The mall Santa gets a high-tech makeover

The mall Santa, a staple of of many families' holiday traditions, is getting a high-tech makeover.

Eight U.S. malls will feature an interactive holiday village this November, doing away with the traditional Jolly Saint Nick who listens to children's requests for holiday toys, reports Businessweek. At the same time, Scripps' HGTV is rolling out its own version of an interactive holiday experience to 10 malls next month.

The project, from DreamWorks Animation SKG, will eliminate the lines and crowds that typically surround a visit to a mall Santa. Instead, kids and their families will visit a 2,000-square-foot Bavarian-style cottage that shows an animated Shrek welcoming visitors through a window.

Technology will allow families to skip lines. Instead of queuing up when they arrive, families will book appointments for a virtual sleigh ride to the North Pole, while an online wish list will allow kids to send their requests to Santa, Businessweek notes.

"DreamPlace is a modern day way for families to enjoy the age-old Christmas experience of meeting Santa Claus this holiday season and then can be reconfigured throughout the year to feature new DreamWorks characters for other special events or holidays, including Easter and Halloween," chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said on a conference call this week.


While some parents might scoff at Shrek as a holiday icon, DreamWorks Animation has sought to push its animated characters into holiday products, with the company producing holiday specials such as "Shrek the Halls" and "Donkey's Christmas Shrektacular."

The holiday village at the mall "is an opportunity for us to get Shrek back out there and refresh the brand a little," Paul Kurzawa, DreamWorks Animation's head of retail development and entertainment, told the publication.

The malls that include the holiday feature include the Ridge Hill mall in Yonkers, New York and the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California. According to the Glendale Galleria's Website, the DreamPlace "Santa Experience" charges about $50 for a photo package.

For mall operators, the new attraction might help boost traffic after holiday traffic to malls and large retailers slipped almost 15 percent last season.

HGTV's interactive holiday experience will use apps and digital scenes to make it appear that visitors are in Santa's Observatory, the company said in a statement. Its "Santa HQ" will be featured at malls including the Danbury Fair Mall in Danbury, Connecticut and Tysons Corner Center near Washington, D.C.

The store Santa was developed in 1890 by businessman James Edgar, who came up with the idea of dressing up like Saint Nick in his Massachusetts store.