Each year, millions of American children write letters to Santa that make their way through the Postal Service system. The USPS’ Operation Santa is designed to enlist helper elves to ease Santa’s workload, as the North Pole tends to get pretty hectic this time of year. Director Dana Nachman’s new documentary Dear Santa chronicles the journey of this gargantuan process.
The film provides a pretty broad perspective on the scale of the operation, showcasing how the adult elves do their best to navigate the hordes of letters that come their way. Nachman mostly centers the film around Operation Santa’s efforts in New York and Chicago, though West Coast regions such as Fresno, California and parts of Arizona help paint a full picture of the amount of work that goes into making kids’ dreams come true. For many families in need, a letter to Santa represents the best chance at seeing one’s holiday wishes fulfilled.
Though the narrative bounces around quite a bit, Nachman does single out a few storylines to anchor the film’s broader objective. One child desperately wants a rabbit. Another merely wants to take a ride in a limo after seeing them in films. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for a family to ask for a pet for the holidays, Dear Santa has you covered.
The holiday season can be an awkward time for many, particularly the LGBTQ community. Dear Santa is an inclusive film perfect for all ages, especially the little tots who go to bed eager for a visit from the big man himself. Parents need not worry about a certain secret being revealed.
The holiday genre places a high emphasis on comfort narratives. At times, Dear Santa is a bit of a tearjerker, spotlighting families who lost everything in California wildfires or Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. December has a way of bringing people together, something that the film achieves quite effectively.
The one complaint with Dear Santa lies with its runtime. Eighty minutes is a lot of time to tell a story, but the feel-good energy spreads itself a bit thin in the absence of conflict. Few would expect a film like this to play hard for dramatic suspense and its modest efforts on that front don’t pack a ton of punch. Like many in the genre, a happy ending is pretty inevitable.
Dear Santa is a very satisfying holiday narrative, one that earns its box of tissues next to the remote. Nachman has a keen ability to highlight the real heroes of the holidays, the people who tirelessly work to provide children a chance to smile. A perfect encapsulation of the spirit of this time of year.