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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/18/01

The Year Without a Santa Claus
1974 (2000) - Rankin/Bass Productions (Warner)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Year Without a Santa Claus Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B

Specs and Features

124 mins (combined), NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, Rudolph's Shiny New Year featurette (1975), Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey featurette (1977), film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters for The Year Without a Santa Claus, 21 chapters for Rudolph's Shiny New Year and 10 chapters for Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

It's always a holly jolly Christmas when a Rankin/Bass "animagic" film is on the tube. This stuff just screams Christmas for us here at The Bits and for most of our Generation X compatriots as well. So it's with a great big smile on our faces that we take a peek at three Rankin/Bass classics, collected onto one DVD for us by Warner. Oh, happy days!

The Year Without a Santa Claus

There are two reasons and two reasons only to love this film: Heat Miser and Snow Miser. I've always loved their musical themes, and I can't tell you how many times I've had a cross-eyed glaze sent my way when trying to explain their song and dance numbers in this film. Hopefully, more people will get a chance to see this special now that it's on DVD, because it's a super treat.

It's Christmas time, and ol' Santa Claus (voiced once again by Mickey Rooney, who did the honors on Santa Claus is Coming to Town) is feeling Grinchy because kids have stopped believing in him. All this fretting has caused him to catch a bad flu, and now he's considering canceling Christmas altogether. Enter Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus, who's intent on showing her hubby that he's wrong, and that kids everywhere have the Christmas spirit. She sends Santa's top elves, Jingle and Jangle along with Vixen to Southtown, U.S.A. to do some surveillance work. But they step into trouble instead. Their only way out is for it to snow... an occurrence that's never happened in Southtown. That's where ol' Heat Miser and Snow Miser come into the story.

All of the films on this DVD are of the same quality, basically. That is to say that they look really, really good. The transfers are virtually flawless, digitally. Even though the source prints leave something to be desired (check out the 39:58 mark, where there looks to be a fingerprint on the frame), for their age, they still look great on DVD. The audio for all is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0, and it sounds better than TV quality (which is the point).

As I said above, it's the songs that make The Year Without a Santa Claus. The animation is in that animagic, Rankin/Bass style we've all grown to love, so the visuals are just a given. The story is simple and easy to follow. But the fun is all in the songs, which are superb. Do check this out if you haven't already.

Rudolph's Shiny New Year

Also included on this DVD are a pair of other Rankin/Bass Christmas shorts, including this sequel to Rudolph's adventures in 1964. Right after the presents are delivered and Christmas is saved, Santa gets a call from his buddy Father Time (voiced by Red Skelton), who has a pickle of a dilemma. It would seem that the new baby New Year (named Happy) has gone missing because everyone laughs at him. He's got these great big ears, you see. Anyway, Happy has taken off and no one can find him. Without a baby New Year, then can be no Happy New Year... and that could be bad. The last year will just keep going. Enter Rudolph, who goes through the Archipelago of Lost Years recruiting various past Father Times in his quest to find Happy and start the New Year up. His only problem is Eon, a murderous vulture doomed to die at the end of this year. If he can grab Happy and prevent the New Year from coming, he'll live forever. Can Rudolph help save the New Year like he did Christmas?

Rudolph's Shiny New Year is one of the better Rankin/Bass specials. It's not as good as the first Rudolph, but it's better than anything else on this disc. I still love Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July better, but that's sadly not on DVD yet.

The video here is as good as Year, but the source print is much better. This is a crystal clear transfer and looks really good. The sound also rivals the Year portion of the disc, with a straight Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that doesn't thrill, but isn't supposed to.

Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

Also included on this disc is Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. Told and sung by Roger Miller, Nestor is the tale of a donkey born in the time of Jesus Christ, who has ultra-long ears and is made fun of. He's run out of his community of donkeys and meets up with a cherub, who tells him that God has a plan for him. What's that plan, you wonder? Well, I'll bet you it has something to do with Jesus.

Nestor is pretty throw away, and is awfully derivative of Rudolph's tale. But oh, well. If it worked once, it'll work a second time. You won't remember much about this short after you see it, but it's harmless for the kids and presents the same message as Rudolph, with a less fun, more preachy take.

Nestor has the same presentation quality as Rudolph's Shiny New Year, so I don't have any complaints. It sounds just as good and looks just as good too.

None of these three films feature any extras at all, but that's all right. I hope we'll get more Rankin/Bass specials on DVD next year. If we do, you can bet you'll find a review on The Bits. In the meantime, check out this three-fer disc from Warner and stay in the Holiday spirit.

Todd Doogan
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