On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: When the Going Gets Tough, Santa’s Reindeer Get the Hell Out of Florida

Despite the fact that Santa, ice cream, and bunnies are three topics famously enjoyed by young children, letting your kids anywhere near “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” feels like a surefire way to make them swear off Christmas altogether and embark on a path towards atheism.

I’ve seen enough excruciatingly bad Christmas specials in my day to accept that our collective standards for holiday content are significantly lower than they are for anything that comes out during the other 11 months of the year. But in a sea of shameless brand extensions that slapped a Santa hat on a character who had nothing to do with Christmas and sleazy stop motion specials where you can almost smell the animator’s cigarette smoke, Richard Winer and Barry Mahon’s film stands out as the most baffling desecration of the Christmas spirit that I’ve ever seen.

The 1972 film begins with Santa crashing his sleigh in South Florida and being abandoned by all of his reindeer, who immediately return to the North Pole on their own once the heat becomes uncomfortable. (I’ve always imagined the reindeer to effectively be Santa’s car, so the news that they are capable of disobeying his orders and traveling on their own poked a major hole in my understanding of the Christmas Eve logistics.) Left alone on the beach, Santa inexplicably summons all of the neighborhood children to help him solve his transportation problem. He outsources most of the brainstorming to the six-year-olds (once again raising the question of ‘What does Santa actually do?’), and their plans to find other animals to pull the sleigh fall flat.

While the kids are tempted to give up hope, Santa reminds them that the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is proof that nothing bad ever happens, no matter how bleak things might seem. He decides to recount the fairy tale to the kids — which seems like a sweet gesture, until it ends up being 80 percent of the movie.

Yes, despite being titled “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny,” the entire film is just a fairy tale musical sandwiched inside twenty minutes of Santa bitching about the fact that his reindeer abandoned him on the beach. Yet it exudes the energy of a car accident that’s impossible to look away from, and the sequences involving Santa and his dairy-loving rabbit friend are strange enough to make this a must-watch midnight movie during the holidays.

Now, you might be asking yourself if the Ice Cream Bunny is some kind of beloved children’s character that you’ve forgotten. Fear not, dear reader, it’s just a piece of random bullshit that was conjured up for one of the most off-putting children’s movies ever made. When I showed a clip to my roommate (forevermore known as Friend of the Column Nate), he mentioned that he hadn’t felt so confused or unsettled by a movie since seeing “Skinamarink.” I would have applauded his cleverness if it weren’t for the fact that he was clearly dead serious.

In addition to midnight movie freaks, “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” should appeal to a wide range of demographics. If you’ve forgotten what happens in “Jack and the Beanstalk” or just need to be reminded that everything in life always ends perfectly (fact check: true!), I’ve got just the movie for you. But for the love of all things festive, keep this oddity away from any of the young Christmas lovers it was apparently made to entertain. —CZ

The Aftermath: And There Was a Thumbelina Version?!

“Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” makes more baffling creative choices than there are ill-behaved children threatened by a cookie-eating home invader on December 25. But no decision in this trainwreck was more personally irritating to me than learning that Richard Winer’s ambling ode to fairytales (mish-mashed with a meticulous tonal match for community theater Christmas engagements?) has an alternate version I didn’t watch.

The “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” version currently streaming on Tubi is the theatrical cut, featuring Barry Mahon’s “Jack and the Beanstalk.” That’s all well and good; I found Mahon’s spin on the horticulture parenting nightmare a decent fit for the rest of the alarmingly bad film. But I have been a “Thumbelina” truther since I was a little girl, and knowing that the VHS version features Mahon’s take on that teeny tiny fantasy instead makes me question how that might change the overall experience of the bewildering beach disaster drama.

I will now have no choice but to hunt down the “Thumbelina” version and watch “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” again (and lo’ a cult classic is born!), seeing as swapping out an entire film within a film feels tantamount to making an entirely new movie. (Plus, the other version stitches the Santa elements together to make it one story instead of book ends, apparently?) Watching this again may feel as good as getting nauseous on eggnog, but at least that will give me more time to ponder the mysteries of this Avengers team-up — featuring yet another Santa’s sleigh malfunction (throwback to IndieWire After Dark’s adventure to Pac-Land!); the least compelling Santa since the “Elf” guy reeked of beef and cheese; and some staggeringly misguided use of child actors and animals that peaks with a sheep almost shoving its elementary school-aged handler into a bush.

They say a record-breaking number of people across the United States have been flocking to Florida in recent years, and with the Ice Cream Bunny so readily accessible, it’s easy to see why. Still, the monolithic mobs of singing children leave something to be desired. Here’s hoping they aren’t weaponized in the upcoming election, and that Santa is in a better place where the sun isn’t quite so hot. —AF

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” for free on Tubi or rent it on Prime Video or Apple TV.IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

  • Ski Lift Survival Horror ‘Frozen’ (2010) Is Still the Best Cinematic Homonym in the Game
  • ‘Christmas Comes to Pac-Land’ Is the Chomp-Filled ’80s Christmas Relic You Never Knew You Needed
  • The Late Julian Sands Blows the Lid Off Hulu’s Holiday Horror Comedy ‘A Nasty Piece of Work’

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