Archive for December, 2009

26
Dec
09

The One With The Miser Brothers

I admit that “The Year Without a Santa Claus” is my second-favorite animated Christmas special behind “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”   My partiality toward this particular cartoon has everything to do with the presence of the Miser Brothers, the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser. ABC first showed this Rankin-Bass production in 1974,

In the vein of the animated “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, “The Year Without a Santa Claus” follows the theme of Christmas being in jeopardy and someone having to save it.   In this case, it’s up to Mrs. Santa Claus and Santa’s two main elves, Jingle and Jangle, to try to rescue the Yuletide holiday when Santa falls ill and, under the advice of his doctor, issues a press release saying that Christmas has been cancelled for the year.  This suits Santa just fine since he thinks no one cares about Christmas anymore, anyway.

After Santa’s press release, Mrs. Claus asks Jingle and Jangle to travel from the North Pole to a town where they can find some Christmas cheer.  Jingle and Jangle, along with Santa’s reindeer Vixen, happen upon Southtown USA where  a young boy named Ignatius Thistlewhite is trying to revive a Christmas festival.    Jingle and Jangle encounter various problems in their efforts, not the least of which is the presence of the Heat Miser and the Heat Miser’s half-brother, the Snow Miser.

Santa eventually travels to Southtown to try and help Jingle, Jangle and Vixen (who, by now, is imprisoned in the dog pound and sick due to exposure to the heat of Southtown).  While in Southtown, Santa comes across Ignatius and his parents, who invite him into their home for some tea in an effort to help Santa get over his cold.   The Thistlewhites don’t know the man at their door is Santa Claus because he uses an assumed name.  Ignatius tells Santa that he has come across Jingle, Jangle and Vixen.   Santa is able to track down Jingle and Jangle, who have been unable to get Vixen out of the dog pound.  Santa, Jingle and Jangle  travel to the office of Southtown’s mayor and tell him their story.  The mayor says  he will believe their story only if they can make it snow in Southtown.   When Santa leaves Southtown to return Vixen to the North Pole, Jingle and Jangle call Mrs. Claus  and tell her what’s going on.  Mrs. Claus, Jingle, Jangle and Ignatius travel to see the Snow Miser, who agrees to making it snow in Southtown if his half-brother, the Heat Miser, will allow it.

Mrs. Claus and the others travel to Southtown to discuss their proposal with the Heat Miser.   Although he doesn’t want to, the Heat Miser goes along with the idea–if the Snow Miser will, in turn, allow the North Pole to experience one warm day. 

In an effort to secure the cooperation of the Misers with one another, Mrs. Claus calls on their mother, Mother Nature, who uses her influence to get her sons to cooperate so that Christmas can resume.   When it snows in Southtown, Santa decides to declare the resumption of Christmas.

Among the voice artists in “The Year Without a Santa Claus” were Shirley Booth (Mrs. Claus), Mickey Rooney (Santa Claus), Dick Shawn (The Snow Miser), George S. Irving (The Heat Miser) and Rhoda Mann (Mother Nature).  I have attached a YouTube video which features the musical performances of the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser.  The sources of my information for this entry were the Big Cartoon Database and the Christmas Specials Wiki.

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20
Dec
09

The Misfits Are Still a Hit

No animated Christmas special has been more durable than “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”   This Rankin-Bass perennial favorite, based on the Johnny Marks song of the same title,  premeried on NBC on December 6, 1964. 

There are several characters in the program, the main character among them, who don’t quite fit into their circumstances.  Rudolph doesn’t fit in with the other reindeer because the other reindeer don’t have glowing red noses.  Hermey the Elf doesn’t quite fit in with the other elves in Santa’s workshop because Hermey would rather spend his time being a dentist than a toymaker–toymaker apparently being the raison d’etre of the average North Pole-dwelling elf.  Rudolph and Hermey meet up and come upon a character named Yukon Cornelius.  The three of them manage to find a place called The Island of Misfit Toys, the denizens of which apparently have various defects that render them unlovable by children (as one of them puts it, “No child wants to play with a Charlie-In-The-Box!”). 

Rudolph decides to see if Santa can help the misfit toys so he goes back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.   However, inclement weather places Santa’s annual mission in peril.  It is at this point that Rudolph’s glowing red nose becomes an asset and he leads Santa’s sleigh on its annual journey around the world.

Marks wrote the music for this program, the soundtrack of which contains some beloved tunes, among them “We’re a Couple of Misfits”, “Silver and Gold”, “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year”, and “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle.” 

The original preproduction of the show apparently did not include folk singer/balladeer/actor  Burl Ives, who would play the role of Sam the Snowman and would perform several of the songs in the program.  Originally, Yukon Cornelius (Larry D. Mann) was to perform many of the songs Sam ended up performing.   Ives was most likely brought in as a star name to sell the show to network TV and, in fact, Sam did bear a resemblance to Ives.

Other voice artists to perform on “Rudolph” besides Mann and Ives were Canadian actor Paul Soles as the voice of Hermey the Elf and Billie Richards (using the name “Billy Richards”) as the voice of Rudolph.

I have attached a YouTube clip featuring Sam the Snowman’s performance of “Silver and Gold.”  My main source of information for this entry was the “Rudolph: Behind the Scenes” page on TVParty.com.  Rick Goldschmidt, the author of  “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass”, wrote the text for the TVParty.com page.  Another source of information I used was a “Rudolph” plot summary page from The Internet Movie Database.

02
Dec
09

How the Grinch Stole the Credits

Last night, ABC ran my all-time favorite animated Christmas special, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The cartoon was based on characters which Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) created in the book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, a Random House publication released in 1957.

In December 1966, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” aired for the first time. Animator Chuck Jones, who created arguably some of the greatest cartoons of all time, directed this feature.

We all know the plot behind “Grinch.” The Grinch, who lives just north of Whoville where the Whos live, hates Christmas and the merriment the Whos experience every year during the Christmas season. He hatches a plan to steal all their food and presents on Christmas Eve while they sleep. However, after going through with this nefarious act (with a great deal of assistance from his canine sidekick, Max), the Grinch finds out that it is the meaning of the Christmas season, not the food and presents, that the Whos cherish so much. In the end, the Grinch’s heart grows in size and he reforms, returning all of the items he stole.

To get to the point of my post, the opening credits for “Grinch” list only one voice artist– who was not primarily known for lending his vocal talents to cartoons–while leaving out two other voice artists, both of whom were well known for their work in animation. Boris Karloff was best known as a star of horror movies, so being the narrator of an animated feature and the voice of the title character in this special were new experiences for him.

The uncredited voice artists who performed in “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” were Thurl Ravenscroft and the legendary June Foray. Ravenscroft, who sang the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. was best known as the voice of breakfast cereal spokestiger Tony the Tiger. June Foray’s reputation as a cartoon voice artist speaks for itself (no pun intended). In this annual classic, she was the voice of Little Cindy Lou Who, whom The Grinch encountered when he was in the midst of stealing a Christmas tree from the Whos.

I’ve attached a clip from YouTube from “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Sources of information for this post are biographical information from the pbs.org web site on Chuck Jones, and a page from the “A History of Horror” web site, which includes biographical information on Boris Karloff.