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 show looked surprisingly good given its age and origins.
Sharpness was pretty solid. While I couldn’t call the results razor-sharp, I also couldn’t identify any instances of actual softness. Though the image didn’t present killer definition, it appeared more than satisfying in that regard. No examples of jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws seemed minimal. A little grain occasionally interfered, and I also noticed a few specks and marks. These were minor and not an issue.
Colors looked good. The show tended toward solid primary colors, and the results show nice blues and reds throughout the program. At times the tones could seem just a bit more pale than I’d like, but I usually felt they were satisfying. Black levels also seemed pretty deep and dark, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. I wasn’t impressed enough to give the image a grade above a “B”, but I still liked what I saw.
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 minor edginess, it always remained easily intelligible. Music also showed lightly brittle and harsh qualities at times, and those elements 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.
How did the picture and audio of this 2007 Year Deluxe Edition compare to those of the original 2000 release? I thought both DVDs presented similar sound, but the visuals differed. The old transfer boasted slightly brighter colors, but it also showed more noticeable source flaws and some jagged edges. The new image was cleaner and generally more satisfying.
In terms of extras, the DE includes everything from the 2000 disc plus a few new goodies. When we look at the repeated materials, 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!)
Now we head to the DE’s new extras. We discover two featurettes. We Are Santa’s Elves runs 16 minutes, 33 seconds as it combines show clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from historian Rick Goldschmidt, artist Don Duga, director/producer Arthur Rankin, Jr., musical director/composer Maury Laws, artist/character designer Paul Coker, Jr., and actors Bradley Bolke and Rhoda Mann. The program looks at the origins of the Rankin/Bass team and the development of their production company. We learn about the “animagic” process, general issues related to the creation of the specials, songs and scores, and a few specifics about Year.
My only complaint about “Elves” comes from its brevity. I’d especially like to learn more about the overall functioning of Rankin/Bass; the show breezes through those topics pretty quickly. Nonetheless, we get a nice overall view of the studio and learn a reasonable amount about Year as well. It’s a good little show.
Next comes the nine-minute and 36-second School of Stop Motion. It involves notes from Chiodo Bros. Productions’ Charles, Stephen and Edward Chiodo and stop motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen. They provide a look at the history of stop motion animation and how it works. As with “Elves”, the show’s shorter than I’d like, but it offers a nice look at how filmmakers create stop motion work.
Finally, we get some Trailers. This area includes clips for Shaggy and Scooby Get a Clue Vol. 1, Christmas with Tom and Jerry, A Flintstones Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Smurfs Season One.
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 DVD provides fair to good picture and audio along with a very nice set of extras. This is a quality release for an enjoyable program.
Fans who don’t own the prior Year DVD will want this one, but does it merit a double-dip? Probably not. It’s a decent upgrade since it improves picture and extras, but it’s not a huge improvement in either category. If you don’t mind dropping the $20 or so, though, it’s a nice DVD to have.
To rate this film, visit the original review of THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS