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Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn
Writing Credits:
Romeo Muller

Kris Kringle develops into Santa Claus in this whimsical "origin story".

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 51 min.
Price: $16.98
Release Date: 10/26/2018

• Audio Commentary with Animation Historian Greg Ehrbar
&bull. “The Animagic World of Rankin/Bass” Documentary


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Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (Deluxe Edition) [Blu-Ray] (1970)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 10, 2021)

For me, the most enjoyable Christmas specials were the ones that featured “Animagic”. This form of stop-motion animation from the Rankin/Bass studios created one genuine classic with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and a mix of other fun shows.

One of the more enduring of those comes from 1970’s Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, a special that purports to answer all of our questions about the life of St. Nick. Narrated by a postman voiced by Fred Astaire, the tale gives us a flashback look at the life of Santa (Mickey Rooney).

We go to a northern city called Sombertown. Run by Burgermeister Meisterburger (Paul Frees), a baby turns up on his doorstep.

The gruff leader rejects surrogate parenthood and sends the child - marked only with a tag that says “Claus” - to the orphanage. However, before he gets there, a gust blows him into the Mountain of the Whispering Winds, the home of the evil Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn).

Some forest animals rescue the baby and deliver him to a nearby home of elves named Kringle. Elf Queen Tanta Kringle (Joan Gardner) names him “Kris” and the clan raises him as their own.

There he learns how to make toys, which the Kringles do even though they have no way to deliver the goodies. They’re too small to risk going through the Warlock’s lair.

Kris learns the ropes and promises to move the toys when he becomes bigger. Once he hits adulthood, he follows through on this oath and works his way through the wilds. Kris makes it past the Warlock without too much trouble and he plods toward Sombertown.

Unfortunately, in the meantime the nasty Burgermeister recently made a decision that will negatively affect Kris. The leader slipped on a toy and decided to ban all such goods from his realm.

When he enters town, Kris doesn’t know this, so he hands out the toys. This briefly lands him in hot water with sexy but stuffy schoolmarm Miss Jessica (Robie Lester), but she warms up when he gives her a doll.

As one might expect, Kris can’t buy off the Burgermeister as easily, and the leader’s forces chase our boy out of town. His methods do work when the Warlock captures him, though.

The baddie’s so delighted to get a present that he softens immediately and becomes Kris’s ally. He helps Kris and the other Kringles subvert the Burgermeister’s laws and deliver the toys. The rest of the show follows these actions along with Kris’s low-key efforts to woo Miss Jessica.

As I noted earlier, Town perseveres after more than five decades, and it’s a program that reminds us of the glory days of “Animagic”. I like the show, but I can’t say that it compares tremendously well with the better efforts in the field like Rudolph.

Even 1974’s The Year Without a Santa Claus works a bit better. Town lacks Rudolph’s energy and rough-hewn charm, while it also fails to match up to Year’s memorable irreverence.

This doesn’t mean that Town doesn’t offer a fun and likable piece. It’s just not as good as the others. I watched it right after I saw Rudolph, and it was interesting to compare the two.

Technically, Town distinctly improves upon its predecessor. The characters move more smoothly, and the settings look decidedly more elaborate and detailed. It’s still not a dazzling piece of work, but it shows substantial visual growth.

Both shows enjoy good casts. Astaire doesn’t get a ton to do, but he offers a genial and likable presence. Rooney does fine as Kris, and the usual supporting suspects like Paul Frees help add life to the proceedings.

Town falters somewhat due to its cuteness. I like some of the adorable elements such as the delightful penguin Topper, but the show goes for too much of a sugary tone.

I was surprised to see how angry and aggressive much of Rudolph was, but any menace in Town packs little heft. It presents a less threatening affair that packs less of a punch.

Musically, the tunes of Town seem drab. Rudolph enjoyed lots of great numbers, but outside of the title track, you’ll find little to hum from Town.

Don’t expect Town to muster the charm and spark of something like Rudolph and you’ll probably enjoy it. I think it’s a perfectly likable show with some good moments. It simply doesn’t stand as one of the best of the genre.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The image seemed pretty good.

Sharpness was usually fine. A bit of softness interfered at times, but not to a substantial degree.

Instead, the show mostly came across as fairly well-defined – and maybe a little too well-defined, as the Blu-ray revealed the wires that held up characters at times. I noticed no jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes failed to appear.

Town demonstrated natural grain and lacked print flaws. Early shots wobbled more than expected, which I suspect stemmed from the source, though this wasn’t an issue after the opening credits.

While most Christmas specials utilize broad palettes, the design of Town meant it went with substantially more restricted tones. That’s because the dank setting of Sombertown as well as the icy realm of the Winter Warlock dominated the program.

When brighter elements appeared, however, they looked nicely vivid and concise. Blacks were dark and tight, while the occasional low-light shots looked fairly clean and visible. This became a pleasing presentation.

Taken from the original monaural source, the show’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack lacked ambition. Indeed, if the audio ever did much to broaden past its single-channel origins, I couldn’t detect it.

The mix focused heavily on the front center, and that was fine with me. I’d have preferred a “dedicated mono” rendition, but this was close enough.

Audio quality seemed fine for its age. Speech occasionally came across as a little edgy, but the lines were usually fairly concise. Music lacked much range but showed reasonable clarity, and effects offered acceptable accuracy. This became a decent representation of the source.

How did the 2018 Blu-ray compare to the 2015 BD? Audio seemed identical, as I noticed no differences between the 5.1 tracks of the two.

Visuals showed an uptick with the 2018 disc, though. It offered superior accuracy and colors along with fewer source flaws. Expect a nice step up in quality.

This version of the special comes with an audio commentary from animation historian Greg Ehrbar. He presents a running, screen-specific look at story/characters, design and animation, music, cast and performances, and various bits of trivia/history.

For the most part, we get a generally good chat, though Ehrbar can tend to simply narrate the show a little too much. Still, he brings a decent array of insights along the way.

A documentary called The Animagic World of Rankin/Bass runs 47 minutes and includes comments from animation historian Greg Evanier, filmmakers Henry Selick, Jon Favreau, Kevin Lima, Chris Butler, Graham Annable, Seamus Walsh, Mark Caballero, and Brenda Chapman, writer Allan Neuwirth, pop culture podcaster Adam Murdough, animation historians Jerry Beck and Greg Ehrbar, stop motion animation producers Stephen Chiodo, Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo, critic Will Friedwald and producer Lee Mendelson.

The special discusses the history of the Rankin/Bass partnership, aspects of various productions, and impressions of the shows. While we learn a bit about Rankin/Bass, most of “World” focuses on the participants’ appreciation for their work.

A little of this goes a long way. While we learn some decent notes about the different specials, too much of “World” just praises the productions, so it lacks as much substance as expected.

I can’t call Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town one of the best Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. It plays things too safe and cutesy to really excel. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly enjoyable and pleasant. The Blu-ray offers pleasing visuals along with acceptable audio and a few supplements. Town remains a likable show.

This “Deluxe Edition” of Comin’ can be purchased on its own or as part of a set called “The Original Christmas Specials”. Along with Santa, it includes Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy and Cricket on the Hearth.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN

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