A Holiday Celebration
As often happens during the holiday season, time has a tendency to accelerate and escape us. There are decorations to put up, cards and letters to write, parties to both host and attend, shopping to do, packages to wrap, and a million other things to accomplish in those fleeting days of the expiring calendar year. As a result, we often overlook or miss out on the handful of sacred moments that illuminate the true power of love and human kindness. Before you know it, the parties have ended, the gifts have all been opened, and the decorations boxed up and put away for next year. Soon we've settled back into the normal craziness of our daily lives, always looking forward to next year's holiday season when we'll be able to plan ahead and enjoy it more—which, of course, we never do.
This year, you're in luck. Producer/director Amy Schatz (Through a Child's Eyes: September 11, 2001) has given us all a precious gift, in the packaging of HBO's 'Twas the Night. In 30 short minutes, you will be lifted from the chaos of your hectic schedule and transported back to a time when the holidays were filled with wonder and excitement. For Amy allows us to experience this precious time through the eyes of those who understand it best—the children.
Broken into a series of 15 segments, 'Twas the Night is a mix of video montages, music, animation, and interviews that paint a picture of the holidays most of us have long forgotten. "Silent Night" plays over the giddiness of little angels during a church Christmas pageant. Nat King Cole's immortal rendition of "The Christmas Song" underscores a beautiful computer animated sequence of a small town Christmas Eve. An It's a Small World approach highlights an animated rendition of "Feliz Navidad" as sung by Los Lobos. Bette Midler rejoices in the spirit of "Chanukah, Oh Chanukah" for a sky filled with animated revelers. Several young children give us their take on the celebration of life known as Kwanzaa. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters sing "Jingle Bells" over a chorus of video clips showing how much fun we can have in the snow. We join a young animated couple as they wander through a "Winter Wonderland" as voiced by the magnanimous Macy Gray. The great Eartha Kitt sings her Christmas wish list to "Santa Baby" as a group of youngsters tell us what they want for Christmas. The Drifters score a video holiday card showcasing the magic of a "White Christmas." Louis Armstrong's classic rendition of "Wonderful World" is the inspiration for a beautiful series of animated watercolors.
While all of the preceding pieces are wonderful and heartwarming in their own way, three segments define this disc and reveal its true magic. The first is a retelling of Clement Clarke Moore's (or Henry Livingston Jr.'s—depending on who you believe) "Twas the Night Before Christmas" in true Satchmo style by the great Louis Armstrong and enhanced immeasurably by an animated collection of paintings by legendary folk artist Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson). You've never seen it done quite like this. Next is a brief, inspiring look into the life of Sarah, a young girl who overcame a nine-month life struggle with leukemia and returned home in time to celebrate the holidays with her family. Truly something to be thankful for—and a reality check for the rest of us, who too often are consumed by objects and issues which hold little significance in the grand scheme of things. Finally, the most touching segment is also the most simplistic—a despondent animated bunny, adrift on a stormy sea in a tiny boat, desperately searching for the safety and security of home, yet forced to celebrate the holidays with nature alone. A stunning CG sequence punctuated by Judy Garland's soulful rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which can't help but bring a tear to your eye.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, the transfer is crystal clear aside from several segments that include grainy, home movie source material. The colors, especially during the animated sequences, pop off your screen bringing each moment vivid life. No evidence of any heavy handed digital tampering. The 2.0 audio track is more than sufficient, providing the full surround treatment during the touching musical numbers and retreating to normal conversational mode for discussions with the kids. English subtitles are included for those who have trouble deciphering the inspired theories and pontifications of children aged 5-8. No bonus features here, but for what amounts to a short subject PBS-style special, you really don't expect to see any.
At $14.99 'Twas the Night is a quick infusion of highly concentrated holiday spirit. A strongly recommended purchase, pop it into the DVD player when you find a quiet moment for yourself. It will most definitely realign your perspective on the holidays.
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