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Dec. 2 – The Year Without a Santa Claus

THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS
Original Air Date: December 10th, 1974

Santa’s calling it quits for a while. Let’s see how you deal with that, World!

BACKSTORY


The 1st name in Christmas Specials

Ten years after the debut of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rankin-Bass was still on a Christmas Special hot streak. As with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and The Little Drummer Boy, they’d continued to follow the formula of adapting a well-known Christmas song into an hour-long stop-motion Christmas special.

The Year Without Santa Claus, however, was the first Rankin-Bass special to be based on a newer (or at least, lesser-know) story, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Phyllis McGinely. Better still, they hired Mickey Rooney to reprise his role as Santa Claus, making it not only their first pseudo-sequel (to Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town), but also connecting the Rankin-Bass tales to a singular universe.

Micheal McKean & Harvey Fierstein as Heat Miser & Snow Miser

The special premiered on ABC in 1974 and has aired every year since, currently in rotation over at ABCFamily. The Year Without Santa Claus has remained so popular in fact, it not only received a live-action remake in 2006 starring John Goodman and Delta Burke, it was also followed up with a direct, stop-motion sequel, featuring many of the surviving cast reprising their original roles.

From 2008’s A Miser Brothers Christmas

BREAKDOWN
This is Rankin-Bass’ first attempt at a Christmas Special not based off of a popular Christmas song, and it shows that they’re really bad at titles. The title is basically a lie. Not to enter into spoiler territory but the special probably should’ve been called “The Year We Could’ve Been Without Santa Claus” or “The Year Santa Claus Briefly Considered Retirement” or, more bluntly, “Santa Takes a Nap.”

IT’S CHRISTMAS!

I kid the Rankin-Bass! It’s a wonderful little special that shows what could happen if Santa went away and/or people stopped giving a shit about him. Again, that’s what the special’s about, although certainly not what it’s remembered for.

It’s all over, folks. Nothin’ to see here.

I mean, in that sense all the credit in the world should go to the Rankin-Bass team, because when it comes to this special, without a doubt, the biggest contribution to our collective Holiday memories are the two all-new characters introduced in “The Year Without Santa Claus,” as well as the songs they belt out penned by Jules Bass.

Click to enlarge our custom panorama

In fact, the standard characters: You’ve of course got Santa…

Once again brought to life by Mickey Rooney

Mrs. Claus

Voiced by Shirley Booth, who also narrates the special

And two elves. Jingle and Jangle.

Oh, and Vixen. Damn, almost forgot about Vixen!

But you’ll quickly forget about that crew. Not because they’re useless, mind you, it’s just that you already get who they are. Here are the two we all remember:

The Big Guys!

Heat Miser and Snow Miser. Strangely two of the most iconic characters in all of Christmas Special history, and more to their credit, probably Rankin-Bass’ most famous original characters (give or take a Hermey).

He’s Mister White Christmas…

And I do fear the younger kids out there might find this special a tad dated and boring, which is understandable, but still a tragedy. It’s old timey, and I found Mrs. Claus’ song “I Could Be Santa Claus” just as boring as an adult as I probably did when I was a kid. But the fact remains: Everyone has seen either Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and/or Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. Assuming that’s the case, you should watch The Year Without Santa Claus just to see how comfortable Rankin-Bass had gotten in the medium of stop motion animation.

He’s Mister Sun

Sure, it’s a little cruder then your Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline, but the way the camera swings and sways, the bravely playful way they mess with focus, and the blocking and composition is truly shown to have come a long way since 1974.

The animators seemed to have mastered characters hovering and flying, because that shit happens an almost unnecessary amount of times

So back to the premise, the special opens up with a tired Santa, and what may very well be one of the most evil characters Xmas has ever known!

This Guy

Strange though it may be, Santa’s doctor might go down as the most vicious shithead of any Holiday special. He explains to Santa, “Of course you’re tired, you work yourself to death for people who hate you! Fuck ‘em, you should just quit.”

Got his PhD in being a bitter old fuck

I’m paraphrasing, but regardless of all the other conflict encountered in this special, the scantly seen doctor is the Shakespearean miscreant who sets everything in motion by poisoning Santa’s brain with false logic. EVIL SHIT!

“Science has finally gotten the best of me”

Who is Santa to argue with an MD?! He quits, for the year at least and goes to bed. Mrs. Claus won’t let this stand so she ships Jingle and Jangle off to prove that the world believes in Santa and needs him in their lives once a year. Sadly, the Miser Brothers never-ending weather quarrels send poor Vixen and the elves spiraling to the ground.

Vixen must go incognito


Landing in Southtown, USA, the elves discover kids no longer give a shit about Santa. Unfortunately, while out on their Cheer Reconnaissance, Jingle and Jangle’s ride, Vixen, gets captured by dog catchers. They only way they can get Vixen sprung is by talking to the mayor, because that’s what Mayors do. The Mayor shows little sympathy and laughs at their tale, however, he does claim that if the elves can make it snow in Southtown, he’ll let their reindeer out of impound.

Mayor of being a dick!

There’s a lot of crossed wires as the plot meanders, so let’s just skip to the important parts, huh? Perhaps the greatest parts, almost everyone would say. Mrs. Claus heads to see the Miser Brothers, and here we get to see their unforgettable intro songs. Oh c’mon, you know this one!

Even if you are less familiar with the Hot, Hot, Heat (Miser) reprise.

Without a doubt, these songs and character designs are the big take away from the special. Which is good, because without memorable jams and characters, The Year Without Santa Claus essentially boils down to a series of negotiations.

And you thought Mike Myers invented Mini Mes

It’s actually not unlike a prolonged quest in a video game. I’m thinking of N64 era Zeldas in particular, where you unlock the giant item you want only after handing over a chain of lost items to townsfolks. Although in instead of gameplay, The Year Without Santa Claus has RAZZMATAZZ!

So to get the deer out of jail, the mayor needs a snowstorm. Snow Miser can give ‘em one, but Heat Miser won’t allow it because The South is his territory. Since Mrs. Claus can’t get the bros. to agree, she decides to appeal to a Higher Authority.

Oh, did you think I mean God?! C’mon, don’t be silly. Mother Nature is decider here, and she brokers a deal between Santa and her sons…

Lightning struck the set during production. Heat Miser did not survive.

Heat Miser will allow it to snow in Southtown, and Snow Miser will allow one day of summer at the North Pole.

Nothing clever to say, I just love this shot

And snow in the South rises again! The Dixie populace take this as proof positive of a genuine Xmas miracle. Thus the world believes in Santa again, and everyone gets wind of the retired Santa.

The next headline down reads “Cleveland Leads Way” which is much harder to believe in than Santa Claus

The children of the world flood the North Pole with generosity, deciding that if Santa wants to take a year off, that’s cool.

A Cavalcade of Stereotypes!

And we’ll give him a ginormous Xmas blowout in exchange for all the centuries kindness he’s showed us.

Favors returned

So moved by the act of kindness, Santa is motivated back into the sleigh saddle, uncanceling Xmas at the very last minute

Just beautiful

All in all a warm and fuzzy ending… even if it does turn the title out to be A LIE!

Much like my wife, he comes once a year *rimshot*


No, which is sad, because I honestly don’t think Christ would’ve let any of this bullshit happen under his watch.


Oh yes, and less absent than that title would have you believe! But while it’s great to see Mickey Rooney back in the role of Santa, he’s far less of a mythic hero in this special, and more of an easily duped rube who gives up too quickly.

It’s my turn to be selfish


There’s a lot to love here for fans of classic Christmas specials, but you can sorta see why this one’s been busted down to basic cable because the plot moves considerably slower than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The title misleads you thinking Santa will actually be taking a year off instead of just threatening to. However, it’s possible that a year does pass in those stretches between all the characters globetrotting through a series of negotiations. I can see The Year Without Santa Claus failing to connect with future generations,  but if you’re a stop-motion animation fan, you simply must see how Rankin-Bass’ practical effects craft evolved over time.

PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us – it helps!)

You can pick up The Year Without Santa Claus on its own in the Deluxe Edition DVD or on Blu-ray with included bonus Xmas specials, Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. Of course you don’t have to be a bargain hunter nor a Christmas Special fan to see the value in Classic Christmas Collection, which contains Year along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey and SIX more animated Xmas tales. And if you’re as big a fan of the Miser Brothers as I am, why not pick up a Snow Miser and/or Heat Miser action figure!

MORE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL FEATURES!

YESTERDAY’S XMAS SPECIAL
PREP AND LANDING

 

LAST YEAR’S DEC. 2ND XMAS SPECIAL
SNOWY XMAS IMAGERY FROM DISNEY MOVIES

 

2010’s DEC. 2ND XMAS SPECIAL
FROSTY THE SNOWMAN

 

2009’S DEC. 2ND XMAS SPECIAL
THE SNOWMAN

Comments

Comment from ShyFonzie
Time December 2, 2012 at 11:06 am

Good call on that song being the most absolute memorable part. LOVE IT

IM TOO MUCH

Comment from ninjaemperor
Time December 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Great article Chris! I only saw this one once, when I was 11 or 12, on TV. Although I don’t have a ton of happy memories of it like I do with Rudolph or Frosty, I remember absolutely loving it. Us modern kids don’t hate old shit as much as you think we do :P

Comment from Supergiraffe
Time December 2, 2012 at 7:41 pm

I think I like his one because I don’t see it all the time. I go a couple of years without seeing it so it always feels fresh and new whenever I see it. And the meisers are great.

Comment from CancerMan
Time December 4, 2012 at 10:55 am

Used to watch this every Christmas when I was a kid, but I haven’t seen it in years along with all the other Rankin-Bass stuff.

Comment from punkduck2064
Time December 4, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Great movie, while not one of the strongest Rankin-Bass flicks, it is still a classic.
The wife and I recently purchased the full Rankin-Bass collection and watched it over thanksgiving.
I didn’t realize that there was a live action remake, I will have to track that down.

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