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The Year without a Santa Claus(TV) (1974)
Weary St. Nick foregoes his gift-giving journey, leaving Mrs. Claus and two elves to revive the Christmas spirit in Santa and the world's children.
For more about The Year without a Santa Claus and the The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray release, see the The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on October 8, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden
Directors: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass
» See full cast & crew
The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray Review
Define classic, please...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, October 8, 2010
You know A Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. Perhaps even A Muppet Family Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas and Frosty's Winter Wonderland. And I'm sure you recall the most famous Christmas television special of all: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But you may not remember The Year Without a Santa Claus, a 1974 Rankin/Bass stop-motion holiday classic that, for one reason or another, has faded from cultural consciousness. I know I didn't. The Miser Brothers were still squabbling in the recesses of my brain, but nearly everything else about the special had completely escaped me. Sadly though, after sliding the film's latest release into my Blu-ray player, it didn't take me long to remember why I abandoned The Year Without a Santa Claus so many years ago.
Having come down with a cold, jolly old St. Nick (Mickey Rooney) becomes convinced that children simply don't care about Christmas anymore. In a sniffly huff, he hangs up his hat and boots, decides to take the year off and leaves dear Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth, who also narrates the proceedings) scrambling to prove Christmas spirit is alive and well. After briefly entertaining the idea of parading around as her husband, Mrs. Claus asks two bumbling elves, Jingle (Bob McFadden) and Jangle (Bradley Bolke), to track down a few people who still believe in Santa. Unfortunately, their mission to Southtown, USA doesn't go according to plan. Not only is their reindeer captured by a dog catcher, the local mayor (Ron Marshall) will only help them if they can make it snow. On Christmas, no less. With more now on the line than her husband's reputation, Mrs. Claus is left with little choice but to seek an audience with quarreling weather-harnessing entities, Snow Miser (Dick Shawn) and Heat Miser (George S. Irving); the same two Misers responsible for keeping The Year Without a Santa Claus alive and kicking all these years. When that doesn't work, she pleads her case to none other than Mother Nature (Rhoda Mann), all in a desperate bid to save Christmas before it's too late.
Before stripping The Year Without a Santa Claus of any mystique, let me make one thing abundantly clear: I can see why some would adore its sugar-brushed charm and syrupy sweet storytelling. As is the case with any beloved holiday classic -- particularly a thirty-seven-year old Christmas special fueled by decades of nostalgia and good ol' warm fuzzies -- childhood experiences, long-standing traditions and fond December memories are powerful forces capable of transforming an otherwise average special into a personal family favorite. And to its credit, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr's stop-motion tale is a cheery seasonal waft of ginger bread goodness; one brimming with cozy fireside songs, colorful characters and a worthwhile message. Snow Miser and Heat Miser prove to be every bit the cantankerous kooks I remembered them to be, and I even found myself chuckling at their rumblings. Jingle and Jangle fumble whatever comes their way, but do so with enough heart to render their comically contrived mistakes all too forgivable. Even Mother Nature, brainy and batty as she is, earns a few grins. And the voice cast? I was transported back twenty-plus years to a simpler time when something like The Year Without a Santa Claus would hold my then-easily earned attention for the better part of an hour.
But oh, is The Year Without a Santa Claus slow. It meanders by with conviction, sure, but there isn't much spring in its step. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is longer than most people remember -- clocking in just shy of Year's bloated fifty-two minutes -- but it bounds along, hurling silver-n-gold set pieces, unforgettable characters and infectious songs at anyone and everyone, young and old, with spirit and vigor. The Year Without a Santa Claus creeps along, taking its grand old time before finally lurching one step ahead. The stop-motion animation is as winning as it ever was, but there's no real sense of grand adventure, no surge of family-friendly peril and no source of pressing conflict. It stews and simmers, slinks and crawls, until Santa inevitably realizes the folly of his ways. Within fifteen minutes, I found myself wondering, "am I really this old?" But as I watched my son slump in his chair, yawn and turn his attention to a pile of Clone Wars action figures, I realized I wasn't the only one struggling to focus. (And he loves quite a few Rankin/Bass gems.) Compared to other holiday television specials, especially other classics from the era, this middle-of-the-roader plods along, stretching a twenty-five minute story into an hour-long bore.
Again, I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who hold The Year Without a Santa Claus in high esteem. Frankly, don't let anyone quash your affection. If this is one of your go-to Christmas traditions, keep it that way and enjoy every minute. Me? I think my family will stick with A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas and other catalog stocking stuffers more attuned to our tastes.
The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like the Blu-ray editions of A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and other classic holiday television specials released by Warner, The Year Without a Santa Claus glides onto shelves with a relatively impressive, source-bound 1080p/VC-1 transfer that, all things considered, should thrill its nostalgic fanbase. Bass and Rankin's stop motion palette is richer and more vibrant than it's ever been, black levels are consistently strong (save three or four poorly lit, coal-tinted sequences), contrast is generally bright and stable, and detail is outstanding for a thirty-six-year old production. Take note of the tiny hairs on each puppet's head, the glistening flakes of snow that litter the film's winter wonderland, the little leaves in Mother Nature's glen and the tiny textures that pepper the various costumes and set pieces. Even a quick glance at the disc's standard DVD counterpart reveals just how dramatic a high definition upgrade the Blu-ray offers. Yes, grain permeates every scene and minor print blemishes aren't uncommon, but the whole of the film has been effectively remastered and faithfully presented in all its stop motion glory. Edges are sharper, colors are purer, the grain is distinct (rather than soupy) and the whole of the encode is more proficient. The Blu-ray transfer doesn't fall victim to significant compression artifacts, ringing, aliasing or banding, and the special's softer shots (of which there are many) are more satisfying. Only a few lingering oddities prove to be a nuisance -- a dark vertical line here, an intrusive hair there -- and each one is inherent to the film's source. A full, frame-by-frame restoration could have eliminated such issues, sure, but a top-dollar overhaul wasn't exactly a viable option in this case (or, honestly, a necessity). All in all, I doubt The Year Without a Santa Claus will ever look better than it does here.
The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's not a lot to say about Warner's 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. It's decent, that much is sure. It lacks the prowess and power of a proper lossless mix, which is a shame. (If only in principle. Even a miracle mix couldn't magically grant Santa Claus' simplistic sound design the head-turning aural wonders of a modern production). And it's fraught with flat, front-heavy dialogue, effects and music, which considering the television special's age and humble roots, really shouldn't surprise anyone. Don't get me wrong, voices are reasonably clean and clear, the LFE channel gets in a few commendable (albeit telegraphed) shots before the credits roll and the rear speakers at least justify their inclusion here and there (despite the fact that their role is a thankless one). Still, dynamics are pinched and underwhelming, the special's soundfield isn't direct or immersive, pans are a wee bit cumbersome, fidelity is spotty and the film struggles with every one of its thirty-six years. Lossy or no, the track isn't bad at all -- it sounds a tad better than its DVD counterpart, and that has to count for something -- but an adequate offering is a far cry from an ideal mix.
The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of The Year Without a Santa Claus doesn't offer much supplemental content -- a pair of "Behind the Story" featurettes are the extent of it -- but two other childhood classics, Rudolph's Shiny New Year and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey are included for good measure. The biggest disappointment though? The bonus films are presented in lowly standard definition. What a shame.
The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Let's be honest: The Year Without a Santa Claus isn't Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It isn't A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas or really an essential Christmas classic. It's slow, thirty minutes too long and, in retrospect, a tad uneventful. Does any of that render the special worthless? Of course not. Nostalgia goes a long way, and I'm sure many a family will still enjoy its quaint charms. After all, I'm just one guy with one opinion and one bored little five-year-old boy. Just because my son and I didn't embrace its frothy adventure doesn't mean you and yours won't love every second. Thankfully, Warner's Blu-ray release is a solid one. Its standard Dolby Digital audio track isn't going to draw anyone in and its supplemental package leaves a lot to be desired, but its video transfer is quite impressive and the disc even includes two additional holiday specials, "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" and "Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey." Granted, the bonus films aren't presented in high definition -- a major buzzkill as far as I'm concerned -- but your kids won't mind (at least not as much as you will). Is it all worth the price of admission? That depends entirely on whether you consider The Year Without a Santa Claus to be a timeless childhood classic or a fanciful relic of a bygone age.
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The Year without a Santa Claus Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Thanksgiving and Christmas Blu-ray from Warner - June 18, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced two holiday-themed titles for Blu-ray release on October 5: the Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and the 1974 stop-motion movie The Year without a Santa Claus. Additionally, the studio will release the Peanuts Holiday ...
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