Review: The Year Without a Santa Claus

I enjoy the type of review that Ken Begg does over at Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension, so I thought I’d give it a shot myself. Our subject today is The Year Without a Santa Claus, the Rankin/Bass holiday classic. Like many others, this was my favorite Christmas special growing up, due almost entirely to the Miser Brothers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

We are introduced to the story by the lead character and narrator, Mrs. Claus.yearwithoutsanta01 She tells us that our story takes place before we were born, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Santa’s feeling a bit under the weather, and thoughts of his impending Christmas Eve activities are stressing him out.

yearwithoutsanta02Mrs. Claus calls on the services of a foul tempered doctor to tend to her ailing spouse but the doctor grumpily suggests that nobody cares about Christmas anymore, and that Santa would be better off staying home to rest. Furthermore, the doctor suggests that nobody even believes in Santa Claus anymore. Santa, proving either highly suggestible or more of a stick-in-the-mud than one would expect, claims to have had the same feelings himself, although he wouldn’t admit it openly before now. Given cover by the doctor’s medical advice, Santa decides to cancel Christmas. Whether or not Santa has the authority to do this, or whether any of the many denominations of Christianity might object, is not really addressed in the film. I imagine those scenes probably ended up on the cutting room floor, to keep the pace of the story moving.

yearwithoutsanta03This brings us to our title sequence and first musical number, “The Year Without a Santa Claus”. This includes the somewhat guoulish line “the children they cried, they thought Santa had died”. Apparently nobody had clued the kids in on the whole “vacation” theme that Santa was going for. Also, these “Santa had died” kids apparently can’t read, because it looks like there’s extensive press coverage.

yearwithoutsanta04

yearwithoutsanta05Next, we are introduced to Jingle Bells, number one elf, and Jangle Bells, his less intelligent sidekick. yearwithoutsanta06This comedy duo are introduced with an old, but still effective, gag in which Jingle Bells takes a telephone call from Mrs. Claus, referring to her that way throughout, only to have Jangle Bells inquire as to the identity of the other party after he hangs up. She apparently has summoned these elves to her house.

We then cut to Mrs. Claus, who is trying on the famous Red Suit, wondering (in song) if anyone would be able to tell the difference if she were to dress up as Santa. yearwithoutsanta07She further reveals that she has often fantasized about being Santa. Yeah, that’s healthy. However, putting aside whatever issues Mrs. Claus has, this seems like a pretty solid plan. Santa is famous for being hard to spot (although the Daily Tribune is getting some nice shots), so I think the disguise would hold up pretty well. Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells walk up to an open window and are initially convinced that Santa has changed his mind about the whole canceling Christmas thing (it remains unexplained why she keeps the window open at the presumably chilly North Pole, or why the elves approach the window to the house rather than the door). However, Mrs. Claus blows the effect by cackling like a madwoman, looking them right in the face, and having a short conversation with them, even though she explicitly acknowledged in her little song that the disguise would only work from behind. yearwithoutsanta09 This convinces her that her disguise-based plan is doomed. On the one hand, I still think it’s a solid plan and she’s giving up on it too quickly. On the other hand, if she can only stay in character for a few milliseconds at a time, perhaps plans involving Mrs. Claus and disguises should be categorically dismissed.

Mrs. Claus has settled on a different plan. She dispatches Jingle Bells, Jangle Bells, and Vixen the reindeer (who has conveniently tagged along with the elves)yearwithoutsanta10 to find some Christmas spirit, on the assumption that once Santa sees evidence of Christmas spirit, he will recommit himself to the whole delivering gifts to children thing. They fly off, and Mrs. Claus goes into Santa’s bedroom do to some ironing (?). Santa offers that he is perhaps not doing the right thing, and asks Mrs. Claus to talk him out of it, but she passive-aggressively declines. However, Santa picks up on Mrs. C’s flaky behavior and deduces that something is up. After several seconds of interrogation, she cracks and reveals her cockamamie plan. (I’m thinking that maybe this woman should not work in espionage). And when Santa learns that she’s sent baby reindeer Vixen off with the elves, he is pissed.yearwithoutsanta11 Discussing the situation, we learn that Mrs. Claus has not even considered the risk that the Miser Brothers present to the people that she’s roped into her stupid plan. Santa decides that he had better go after Jingle Bells, Jangle Bells, and Vixen, and gets dressed. Now, not everybody could pull this outfit offyearwithoutsanta12 but I think Santa does. The man has style. He’s sporting red and yellow striped pants, a purple shirt, a red vest, and a magenta coat, and tops it off with an awesome magenta bowler hat.

And so, with their menace suitably foreshadowed, the Miser Brothers are introduced. First we have Snow Miseryearwithoutsanta13, not to be confused with the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. We’re informed that Snow Miser controls the “northern part of the world”, and that his brother controls the south. One wonders if there are a different set of brothers who have dominion over the southern hemisphere. Interestingly, only Snow Miser is referred to by name at this point, with Heat Miseryearwithoutsanta14 referred to alternately as “his devil of a brother” and “his nasty brother”. So are they trying to build Heat Miser up as some sort of “he who shall not be named” baddie, or are Mr. and Mrs. Claus just dissing him? We’ll have to watch the rest of the movie to see if we can puzzle that out later.

Now we see how ill-conceived Mrs. Claus’ plan really is, as Heat Miser catches sight of what he calls “part of that Santa Claus gang of goodie-goodies”, and is immediately suspicious that their intentions are to start people dreaming of a white Christmas. Heat Miser’s minions catch Vixen in a deadly crossfire of heat rays.yearwithoutsanta15 Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells are thrown off, and start plummeting directly into a commercial break. Luckily, the quick-thinking Vixen swoops in and saves the hapless elves.

The elves and Vixen touch down in Southtown, U.S.A., figuring it’s as good a place as any to find some Christmas spirit.yearwithoutsanta18 The elves, riding on a visibly exhausted Vixen, are pulled over by a cop riding a bicycle. It seems they have been riding the wrong way on a one-way street, and have crossed a white line. Additionally, they are wearing funny-looking suits on a Sunday (and really, why restrict that law to Sundays? These guys would be a travesty any day of the week).

Jingle Bells, the brains of the operation, figures that the cop is persecuting reindeer. He confiscates Jangle Bells’ socks, and creates a dog disguise for Vixen.yearwithoutsanta19 Wow, this special is very disguise-intensive, isn’t it? Fashioning a choke-chain from a belt, Jingle leads Vixen into town. They approach an elderly woman, asking her if she believes in Santa Claus. She doesn’t, despite the extensive press coverage he gets. Put off by these weirdos, she demands to know what kind of animal they have. However, when the elves try to put their cunning “dog” plan into action, it’s revealed that what we thought was some sort of muff around the woman’s hands is actually some sort of demonic cat, which chases Vixen away.yearwithoutsanta20

Meanwhile, Santa has shown up in town, trying to track down the elves. He runs into the cop that gave the elves a ticket earlier, but interprets the cop’s malicious glee over how harshly he expects the judge to treat Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells as a lack of Christmas spirit. I don’t know, Santa, maybe he’d be more serene if he’d been allowed to bust out the baton on those idiots.

The elves and Vixen, however, have been treed by the cat, although Jingle has hypocritically decided to blame the incident on Jangle. It was your plan to dress Vixen up like a dog, Jingle. Take some ownership! Jingle refuses to go home without completing his mission. Jangle, the supposedly stupid one, suggests that perhaps their inquiries should focus on a younger demographic. On their way to a park, they discover that Vixen appears to be ill.yearwithoutsanta21 They quickly assume that this illness is due to having spent several minutes in a warm climate. I’m sure that’s it. It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that she’s got less body mass than either one of you but still carried both your asses all the way from the North Pole to Southtown, U.S.A., or the fact that she was blasted by Heat Miser’s heat rays. Yeah, it’s the climate.

yearwithoutsanta22The elves approach some children, who note that Jingle and Jangle are dressed as Christmas elves. The kids note that “all the papers” have informed them that Santa is taking the year off (no mention of that whole “Santa had died” theory floated during the credit sequence). They don’t seem too put out by it. Furthermore, despite the extensive press coverage, these kids don’t believe in Santa Claus, figuring that belief in Santa is for little kids. The conversation is cut short, however, when the lead kid informs the elves that Vixen has been taken by the dogcatcher.yearwithoutsanta23 Wow, the municipal services in this town are efficient! Vixen has been unattended for like a minute and Animal Control is already on top of it.

We follow the kid, who’s name turns out to be Ignatious Thistlewhite, home. And as he’s about to go inside, Santa pops out from behind a tree (maybe be a little bit more creepy next time, St. Nick).yearwithoutsanta24 Santa adopts the clever pseudonym Klauss, and inquires after the missing elves. Santa sneezes, thereby getting himself invited inside by Iggy’s overly trusting mother. Lady, this is a dude that was lurking behind trees, stalking your son. You might want to be a little more selective about who you invite inside!

Inside, Iggy introduces Mr. Klauss to his parents, and the issue of belief in Santa Claus is immediately raised. Iggy’s Dad, it turns out, does believe in Santa Claus (I guess he reads the papers). When Iggy presses Mr. Klauss for an answer, however, Klauss answers that he also believes. He believes so strongly in fact, that he breaks out into a song, “I believe in Santa Claus like I believe in love.” Now, not that I’m nitpicking, but of course Santa believes in himself. Even solipsists believe in themselves. Generally one’s belief in Santa Claus is more an issue of faith, and Santa himself is hardly an unbiased observer. Of course, in this world Santa also gets extensively covered in the press, so it’s less an article of faith for the average person, as well. Iggy’s father continues the song, and reveals that he had previously had a crisis of Santa-faith, but that Santa showed up in his room one night and pressed the issue.yearwithoutsanta26 Man, Santa’s really aggressive on this whole believing-in-him issue. Meanwhile, Iggy’s Mom looks like she’s put a little something extra in her tea, and is totally spaced out and tripping on the song.yearwithoutsanta27 Iggy, impressed that some old dude he just met on the street still believes in Santa Claus, concedes that he was mistaken on the issue. Iggy then fills Santa in on the dogcatcher/reindeer situation, and Santa is thoroughly freaked out.

After watching Mr. Klauss fly off on a reindeer, Iggy deduces that it was in fact Santa Claus himself, and not some random dude with a white beard, and that the elf-looking guys he met are actually Christmas elves. And their dog must have been a baby reindeer! Now, the last one is quite a leap, despite it being true. Iggy’s father, concerned that the dog pound posesses neither the facilities nor expertise to care for a reindeer, suggest that his shool-age son take the issue up with the mayor. Sensible! I kind of see where Iggy gets it, now.

Coincedentally, Jingle and Jangle have had the exact same idea, and the three of them make their case to the mayor. He has the reaction you’d expect to their laughable story.yearwithoutsanta29 The mayor, figuring that he has little to lose, offers a quid-pro-quo arrangement with the elves. If they make it snow in Southtown (something that hasn’t happened in a hundred years), he’ll spring their dog from the pound, and furthermore will work with every mayor in the country to declare a holiday in Santa’s honor. This dude is connected! And corrupt, since I think his quid-pro-quo with the elves counts as bribery. Still, amused by the situation, the mayor busts out with a musical number, “It’s gonna snow-ho-ho right here in Dixie.” Now, this being clearly established as “dixie”, I feel compelled to point out how few of the residents have southern accents. The bicycle cop might have had one, but nobody else seems to. Odd.

yearwithoutsanta30Meanwhile, Santa has gone to the dog pound, paid the fine, and revealed that Vixen is a reindeer rather than a dog. Very reasonable resolution! However, since Vixen is sick (from the heat of Southtown, remember, not from exertion or being zapped by heat rays) Santa determines that he must care for her before rounding up his stupid elves, and heads back to the North Pole.

Now, Jingle and Jangle’s problem has been resolved, but they remain unaware of that. So Jingle gets the “brilliant” idea to enlist the aid of Mrs. Claus.

yearwithoutsanta31Because her plans have turned out so well! She shows up on a small sled, exposing yet another reindeer to this supposedly deadly Southtown climate. Her plan is to see Snow Miser to get the snow they promised the mayor. yearwithoutsanta32Snow Miser, being awesome, has an elaborately choreographed musical number with his minions that he uses to introduce himself.

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
I’m too much

He’s Mr. White Christmas, he’s Mr. Snow
He’s Mr. Icicle, he’s Mr. Ten Below

Friends call me Snow Miser
Whatever I touch
Turns to snow in my clutch
He’s too much

I never want to know a day that’s over forty degrees
I’d rather have it thirty, twenty, ten, five, and then it freeze!

He’s Mr. White Christmas, he’s Mr. Snow
He’s Mr. Icicle, he’s Mr. Ten Below

Friends call me Snow Miser
Whatever I touch
Turns to snow in my clutch
Too much.
Too much!

After his formal intro, Snow Miser sits himself on his throne and adopts a friendly attitude toward Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus informs Snow Miser of Santa’s “bad cold”, which he finds unfortunate since “[he]’d have given him a good one”. Snow Miser reveals that he’s a big fan of Santa, since he’s “the best advertisement snow-biz ever had.” Initially eager to deliver the requested snowstorm, Snow Miser informs Mrs. Claus that he’ll be unable to help, since the south is under the control of his step-brother Heat Miser. Even if Snow Miser tried to send some snow to Southtown, Heat Miser would simply turn it into rain or fog. Mrs. Claus, however, gets Snow Miser to agree to deliver the snowstorm, should she manage to negotiate an agreement with Heat Miser.

yearwithoutsanta33Heat Miser, of course, has his own musical number to introduce himself. It’s got the same tune as Snow Miser’s theme, but with a slower tempo.

I’m Mr. Green Christmas, I’m Mr. Sun
I’m Mr. Heat Blister, I’m Mr. Hundred-and-one
They call me Heat Miser
Whatever I touch
Starts to melt in my clutch
I’m too much

He’s Mr. Green Christmas, he’s Mr. Sun
He’s Mr. Heat Blister, he’s Mr. Hundred-and-one

They call me Heat Mister
Whatever I touch
Starts to melt in my clutch
I’m too much

I never want to know a day that’s under sixty degrees
I’d rather have it eighty, ninety, one hundred degrees
(oh some like it hot, but I like it really hot)

He’s Mr. Green Christmas, he’s Mr. Sun
He’s Mr. Heat Blister, he’s Mr. Hundred-and-one

They call me Heat Miser
Whatever I touch
Starts to melt in my clutch
I’m too much
Too much!

Heat Miser is understandably unhappy to meet Mrs. Claus, since he believes that Santa unfairly favors cold over heat. Mrs. Claus, despite having absolutely no leverage, asks Heat Miser to let it snow in the south. At first he’s incensed, but then Heat Miser offers to do it, if something is in it for him. Something like… the North Pole! Mrs. Claus tries to put him off by claiming that a decision like that would be up to Snow Miser, not her. Heat Miser calls her bluff, though, pointing out that she can call Snow Miser on the hotline. yearwithoutsanta34Predictably, Snow Miser balks at handing over the North Pole (although Mrs. Claus seems kind of blase about it, despite the fact that the entire Santa operation is built on an ice cap, and would plunge into the sea if Heat Miser had his way). Heat Miser and Snow Miser seem unlikely to agree, so Mrs. Claus decides to go over their heads and talk to the Miser Brothers’ mother. Mother Nature! (This, naturally, raises the question of who the two fathers are, but that isn’t addressed).

yearwithoutsanta35Over tea, Mother Nature is unsurprised to learn that the Miser Brothers were uncooperative. She uses her powers to summon the brothers in question, and dictates a compromise: It will snow in the south for one day, and there will be one nice spring day at the North Pole. The Miser Brothers still seem disinclined, but Mother Nature busts out the lightning and gets them to acquiesce (I suppose she subscribes to the Teddy Roosevelt talk softly/big stick school of diplomacy).yearwithoutsanta36

Santa arrives home and tends to Vixen. He finds a note from Mrs. Claus that informs him that she’s taking care of the Jingle and Jangle situation. Given Mrs. Claus’ track record you’d think this would freak Santa out something fierce, but he instead concludes that things are well in hand and decides to rest and tend to his cold.

yearwithoutsanta37Meanwhile, the snow has arrived in Southtown. Knowing that the elves have him dead-to-rights on his hastily negotiated deal, the mayor now has no choice but to deliver on his end of the deal. You see, hubris is the mayor’s fatal flaw. As promised, the mayor has somehow arranged for all of the mayors to simultaneously declare a holiday (the mayor of Southtown scoffs at federalism!).yearwithoutsanta38 Distressingly, if you look at the subheadlines in the paper, New York has suffered yet another menagerie escape. I don’t know who’s in charge of those New York menageries, but it seems like every time we see a paper we read about another one breaking loose!

yearwithoutsanta39In honor of the holiday for Santa, children all over the world decide to ship him a bunch of gifts. Apparently this thing has gone international. The mayor of Southtown is even more connected than I thought!

One little girl, however, is not down on this whole “day off for Santa” business, and has written a letter to Santa, which we experience in song. yearwithoutsanta40With the double-whammy of this “blue Christmas” letter and presents from the children on the world, Santa is overhwelmed by Christmas spirit, and gets his ass in gear for Christmas Eve. yearwithoutsanta41To the classic carol “Here Comes Santa Claus”, Santa takes his sleigh and visits Southtown, somewhat less stealthily than usual. Mrs. Claus provides a redundant voiceover over a montage showing that people were happy that Santa brought them presents.

And we close with the song “There’ll Be No Year Without a Santa Claus”, to the same tune as the opening number.

Afterthoughts

While he’s not as bad as the Santa in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (where Santa taunts Rudolph for being a mutant), all of the action in this movie is driven by Santa being a jerk. However, given what an airhead Mrs. Claus is, and what a bunch of idiots his elves are, you can kind of sympathize with him. I think that if I spent 364 days a year with those goons I’d be in a bad mood, too.

Most of the people who like this special seem to prefer Heat Miser to Snow Miser. Personally, I think Snow Miser has a better song (I think it works much better with the faster tempo) and is more charismatic. He seems to find the fun in what he’s doing, and has a dryer sense of humor. Heat Miser is more of a hothead (ha ha), and does live up to his devilish, nasty billing when he figures he can stick it to Snow Miser and the Clauses by demanding the North Pole. I think that people are largely responding to the character designs, and Heat Miser’s funky, distinctive hair, which I do agree is appealing.

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One Response to Review: The Year Without a Santa Claus

  1. […] thing I was doing I’m not sure I’d be able to keep that up, but posting the review for The Year Without A Santa Claus the other day was a ton of fun, so I think that if I can use review writing to give me breaks from […]

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