Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 24, 2021)
Though most Rankin/Bass holiday specials went with their “Animagic” form of stop-motion work, a few opted for traditional cel animation. Of course, 1969’s classic Frosty the Snowman went that way, as did 1967’s less-known The Cricket on the Hearth.
Adapted from Charles Dickens, toymaker Caleb Plummer (voiced by Danny Thomas) lives with his adult daughter Bertha (Marlo Thomas). One day, Caleb meets a cricket named Crocket (Roddy McDowall). Because these insects supposedly bring luck, Caleb invites Crocket to live with the family.
When her fiancé Edward Belton’s (Ed Ames) gets lost at sea during his service in the Royal Navy, Bertha goes blind. Caleb neglects his trade and falls into massive debt via his attempts to find a cure for his daughter.
Desperate for a way to survive, Caleb winds up in the service of cruel miser Mr. Tackleton (Hans Conreid). Stuck in these awful circumstances, Crocket needs to use his lucky side to help the clan.
As a kid, I scarfed down Christmas specials like crazy, and I delighted in annual viewings of Frosty, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and all the other regulars. Did Hearth exist as part of this repertoire?
Nope. Granted, Hearth debuted when I was barely half a year old, so even if my family watched it back then, I wouldn’t recall it.
I assume Hearth received additional airings in subsequent years, but if so, I never saw them – or they occurred before I was old enough to let them lodge in my memory bank. I recall 1973’s similarly titled The Cricket in Times Square but nothing about Hearth rings a bell.
Perhaps I did see Hearth and simply don’t remember. Now that I watch it circa 2021, I couldn’t blame my younger self if he forgot, as Hearth provides a completely mediocre special.
The biggest problem comes from the show’s lack of dramatic momentum or much that hits home. Oh, Hearth pours on the melodrama, what with a blind girl, a lost sailor, and whatnot.
Unfortunately, none of these elements click. Instead, Hearth just meanders along as it pushes toward the inevitable happy ending.
“Meander” really seems appropriate here, especially since Hearth wastes a ton of time with its bland songs. It feels like we get 30 seconds of plot and then divert toward yet another dull production number.
Nothing about the “story” ever makes much sense anyway. If Crocket is so lucky, why does so much pain befall the Plummer family in the first place?
Throw in a “surprise ending” that seems less than surprising and this becomes a pretty poor excuse for a Christmas special. Hearth offers a slow, boring 49 minutes of animated mediocrity.