Plot: Rudolph the red-nosed—oops, sorry. Felt like I was stuck in a loop there for a minute. Santa, feeling like the Christmas cheer and good will no longer exists, decides to spend this Christmas nursing his aching body and resting rather than going to deliver presents. Will a Christmas without Santa be no Christmas at all?
After trudging through those two GoodTimes Rudolph specials, I felt we needed a return to form. A nice review of a good Rankin/Bass Christmas special is what we need to get our Christmas spirit back.
The Year Without a Santa Claus is a special I usually watch every year, at least when I see it on, but it’s not on my absolutely must-watch list. Still, I’ve watched it since I was young and have a nostalgic love for it.
Well, it’s been a couple of years since my last viewing, and, for some reason, this was one of those moments where I rewatch a special with a critical eye and end up not being sure of where I stand with it anymore.
The plot is solid enough, though questionable. Santa feels like no one appreciates Christmas or him anymore so he feels fully justified in taking the year off to nurse a cold he’s having. Sick Santa I can deal with, but the only reason he really feels like no one appreciates him or Christmas anymore is because some grumpy doctor started an impromptu rant session about how Christmas sucks, and Santa was surprisingly swayed by this argument.
The only reason I have an issue with this is because it seems out of left field without some event providing support for Santa changing his mind about this outside of ‘yeah, he’s right.’ Maybe preface the movie with last year and how the letters were more selfish or demanding or picky. Have him seeing more bad behavior and whatnot over the course of the year. Don’t just suddenly flip a ‘yeah, kids are little brats’ switch, especially from a character who never appears again.
What’s weird is how the people react to this. First of all, they somehow caught wind of the story that Santa’s taking the year off almost immediately after he makes the decision. This means that, not only do the people supposedly have proof that Santa’s real, but they also have a person on the inside feeding them gossip.
Second, despite part of a following song showing the kids deeply saddened by this news and even believing Santa to be dead, soon after the end of the song, we see a group of kids who all collectively give zero shits that Santa’s not coming for Christmas AND…..we learn that they don’t believe in Santa.
Uh….what? How do you go from stopping two people talking about Santa by saying Santa’s taking the year off to saying you don’t believe in him? How do you mourn the loss of Santa and then not believe in him? How do you have newspaper headlines about Santa with PHOTOS OF SANTA AND MRS. CLAUS and then not believe in Santa?
It’s really surprising that people really don’t seem to care that Santa’s not coming. Even if people have lost their Christmas cheer and good will, surely they’d be sad or angry about missing out on presents.
Another odd thing about the story is that it seems slightly disjointed. At the beginning, you’re kinda tricked into believing that Mrs. Claus might go out and do Santa’s job behind his back, which is actually a very interesting idea considering Mrs. Claus hardly ever gets to do anything outside of cater to Santa’s every whim. But then they scrap the idea after a musical number.
It’s also a bit weird that the song Mrs. Claus sings about being Santa includes lines like ‘anyone can be Santa’. The guy feels like no one appreciates him so straight out say that he’s easily replaceable.
Mrs. Claus sends out two elves, Jingle and Jangle, along with the most adorable reindeer ever, baby Vixen, down to earth to see if they can get some proof that Christmas cheer and good will is still alive and well in the hearts of the people.
Vixen, who has been dressed up as a dog (adorable!) gets sick from the hot weather in Southtown and is caught by a dog catcher. They try to free Vixen by talking to the Mayor, only to get shot down. The only way he’ll free Vixen is if they prove their Santa story by making it snow in Southtown, where it never snows.
They recruit Mrs. Claus and a kid they met, Iggy, to help them by talking to Snowmeiser, the creator of ice and snow and master of the north. They have to deal with the bickering of Snowmeiser and Heatmeiser in order to get it to snow in Southtown, so they decide to go to their mother, Mother Nature, to sort everything out. Snowmeiser makes it snow in Southtown while Heatmeiser agrees to not melt the snow and gets to bring summer time weather to the north pole – successfully confirming global warming and drowning Florida.
Might I add that I love how Mrs. Claus and the others patiently wait as Snow and Heatmeiser finish their unprompted song numbers about themselves?
Meanwhile, Santa heads down to earth after figuring out what Jingle and Jangle were up to and meets Iggy, who was one of the kids who lost his faith in Santa and didn’t care that he was taking a vacation. Santa and his parents convince him otherwise with a very touching song and Santa goes off to free Vixen so he can take her back to the north pole, which he does, without the knowledge of Jingle, Jangle, Iggy or Mrs. Claus.
Despite the snow now being unnecessary for Vixen’s release, there was another condition of the agreement – giving Santa an official holiday so he can have a vacation. Just to keep score, Santa now has two official holidays. Most presidents don’t even get that.
Santa is happy that he gets to rest and relax on Christmas, but after a couple of days of rest, he realizes he’s making a big mistake. He gets sent a bunch of presents from the kids on Christmas eve, and he gets letters that show him how much he’ll be missed on Christmas day.
Guilt-ridden, Santa decides to make the flight and even publicly flies around greeting the townsfolk. Christmas is saved, hooray!
While Rankin/Bass specials are no stranger to odd additions to their films, the side-plot with Snowmeiser and Heatmeiser seems so out of place that it feels like it belongs in another movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like Snow and Heatmeiser (Snow’s better, but maybe I’m biased, being from the north), they have some funny interactions, very catchy songs and good dialogue, but I can’t help feeling like the plot of the snow could’ve been done better without them.
I actually wish this movie had been more down to earth. Maybe had Santa have a bad couple of years or something and send him down to earth on the off-season to see how much Christmas spirit is truly alive in the hearts of the people himself instead of sending Jingle and Jangle off to do it. That song that Santa sings really seems like it belongs in the third act of such a movie instead of the second act of this one.
And, really, what did Jingle and Jangle do that helped Santa recognize the Christmas spirit in others? They, or mostly Mrs. Claus, got snow in Southtown, but it’s not like the rest of the residents knew that was a sign of Santa….in fact, it really wasn’t, because he didn’t make it snow – the meiser brothers did.
It appears as though Iggy changing his mind about it prompted everyone else to start doing the same, even if he never shared these opinions with anyone else outside of his parents.
I will admit, the kids making presents for Santa on Christmas was really sweet. You never think of giving Santa anything but milk, cookies, and a higher risk of diabetes. However, it’s still bugging me that Christmas spirit is waning when they have solid proof that he exists, no matter how many aliases him and his associates use (such as the ever clever “Mr. Claus” (Pronounced “kl-ow-s.”). The fact that he feels free to fly around town, even landing and walking around to talk to people and wave to them, is also very strange. Santa could’ve solved all of his problems if he just did that to begin with if Christmas spirit works that way.
The wonder and magic of Christmas where Santa is involved is in the belief that he exists. Hearing reindeer hooves on the roof, seeing a puff of soot fall from the chimney in the dead of night, seeing the empty plate of cookies and glass of milk etc. I’m almost jealous of kids who still believe in Santa because I never really got to experience that level of belief in something so magical. I don’t really know why – I just never believed in him.
It’s all the more confusing when ‘Santa Claus Comes Tonight’ plays and you see Iggy hiding under his covers to not see Santa….spliced in with Santa flying around town, waving to people like he’s in a parade.
Another thing I have to point out about this movie is the animation. I already addressed the ‘stop motion is creepy, and Rankin/Bass productions are no exception’ thing, but I have never been more aware that I’m watching animated dolls while watching one of these movies. I don’t know if it’s the lighting or the fact that this special is so much more focused on human characters, but every scene screams ‘dolls’ and ‘stop motion’, which is indeed very weird of me to note considering this is stop motion with dolls, but let me explain.
When Rankin/Bass does specials with non-human characters, it’s much easier to get immersed in the environment and forget that these are models, puppets and dolls being animated, no matter how creepy or obvious the animation is. When you have nearly everyone in the special being human, it somehow breaks the immersion much more and makes the animation quirks even more apparent. It’s not necessarily bad, it just takes you out of the full experience a bit.
Where does that leave this special as a whole, though? Well, it has some very great and memorable songs that I would say are even better than the songs in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. That song about Santa is heartstring tugger all the way. I like the idea of the plot, Mrs. Claus, the meiser brothers and the adorable little baby Vixen, but I really feel like the execution could’ve been better. The set up is also pretty flimsy without stronger support as to why Santa suddenly feels this way.
Do I even need to bring up one of the most common criticisms of Santa? Dude, you work one day a year, but you need a damn vacation? I’m aware that he still has a cold and doesn’t do this for any compensation, but it’s still just one day a year.
Do his elves get any days off? I doubt it. They work their asses off all year trying to make toys for millions of kids, probably even through illness, yet they get no respect from the children of the world and no compensation to speak of outside of maybe a place to live. I can even bet they’re back to work on Christmas day to get the jump on next year.
All in all, I still very much enjoyed this special no matter the qualms I have with it. It’s sweet, humorous and definitely has its heart in the right place. I’m still not sure this is an unmissable Christmas tradition, but I would understand if it was or became as such. Like many of Rankin/Bass’s works, it just has a certain charm and warmth about it that you just don’t get today.