When it comes to the Rankin/Bass library of television Christmas movies, the most prominent specials that come to mind are the likes of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. However, there’s one film in their vault that I feel hasn’t been as entirely appreciated as the other big names. A film with all of the traditional Rankin/Bass bells and whistles that has a healthy amount of heart and humor mixed in. A film that dares to ask: What if we went a year without Santa Claus?
That’s pretty much The Year Without a Santa Claus.
Produced in 1974 and based off of the children’s’ book of the same name, Santa Claus has grown tired and weary from working hundreds of Christmases. Now believing that no one cares or believes in him anymore, Santa decides to call the whole holiday off and take a vacation this year. Despite his desire to rest, Mrs. Claus fears the impending sadness of a year without the big man. Hoping to convince her husband that the people of the world still believe, she enlists the help of two elves, Jingle and Jangle, to travel to Earth in order to find proof of Christmas cheer and merriment.
Along the way they come across a variety of characters, including Iggy, a boy who doesn’t believe in Santa but is convinced when Santa himself, on the hunt for Jingle and Jangle, convinces him to believe once again. Iggy joins the elves, along with Mrs. Claus, when tasked by the town mayor to make it snow in their hot, dry southern town. The only way to do this is to appease the petty, theatrical Miser Brothers, two Gods with the childishness of the famous Greek deities. Snow Miser controls the snow fall of the world, and Heat Miser, likewise, controls the heat. The two are constantly at war with one another, but the North Pole team convince them to put aside their differences to create a little bit of snow in Iggy’s town. With flurries coating the town for the first time in 100 years, the town’s love of Christmas is ignited, sparking children from all over the world to create gifts and write letters to Santa, thanking him for his service. Rejuvenated by this act of kindness, Santa agrees to save Christmas at the last minute.
Like many Rankin/Bass films before it, stop motion animation is once again on full display impressively for the time. The movements are still a little stiff, but you can see how their style had evolved from some of their earliest films. Cell shading and water color backgrounds make a return alongside practical sets, creating settings that are both timeless and cozy. The voice acting isn’t really up to the same quality as what you would hear nowadays, as I’m pretty sure there’s at least one or two line flubs that were kept in. However, the performances that really steal the show and make it all worth it are the Miser Brothers. Dick Shawn as Snow Miser and George S. Irving as Heat Miser are great as the argumentative brothers, generating the most smiles and entertainment throughout the runtime. Additionally, the brothers have their own theme songs where they sing about how cool (or hot) they are, which turn out to be the best songs in the film. Don’t get me wrong, there’s several fun ones like “It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie” and “I Could be Santa Claus”, but nothing really tops the charisma and showmanship of the brother’s performances.
The film takes the idea of “a year without Santa Claus” fairly literally, as the film fails to really tackle anything deeper behind the importance of Christmas to people and what it would be like to have a year without it. The reasoning for the downtick in the belief in Santa is because its labeled as “kids stuff”. There’s no real moral dilemma for these kids, as everything moves so fast and they seem to instantly snap back into believing in him. Also, journalists around the world announce that Santa is taking a year off, and most people seem to accept it, but there’s still people that don’t believe that Santa exists even though the press basically confirms it? It’s a bit confusing what the Santa rules are, as Santa goes out in public and tries to hide his identity by using a fake name, but then rides his magical flying reindeer out in broad daylight. It’s a bit all over the place, even for a kids movie. Santa eventually gets back on his feet, but only after he’s shown how important he is by the kids of the world. They’re afraid of losing Christmas, but it’s unclear if it’s because they won’t be receiving presents or not. It never really hits any deeper emotions than “it would suck if Christmas didn’t happen”, making it feel a bit hollow underneath the shiny Christmas skin.
Even with it’s relatively weak message, The Year Without a Santa Claus is still a nice little piece of Christmas nostalgia. If you haven’t seen it but are a fan of those classic stop motion you may want to give it a watch. The Miser Brothers steal the show and the music is quite jazzy and catchy, so there’s something to like for most viewers. In a year like 2020, it may feel like a year without Santa Claus for many. If there’s anything to take away from this, remember how much the holiday can mean to others, both good and bad. We may be looking at a very untraditional Christmastime this year, but all we can do is keep hopes high and be smart about our actions, because then Christmas 2021 will be a hell of a celebration.
The Miser Brothers are by far the standouts of this special, and if I had to pick one of them to represent with a cocktail, I think I’ve gotta go with Heat Miser. Snow Miser is cool and all, but we get enough snow-themed cocktails once winter time rolls in. Sometimes you gotta warm yourself and wish the weather would just get a little hotter, and then wish it was a little colder once you finally get your wish, you ingrate. Plus, this seems like a great opportunity for me to try out my new blowtorch!
This drink is a terrific blend of sweet and heat, combining the fruity flavors of strawberry and lemon juice with just the tiniest dash of habanero hot sauce (a little goes a long way, trust me). Mixed with a healthy dose of tequila, it’s sure to warm you up in all the best ways. But this drink couldn’t be called the Heat Miser with out a little fire on top. So, for purely aesthetic purposes, we’ll be topping this drink with a traditional flaming lime drop.
Obviously, mixing fire with alcohol can be dangerous if not handled properly. If you decide to attempt to recreate the flaming garnish, be sure you take all precautions into consideration before proceeding. If you’d like to play it safe, don’t even worry about the garnish, as I feel the drink itself captures the essence of Heat Miser without having to ignite anything.
- 1.75oz Tequila Reposado
- 1oz Strawberry syrup
- 3/4oz grapefruit juice
- 1/4oz lemon juice
- 1 dash habanero hot sauce
- Garnish: 1/2 lime
- Garnish: 1 sugar cube
- Garnish: Overproof rum
- Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake.
- Strain into a rocks glass over ice.
- Juice the half of lime in order to hollow it out. Make sure to pack any loose rinds into the lime.
- Place the sugar cube in the lime boat, then douse the cube with a small amount of overproof rum.
- Place the lime boat on top of the drink, making sure it can float and sit upright.
- Using a long lighter or a blowtorch, ignite the sugar cube.
- CAUTION: Do not attempt to blow the flame out! Either smother it with a cup or remove it from the drink and douse it with water in a sink. DO NOT attempt to drink the cocktail with the lime boat still in the drink.