The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) – a Rankin-Bass Production; adapted from the Phyllis McGinley book – Starring Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden, and Bradley Bolke.
Featuring great songs, great vocal acting, the always enjoyable Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation, memorable secondary characters, and an interesting storyline, YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS is a fantastic holiday special from start to finish.
Sure, the characters of Jingle and Jangle (the top two elves at the North Pole) are a bit annoying, but the special even seems to know this, downgrading them from featured performers to sidekick midway through. And as less-than-stellar as they might be, we have great characters in Mrs. Claus, Santa, Iggy, and the legendary but briefly used weather stepbrothers: Snow Miser and Heat Miser.
It’s the Miser Brothers that people remember from the special and they’re just as enjoyable now as they were when I was a kid. Their dual songs, sung to the same music. The Snow Miser’s version goes: “I’m Mister Snow Miser / I’m Mister Cold / I’m Mister Icicle / I’m Mister Ten Below” and it’s a simple, upbeat, enjoyable little song number.
What’s great about the Misers, beside their cool visual look, is that they’re not really villains as much as obstacles. They need to be convinced to help, but not battled and defeated. Each of the Misers, in fact, is willing to help Mrs. Claus – she wants it to snow in Southtown, USA but Heat Miser wants a warm day at the North Pole in exchange – but they don’t want to do anything to benefit the other. Like feuding kids, they eventually help because Mommy (Mother Nature) orders them to do it.
The overall plot of YWASC sees a sick Santa Claus (voiced wonderfully by Mickey Rooney) depressed about the approaching Christmas holiday. He doesn’t feel there’s enough Christmas spirit in the world and he wants a year off from his duties. It’s easy to call Santa out for being more than a little self-serving, and there’s certainly some of that going on, but his decision to want a break is also partly due to the double whammy of being sick and depressed.
Mrs. Claus (the talented Shirley Booth) is the star of the special. After Santa calls all the elves to get them to cancel their preparations, it’s Mrs. C who sends Jingle, Jangle, and the reindeer Vixen off to find evidence of Christmas Spirit. The trio doesn’t find much Santa love, and Vixen ends up getting taken to the dog pound. The dog pound? Yes, the dog pound, because if you put socks over the stub antlers of a young deer, it looks like a dog.
As the trio are partaking in their misadventures, Santa gets a whiff of what’s going on and goes after them, sneezing and blowing his nose in their footsteps. He ends up meeting Iggy and his family and Iggy recaptures his belief in Santa when he learns that his parents still believe in him.
Iggy tells Mr. Klaus (like Klouse, not Claws) about the dog pound and Santa goes that way and he goes to see the Mayor because his dad encourages political activism. Good for him. Iggy falls in with Jingle and Jangle, but the Mayor thinks they’re goofing on him. The Mayor tells them he’ll only believe their story if they can get it to snow, which is what sets off the Miser sequence.
What helps to make YWASC such an enjoyable repeat watch is that the characters’ individual motivations feel very real. Santa is depressed. Mrs. Claus is concerned. Jingle and Jangle are trying to do right by the Clauses. Iggy wants to do his part. Iggy’s parents encourage him to become active instead of simply doing it for him. The Misers are quarreling brothers. Their mom sees the big picture that they’re missing.
Through it all, people are rewarded for doing the right thing by others, by putting their own interests aside and trying to help someone else feel better about their lives. There is a whiff of selfishness when letters from children arrive at the Pole telling Santa they’ll have a “blue christmas without you” (sung to the song) but at least it makes Santa feel important, which allows him stop feeling depressed.
YWASC isn’t my favorite Rankin-Bass Christmas special, but it’s a very, very good one that has great characters, songs, story, and message. In short, it’s exactly what I want out of a children’s Christmas special.
Be sure to check out the Holiday Review Index for all the Holiday-themed reviews to be found at Atomic Anxiety.