"We need to stop these sequels from coming, but how?"—Chief Grinch Michael Stailey
Some holiday memories are best left just as they are.
We've suffered through John Goodman as Frosty (Frosty Returns, 1992), Jim Carrey as The Grinch (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 2000), a freakish CGI Rudolph (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & The Island of Misfit Toys, 2001), a live-action remake of The Year Without a Santa Claus (2006), and now this. I don't get it. Are we truly that devoid of holiday storytelling creativity that we keep going back and rehashing a handful of tales from the 1960s and '70s? Let's get it together people, before someone at Warner Bros. partners with ABC to greenlight a modernization of A Charlie Brown Christmas featuring the stars of every Disney Channel series!
Deep breaths, deep breaths…
Welcome back to Christmastown. As the Claus family hurriedly prepares for yet another successful Christmas season, Mother Nature gathers her family together for a board meeting. (Did you know the elements had their own corporation? I didn't.) The sibling rivalry is palpable with our anti-heroes, Heat Miser and Cold Miser, languishing at the bottom of the popularity list, forever trying to kill one another. But admist all the ruckus, the devious North Wind is moments away from executing his well-designed overthrow of Christmas by getting rid of Santa once and for all. Can icicle breath and hot head set aside their differences long enough to help Mrs. Claus and Tinsel (chief elf mechanic) save the family business from a hostile takeover?
Does anybody really care?
Look, I'm part of the first generation audience for these original holiday shows. Each holds a fond place in my heart and have become annual viewing in the weeks leading up to Christmas. They succeeded because of their creative skill in adapting previously celebrate works of literature and music by the likes of Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Phyllis McGinley, and Gene Autry. And of those original shows, there were plenty of stinkers as well—'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974), Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey (1977), The Stingiest Man in Town (1978), The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), Pinocchio's Christmas (1980), He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985), and so on. The problem is once you start adapting adaptations, the law of diminishing returns kicks into overdrive and what results is a waste of money, time, and energy for everyone involved. Granted, no one sets out to make a bad film or television special, but at some point you have to realize you're heading towards a dead end…or a cliff.
But I digress…
ABC Family and Cuppa Coffee Studios (who are responsible for creating such beloved shows as JoJo's Circus and Rick & Steve) do their best to emulate the classic Rankin/Bass style, from Paul Coker's original production design to the wonky Animagic character movement. The care and attention that went into making this special is quite impressive, but it all lives and dies by story which is sorely lacking. Writer Eddie Guzelian, who gave us one of the rare inventive Disney direct-to-DVD sequels, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, misses the mark completely, with stilted dialogue, corny motivations, a meandering plot, and bits lifted from other better shows (A Wish for Wings That Work, The Nightmare Before Christmas). It lacks any sort of audience investment, and as a villain The North Wind is nothing more than Kelsey Gramar as Sideshow Bob, in both looks and personality.
The real trouble may lie in the fact that these boys are wonderful supporting characters but fail to carry a story by themselves. Guzelian tries to peel back the layers on what started the life-long feud between them, but it's so ham-fisted you can't help but roll your eyes. Even when they do resolve their differences, the musical number that accompanies it—"Who is Better Than a Brother"—could have been written by Phoebe Buffet. It's that bad.
In terms of performances, Mickey Rooney and George S. Irving reprise their roles as Santa and Heat Miser, but we're missing the passion of Shirley Booth as Mrs. C and the great Dick Shawn as Snow Miser. Here, Mrs. C is completely toothless, the antithesis of the original characterization. As an aside: Why not use the original character designs for Santa, Mrs. C, and Mother Nature, when they went through so much trouble to replicate everything else?
In the end, the story is weak, William Kevin Anderson and Sonia Levitin's music is forgettable—the original Heat Miser/Cold Miser song is featured twice; once in its original form, and once as a "look-we-love-each-other-now" reprise—and the whole thing feels more like a Nickelodeon meets Moral Orel send-up than a continuation of the classic.
Presented in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen, the visuals are crisp and bright, making us wonder just how could those original Rankin/Bass shows would look if shot today. A Dolby 5.1 mix is nice, but there's nothing here that necessitates the power. There's only one bonus feature, which is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show and the process of stop-motion animation. Great for the adults, but the kids will care less.
If you're really hard up for holiday specials to entertain the rugrats, they will likely be entertained. For adults with fond memories of these characters, skip it and watch the original. This will only leave you frustrated. Guilty!
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