Review Date: 1/1/11
Directed By: Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass
Cast: Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney
Unbelievably, I never saw this classic holiday special as a child and was always puzzled when people would talk about Heat Miser and Snow Miser. It was even more troubling because no one could remember the name of the show that they came from, so it remained a bizarre enigma for me. Seeing it now for the first time, I was unimpressed. Is it because I'm old and cynical, and other Rankin/Bass productions benefit from childhood nostalgia? Partially, but I also think that "The Year Without A Santa Claus" is technically weaker than the other Rankin/Bass holiday specials. Unlike "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", the animation is more static and it looks like they cut a lot of corners to deal with a much smaller budget. Additionally, the songs aren't very memorable, and Shirley Booth and Mickey Rooney have a terrible time trying to sing in character. It all comes off as a bit of a mess.
As far as the story goes, it's based on a short story by Phyllis McGinley where Santa Claus (Mickey Rooney) catches a cold and decides to take a vacation. Christmas is cancelled and Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth) unsuccessfully tries to fill in. She also sends two elves out into the world to find some Christmas spirit, and they naturally foul everything up. Of course everything turns out okay in the end and Santa goes about his gift giving business as usual. What's interesting about this show is the prominent role of women. Mrs. Claus boldly steps up to the plate to take over for Santa, Vixen turns out to be a female reindeer (causing some confusing continuity issues), and Mother Nature herself shows up as the Highest Power. This introduces a curious Pagan angle to the overly commercialized Christian holiday tradition, but overall the story fails to gel and is overloaded with corny sentimentality.