It may be heresy to say this, given the popularity of Rudolph and all, but The Year Without a Santa Claus is my favorite Rankin-Bass Christmas special. (You know, they’re the ones from the 70s done with the cute little stop-motion figures.)
The Year Without a Santa Claus features Mickey Rooney voicing a Santa who’s tired and sick and decides to take the holiday off, while Shirley Booth (Hazel) is Mrs. Claus, the narrator.
Trying to find some Christmas spirit to restore Santa, two elves and a reindeer (little Vixen — later, she’s disguised as a dog by putting socks over her antlers, which leads to her ending up in the pound, in my favorite bit) run into the Miser Brothers: Snow Miser (Dick Shawn) makes the North cold and covered with icicles, while Heat Miser (George S. Irving) keeps the South hot.
They’re my favorites, because of their vaudevillian songs.
“I’m Mr. White Christmas. I’m Mr. Snow.
I’m Mr. Icicle. I’m Mr. Ten Below.
Friends call me Snow Miser.
Whatever I touch
Turns to snow in my clutch.
He’s too much.”
Heat Miser’s is similar, but he has a Green Christmas in the Sun and a Heat Blister at 101. And hair that looks like Don King’s, only it’s all yellow and orange, like flame.
The two Misers returned in A Miser Brothers’ Christmas, first aired last year and now available on DVD. Irving was again Heat Miser, and he was the best in the show. Since Shawn had passed away, Cold Miser was voiced by Juan Chioran, with Mickey Rooney returning as Santa for a sense of comfortable familiarity.
Since over 30 years had passed between the two movies, the characters do look a little different. Well, except in the case of the Misers, a LOT different; the Misers are the most faithful, thankfully. Mostly, the figures don’t have the glitches of the older animation style. Everything here is smoother, thanks to the aid of computers, although the designs are in the original mold.
The plot is similar, although this time, it’s someone else trying to keep Santa from delivering his gifts. When another brother, North Wind, plots to take out Santa so he can rule the holiday, the Miser Brothers are told by their parent, Mother Nature, to work together to stand in for Santa.
The story starts at a Nature family reunion. I found it hilarious to see the other children, such as Thunder and Lightning, plus the Misers as babies are adorable. (Shame the song during that flashback section is so bad, but maybe it just pales in comparison to the two versions of the original Miser Song.) Everyone still has little versions of themselves hanging around as minions, including North Wind with his crazy purple hair.
The DVD of the new special comes with “What Makes Stop Motion Go”, a 23-minute featurette about the animation, puppet construction, and the voice acting. You can watch The Year Without a Santa Claus on ABC Family channel on December 11 or 12 (this Friday or Saturday), while A Miser Brothers’ Christmas is on in an hour. Or again on the 12th.