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Amongst the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation holiday specials, THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS ($25) is a minor classic that has deservedly gotten an upgrade to high definition. In THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS, Shirley Booth lends her voice to the role of Mrs. Santa Claus, in which she tells of the year that Santa Claus was feeling too sick and too tired to make his annual Christmas Eve trek. Hoping to change his mind, Mrs. Claus sends two trusty elves out into the world to find some Christmas spirit, which she hopes will put Santa in the holiday mood. Of course, the two elves run into problems, which requires the efforts of both Mr. and Mrs. Claus to set things right. By the way, THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS is the special that includes appearances by the characters known as Snow Miser and Heat Miser, as well as their signature songs, which I always end up stuck in my head for weeks after each viewing. Other vocal talents include Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden, Rhoda Mann, Bradley Bolke, Ron Marshall, Colin Duffy and Christine Winter.

Warner Home Video has made THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS comes with a really terrific 1080p presentation, which is certain to delight fans, although the extra resolution does tend to reveal the wires used to make the stop motion puppets fly. Still the picture is fairly spectacular, appearing incredibly crisp and highly detailed. It is amazing to see just how much craftsmanship went into the puppets and to notice the details in each that weren’t plainly visible in standard definition. Colors really pop, especially the fully saturated reds. Blacks are like coal, and the whites as pre as snow. Contrast is excellent and aids in bringing out the tinniest details in the picture. The film elements from which THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS has been mastered do show some minor sign of age, but not to any excessive degree. Grain is present throughout, but it helps maintain the excellent film like quantity of the presentation.

THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital 640kbps soundtrack. Considering the program’s monaural origins, this is a nice upgrade, but lossless would have still been preferable. The remixed soundtrack isn't particularly directional, and for the most part, plays like fattened up monaural, as there aren’t that many sound elements to work with. Active sound effects are not excessive, so the sound designers are left with songs, lots of dialogue and a hint of ambience to work with. Overall, the music makes the most of the spread, and sounds pretty nice. There are some limitations in fidelity, but nothing beyond what I was expecting from a program of this vintage. Dialogue is clean and easy to understand. No other language tracks have been included on the disc, but English and French subtitles are provided.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard program selection and set up features, as well as a few nice extra featurettes: We Are Santa’s Elves (profiles of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass) and Stop Motion 101 (the Chiodo Brothers demonstrate how its done). The Deluxe Edition DVD of THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS is also included as the second disc of this set.

In addition to the main program, the disc one Blu-ray also offers NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY and RUDOLPH'S SHINY NEW YEAR- unfortunately both are standard definition only. Guess they will be both trotted out again during some future Christmas season for their own high definition upgrades.

NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY tells the story of the very first Christmas from the point of view of the title character. Although a donkey, Nestor is a character who has a lot in common with another character immortalized in a Rankin/Bass holiday special- namely Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Like Rudolph, Nestor is an outcast because of his non-conformity. Nestor's ears continually trip him up, so nobody wants him, until a man named Joseph decides that he is the perfect donkey to carry his wife Mary, who is with child, to Bethlehem. When they do arrive at their destination, they discover no room at the inn, so Nestor leads them to a place that has always brought him comfort. NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY features the vocal talents of Roger Miller, Brenda Vaccaro, Paul Frees, Don Messick, Linda Gary, Iris Rainer, Shelly Hines and Eric Stern.

In RUDOLPH'S SHINY NEW YEAR, Red Skelton plays the role of Father Time, in addition to narrating this tale of a runaway Baby New Year, which threatens to stop time from moving past December 31st. Of course, the only individual for the job of finding the missing Baby New Year is Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. With his shiny red nose to guide the way, Rudolph searches through the archipelago of last years to find the infant before he falls into the clutches of Eon- an evil giant bird whose time is almost up. In addition to Skelton, RUDOLPH'S SHINY NEW YEAR includes the vocal talents of Frank Gorshin, Morey Amsterdam, Harold Peary, Paul Frees, Billie Mae Richards, Don Messick and Iris Rainer.

THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS remains one of my favorite holiday specials, and I know I’ll be happily walking around with the Snow Miser and Heat Miser songs stuck in my head for weeks to come. The Blu-ray presentation looks pretty impressive and is a must have upgrade for any Rankin/Bass fan. Recommended.


The Year Without a Santa Claus [Blu-ray]


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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