to his earnest smile. This new version of Santa Claus avoids cliches like making him overly jolly or a cranky boss. But due its quick nature, the film and the characterization feel more like a taste of things to come versus a whole story unto itself.
Brown Paper Bag is worth checking out if you’re a fan of seeing Santa Claus in original stories. Kovacs uses the urban setting well and teases the reveal nicely. Young is sweet enough to be Santa but realistic enough to just be another person. Interpreting this short how you will is half the fun.
"…worth checking out if you're a fan of seeing Santa Claus in original stories."