Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Mickey Rooney, Shirley Booth, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden, Rhoda Mann, Bradley Bolke
William Keenan, Phyllis McGinley (novel)
From the magicmaking Rankin/Bass studios come three unique and beloved Yuletide favorites boasting delightful stop-motion animation, catchy songs and family-pleasing stories. In The Year Without A Santa Claus, weary St. Nick (voiced by Mickey Rooney) foregoes his gift-giving journey, leaving Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth) and two spunky elves to reawaken the Christmas spirit in Santa and the world's children. Roger Miller tells and sings the saga of gentle Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, an outcast chosen for an important task: escorting a certain expectant couple to Bethlehem. In Rudolph's Shiny New Year, the brave red-nosed reindeer is drafted by Father Time (Red Skelton) to recover the missing New Year Baby.
Runtime: 50 min.
Release Date: 10/31/2000
• “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year” Special
• “Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey” Special
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The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 15, 2007)
While I don't think that 1974's The Year Without a Santa Claus is the best Christmas special ever made, I do believe it contains the greatest holiday song. You can keep your "White Christmas", hold onto your "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", forget about "Silent Night" - I want my "Mr. White/Green Christmas"!
No, these tunes aren't warm or sentimental, and they actually have nothing to do with the holiday. However, I don't care! Also known as the "Miser" songs, these companion ditties are the main reason anyone remembers Year. I'm sure it would have escaped me years ago without the wonderful production numbers that accompany the songs.
As far as I'm concerned, the rest of Year either sets the table for the tunes or it lets us slowly ease out of our joy after they appear. Not that the other parts of the show are bad; actually, Year is a reasonably competent program, though the scenes that don't include the Miser Brothers can't compare with more famous broadcasts like Rudolph or Frosty or The Grinch.
Nonetheless, its claim to fame remains the songs sung by the Misers. The main plot: Santa (Mickey Rooney) feels unappreciated and thinks the world no longer needs him. As such, he cancels Christmas. I wasn't aware that the holiday had become so commercialized that it no longer exists if Santa fails to distribute gifts- does Jesus know about this? Anyway, Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth) tries to spark his spirit. She sends a couple of elves named Jingle (Bob McFadden) and Jangle (Bradley Bolke) plus strangely-young reindeer Vixen - why she's portrayed as younger than the others receives no explanation - to discover some signs of life.
Frankly, the whole story makes little sense. We hear much discussion as to whether folks believe in Santa Claus, but every newspaper reports his existence as factual - his decision to skip Christmas makes the front page! If he doesn't exist, then how did the reporters get this information? Are denizens of the show's world so cynical that they believe absolutely nothing reported by newspapers? It seems to me that in the world portrayed by the program, the question of Santa's existence is moot. They know he's out there, so how is it possible for so many to lack belief?
Because it works for the plot? Yup, that's literally the only reason for this. Anyway, one wee non-believer named Ignatius Thistlewhite (Colin Duffy) - a distant relative of Pete Postlethwaite? - states that if the elves can make it snow in steamy Southtown, they'll believe in Santa. Geez, what hard-edged tykes!
The elves consult with Mrs. Claus, and she agrees to ask the Miser Brothers - Snow (Dick Shawn), who controls cold weather world-wide, and Heat (George S. Irving), who does the same with warmth - to allow some flakes to fall in Southtown. Snow's all for it, but Heat - who feels no one likes him - refuses. Mrs. Claus takes the issue to their mom, Mother Nature (Rhoda Mann), who sets matters straight and the cold sets in among the southerners.
Ironically, all of these machinations end up moot. Santa changes his mind after he receives a pathetic letter from some little girl who whines about how sad she'll be if she doesn't get her new Second Nose-Job Barbie. As such, the fat man decides to rustle up the old sleigh and all's well once again.
Yeah, the show has plenty of flaws, but who cares as long as we get to hear the Miser songs? In case you haven't seen the program, we experience these show-stopping numbers when we're introduced to the boys. Snow comes first, as he and his little Snowettes put on a killer version of "Mr. White Christmas"; how can you top lyrics like "He's Mr. White Christmas/He's Mr. Snow/He's Mr. Icicle/He's Mr. 20-Below"?
Answer: you can't, unless you factor in the variation from his brother. Really, the two tunes are identical except for temperature-related words. Both feature similar choreography as well, with the Big Boys accompanied by their singing and dancing helpers.
It's all simply wonderful. If you haven't seen the show, you can't understand how much fun it is. Perhaps nostalgia accounts for some of its appeal, but by that token, I - and others - should be equally charmed by other goofy holiday tunes. We're not, and make no mistake - for once, I'm not alone on this issue. Check out the reader reviews on IMDB and Amazon and you'll see rave after rave for the Misers.
Year came from Rankin/Bass productions in 1974 and was part of their line of "Animagic" shows. These programs used stop-motion animation plus a little traditional work as well, most significantly for some lip-synch issues. Though the work seems pretty primitive - especially in comparison with lovely movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach - it still appears effective and watchable. For folks in my generation, these shows were our first experiences with stop-motion, and it's fun to re-watch them.
The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B
The Year Without a Santa Claus appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer mixed good and bad to become fairly average.
Sharpness looked pretty good through the show, though not without a price. While the image was usually distinct and tight, I saw more jagged edges than usual, and some edge enhancement also interfered. Again, most of the show presented nice definition, but the edginess created some issues. As for source flaws, I detected light grain, some speckles and black grit, plus various examples of scratches and blotches. The defects weren't terribly heavy, but they marred the presentation. I also saw a little jitter in the image, but I think that resulted from the animation; the jumpiness occurred mainly when the camera moved.
Colors looked great, with some wonderfully bright and bold hues on display. The show tended toward solid primary colors, and the results show excellent blues and reds throughout the program. Black levels also seemed deep and dark, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Despite various positives, the edginess and the source flaws left this one as a “C+”.
The monaural audio of The Year Without a Santa Claus seemed adequate but unspectacular. Dialogue usually sounded fairly natural and distinct; though it occasionally displayed some edginess, it always remained easily intelligible. Music also showed lightly brittle and harsh qualities at times, and it lacked any significant dynamic range, but the songs were fairly clear and smooth. Effects came across as clean and accurate without much depth but also without any concerns related to distortion. It's a bland but decent soundtrack that seemed appropriate for programs of the era.
In terms of extras, we find two additional Rankin/Bass "animagic" shows from the Seventies. First up is 1975's Rudolph's Shiny New Year, a program that may well be the only special devoted to that holiday. The plot relates to the start of the New Year; Happy, the baby New Year, has run away because everyone laughs at his huge ears. Since he's had similar experiences, Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards, the original voice of the character) is dispatched to find the wayward tyke and bring him to his senses. As the show progresses, Rudy travels through the Archipelago of Last Years to find Happy, and he meets a series of wacky partners along the way.
Narrated by Red Skelton, this special has a few moments but it generally seems slow and forced. There's not a lot of magic on display, and the songs are lackluster as well. It's a watchable but bland follow-up to the 1964 original.
I also found the show's message to make little sense. In Rudolph, we learn not to mock others who look different, especially because they might save your bacon someday; the same tone occurs during this DVD's third special, Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. Shiny features a character with a physical deformity - Happy's giant ears – but instead of showing the virtues of his unusual situation, the baby's taught to laugh about it.
Actually, he's told that he should enjoy the fact so many people laugh at him because this means his freaky appendages bring joy to others. Unfortunately, it's clear everyone laughs at him and not with him. Even when little Happy's eyes well with tears, the cruel guffaws continue. It's a frightfully muddled message that makes little sense in this context.
By the way, if you watch carefully, you'll notice some recycled puppets. In one crowd scene, I detected Mrs. Thistlewhite from Year - with a different man. That hussy!
As I alluded above, we also get 1977's Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. Unlike almost all of the other Rankin/Bass specials, this one actually involves Jesus and that whole Bethlehem side of things - no signs of reindeer, elves or snowmen here! I believe the only other R/B shows that go this way are the two with the Little Drummer Boy.
Despite that twist, Nestor really is nothing more than a retelling of Rudolph combined with Dumbo. Nestor is hounded because of his long ears and gets the boot from his home when the owner loses money because of him. His mother runs to help him, but she buys the farm when she tries to protect him from a storm. All alone, Nestor ekes out a living and eventually is chosen to help out a needy couple who expect a baby. And with his heroic efforts, he becomes to toast of the town and everyone loves him, freakishly enormous ears or not!
Although it's not original, Nestor seems fairly entertaining. It helps that the show runs only 25 minutes opposed to the 50 minutes of most R/B "animagic" offerings; the derivative nature of the project might have been more problematic had the program run longer. As it stands, Nestor is a cute and endearing little special.
More recycled puppets: in an early scene, both Jingle and Jangle can be viewed, and we also see the same Mrs. Claus from Year. However, we find a different Santa for reasons unknown, other than possibly the thought that Year's St. Nick too strongly resembled Mickey Rooney. (Actually, given Rooney's diminutive size, it's possible that wasn't a puppet in Year - it might have been the real thing!)
In The Year Without a Santa Claus, we get a generally-decent Christmas special that rises to a higher level due to the inclusion of two fantastic production numbers. The show looks and sounds acceptably good, though neither area excels. The DVD also presents two additional moderately-enjoyable Christmas programs. With a list price of only $19.98, this set is a nice bargain and should make a fine addition to your collection, especially since you can easily set up your DVD player to run the Miser Brothers' scenes again and again and again.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8738 Stars
| Number of Votes: 111