Real deer were trained to pull the sleigh. The crew required months to complete the training which also allowed the deer to grow their antlers for the final filming. For shots where it was not possible to use the deer, sophisticated animatronic deer were used.
The role of the Ancient Elf was written with James Cagney in mind. However, even though Cagney liked the film's overall idea, his advanced age and weakened physical condition precluded him from taking the role.
Dudley Moore (Patch) was offered the role of Nigel in the Salkinds' previous film Supergirl (1984), which was also directed by Jeannot Szwarc. He turned it down but suggested his former comic partner Peter Cook, who was cast in the role.