Case Number 22792: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 1974 // 24 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // November 24th, 2011

The Charge

Why does Santa look like creepy little Clint Howard as Balok from Star Trek: The Original Series?

The Case

When letters to Santa from the residents of Junctionville, USA are returned unopened, people begin to suspect something is amiss. While most citizens turn to City Hall for answers, Father Mouse (George Gobel, Hollywood Squares) picks up the phone and calls the North Pole. The explanation is confounding: Someone wrote an editorial in the Junctionville claiming Santa Claus is a fraud. And that's not the half of it. Turns out the piece was written by Father Mouse's far-too-intelligent son Albert (Tammy Grimes). But all is not lost, as clockmaker Joshua Trundle (Joel Grey, Cabaret) -- Father Mouse's boss and landlord -- has a brilliant plan to turn the town's clock tower into a musical tribute to Saint Nick, something the jolly old elf can't possible refuse. Sadly, Albert has a hand in ruining that too. Now it's three minutes to midnight on Christmas Eve and there's no guarantee Junctionville can be redeemed.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Warner Home Video has really lost touch with its customer base. I'm a child of the '70s who thrilled to every Rankin/Bass produced Christmas special, but the world does not need 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Blu-ray.

The creative team of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass are single-handedly responsible to millions of Christmas memories. Their "animagic" stop-motion holiday exploits are the stuff of legend, but they had a hand in 2D animation as well. Frosty the Snowman is a classic. The Cricket on the Hearth is not. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas falls somewhere in between. The music of composer Maury Laws with lyrics by Jules Bass once again strikes a chord -- "Christmas Chimes are Calling, "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand" -- but it's couched in a rather uninspired tale.

Superimposing Francis P. Church's 1897 New York Sun editorial, Yes, Virgina, There is a Santa Claus, on top of Disney's 1953 short Ben and Me (an adaptation of author Robert Lawson's children's book) in which an anthropomorphic mouse saves the day for a troubled human friend, writer Jerome Coopersmith offers us little in the way of new adventure. Despite the fact that Joel Grey is listed as the star and narrator, it's George Gobel's voice work that carries the tale, channeling the same nervous energy that made he and Bob Newhart comedic legends. Unfortunately, the story itself is as thin and transparent as the paper it was undoubtedly written on.

Lampoon me all you want. I loved this special as a kid too. Fact is, it just doesn't hold up against the pantheon of holiday television classics. Perhaps that's why Rankin/Bass was able to churn out two specials in 1974, since the bulk of their storytelling magic went into producing The Year Without a Santa Claus.

various rankin/bass santas

Which brings up something that's always bugged me about Rankin/Bass. Their style is consistently excellent and easily identifiable over 20 years of creative output. So why were they never able to solidify a Rankin/Bass universe in which all their characters exist? We know Rudolph and Frosty had adventures together (Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July) and that Mickey Rooney voiced Santa Claus in multiple tales, so how is that Santa himself looks completely different in all but a few cases? In Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), he's a beady eyed little action figure. In Frosty the Snowman (1969), he looks like everyone's favorite grandpa. In Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970), he goes from Glenn Campbell to elderly Asian. In 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) he looks like an Amish Clint Howard, and in The Year Without a Santa Claus he's back to classic Mickey Rooney. Maybe I'm getting crankier with age. It just irritates me.

Presented in its original 1.37:1 full frame format, there is nothing about this image that screams Blu-ray. In fact, it's nothing more than a dump of the previously released standard def Deluxe Edition (2010), which is also included in this package. The colors may be brighter, but nothing has been done to clean the dirt and damage of the source negative. And if you're looking for an audio upgrade, forget it. This is straight up single channel Dolby Mono, with a Spanish dub thrown in for good measure. Bonus materials consist of an "Animated Comic Book" which is being generous. Christmas: A Global Holiday is a nine minute short that looks to have been pulled together from holiday clipart with a voice over narration explaining the various Christmas customs from around the world. I don't fault the people from Pond Films who created, I fault Warner Bros. for deciding this would be a value add for a 24 min short. Hell, they could have included Rankin/Bass' The Cricket on the Hearth, another 2D animation effort from 1967.

Long story short, if you absolutely need 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in your holiday video collection, the Blu-ray is selling for the same price as the DVD, and you get the DVD copy for free. My only concern is that purchasing it will encourage Warner Bros. to continue this unwise release policy.

The Verdict

Ho! Ho! Hum...

Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 24 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurette

* IMDb

* Music of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas