Tuesday, December 2, 2008

JT's Christmas Classics Corner: The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)

When I was a kid, I was quite a conniseur of holiday classics, and naturally the holiday I looked forward to the most was Christmas. Christmas wasn't the holiday that the kid year revolved around merely because of the toys.

It was also about the animated specials!

It was like Saturday morning every night for a week until the blessed day arrived. Although A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) is probably my single favorite yuletide masterpiece ever, I readily acknowledge that Rankin-Bass's stop-motion specials were the backbone of Christmas animated television programming.

And few were better than The Year Without A Santa Claus.

You could definitely argue that Rankin-Bass is the company that contributed heavily to the commercialization of Christmas that Charlie Brown so significantly despised in his own holiday special.

Starting with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1962), the company slowly churned out animated specials that still celbrated the humanistic qualities that make Christmas time so special but they definitley pulled away from the religious trappings of the holiday.

It wasn't until 1968 later that RB produced its first religiously relevant Chrismtas special, The Little Drummer Boy.

As with all RB animated specials, the plotline is pretty simple to follow.

An overworked Santa Claus (Mickey Rooney) finds himself depressed by the growing lack of cheer and Christmas spirit in the humanity he's served faithfully for countless generations and as a result, Santa decides to take a day off.

Yep.. Santa cancels Christmas.

Luckily enough, we idiotic humans have a plucky and wonderful heroine in our corner and her name is Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth).

In an effort to both redeem humankind in the eyes of Santa and help her husband bolster his wavering faith, Mrs. Claus sends two elves and one of the flying reindeer to Southtown USA to find evidence to dispel Santa's misgivings.

However, the only thing that the hapless elves, Jingle and Jangle, find is misfortune as their flying reindeer is nabbed by Southtown's rather mean-spirited dogcatcher.

Mrs. Claus goes down to Southtown herself in order to obtain the reindeer's release but the Mayor of the eternally warm hamlet tells Mrs. Claus that he'll only agree to the release the reindeer under one condition.

It has to snow for the first time ever in Southtown.

Unless you've lived under a rock, or were born sometime after 2002, I shouldn't have to tell you about the solution to the problem that involves two gentlemen by the name of Heat Miser and Cold Miser.

In typical Yuletide tradition, the resolution of the various subplots gives way to the universal message of the season (or at least the non-religious version): Santa is a living symbol of goodwill and charity and embodies the qualities that all humans should strive to emulate all year long and especially on Christmas.

Even as a slightly jaded forty year-old guy, I still find The Year Without A Santa Claus to be a heartwarming morality tale for kids and kids at hart. If this doesn't get you into the holiday spirit, you're probably dead.

Also, if you think this production has lost punch over time then try listening to these tunes without tapping your toes.

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