Warner Bros. Animation (December 13, 2008), Warner Home Video (October 6, 2009), single disc, 44 mins plus supplements, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98
Two classic Rankin/Bass characters, Heat and Snow Miser, are back for their own holiday special. This time, the boys are accused of causing an accident involving Santa’s new super sleigh. As a punishment, Mother Nature makes them in charge of Christmas. It is then up to the two brothers to put aside their differences and save Christmas from the jealous North Wind.
The Sweatbox Review:
As far as American Christmas specials are concerned, one the undisputed leaders of the genre are the animated specials created by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Their production company, Rankin/Bass, was responsible for some of the best-known Christmas specials of the television age including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, and The Year Without Santa Claus, among others. Even today, despite new Christmas specials created every year, few ever become perennial favorites like the ones created by Rankin/Bass. This is due to the unique storytelling talents of the writers, the memorable songs used on the shows, and the unique stop-motion animation techniques that nearly defined the style for years to come. Today, many of these cartoons continue to be re-broadcast and some new animated sequels have been created based on the original stories. This includes the most recent update to the Rankin/Bass library – A Miser Brothers’ Christmas.
There have been multiple attempts to cash-in on the popularity of the original Rankin/Bass Christmas specials over the years. In 2001, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys was released by Goodtimes. While not really a sequel to the classic Rankin/Bass cartoon, the story attempted to create several parallels to the original special. In 2005, Classic Media released The Legend of Frosty the Snowman as a sequel to Frosty the Snowman. Finally, last year, Warner Brothers released an official sequel to The Year Without Santa Claus called A Miser Brothers’ Christmas. In the original story, the Miser Brothers, Heat Miser and Snow Miser, argue over a request from Mrs. Claus to permit snow on Christmas in South Town. Eventually, the two brothers reach an agreement and the story ends well, but their appearance caused them to become one of the most well-known of the Rankin/Bass cast of characters.
A Miser Brothers’ Christmas begins with Mrs. Claus telling the story of how Christmas was almost cancelled for the year. It all begins with Santa Claus in the North Pole where his trusted mechanic, Tinsel, shows off the Super Sleigh, a super-fast sleigh that will help Santa do his job in record time. Meanwhile, the Miser Brothers are feuding again, but they must temporarily set their differences aside for their family reunion with their Mother Nature. At the reunion, the dashing and egomaniacal North Wind learns from Mother Nature that should anything happen to Santa Claus that he would take over the duties for Christmas. Sensing his opportunity to shine and be loved by kids all over the world, the North Wind sets out on a plan to sabotage Santa’s new Super Sleigh. Unfortunately for the Miser Brothers, the same day that the sabotage plan takes place, they are fighting each other by throwing snowballs and fireballs at one another. Inevitably, the brothers are accused of being reckless and of endangering Santa Claus who hurts his back on the fall.
Fed up with their rivalry, and as a punishment for their mischief, Mother Nature puts the two brothers in charge of Santa’s duties until he recovers. It is then up for Heat and Snow Miser to put aside their differences so that they can take over Santa’s duties at the North Pole, including overseeing toy-making at Santa’s workshop. With Santa still not fully out of the picture, the North Wind continues with his plan of getting rid of Santa Claus. When Santa realizes that he cannot depend on Heat and Snow to deliver his toys on Christmas, North Wind seizes the opportunity and once again sabotages Santa’s sleigh. This time, he makes it look like Snow and Heat Miser were responsible. Meanwhile, it takes a look back into the brothers’ history on the naughty and nice list by Mrs. Claus to remind them that their bond as brothers is stronger than any rivalry they may have. Ultimately the two brothers join forces and end up saving the day. In the end, the two opposing forces find a way to work together to take down North Wind and save Christmas for everyone.
Is This Thing Loaded?
The Special Features on the disc include a making of feature and trailers for Banana Splits – Hippity Honk Honk, PEANUTS Holiday Collection, Classic Christmas Favorites, I Want a Dog for Christmas Charlie Brown, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Mini Ninjas.
The making of feature is called “What Makes Stop Motion Go” (23:17) and it focuses on recreating the stop-motion world of Rankin/Bass. It features interviews with Bronwen Kyffin (animator), Melissa Nicoll (Puppets Department Head), Aaron Woodley (Animator), Lynda Craigmyle, Brenda Baumgarter (Puppet Builder), Samara McAdam (Wardrobe), Rob White and Allan Meuse (Set Department), Susan Hart (Castin/Voice Director), and Chris Morris (Post Production Supervisor). During the featurette, they talk about how it was a dream of theirs to be part of their own animated Christmas special. They go into detail about the relationship between the Miser Brothers and about the unique challenges of creating puppets and sets for the stop-motion animation cameras. Watching the interviews, we get a good sense of how much fun it must have been to design and create the different puppets. The stop motion animation process is always very unique and it is amazing to see how much effort goes into the production of the special. According to the director of the show, it took a total of nine-and-a-half months to complete the special from start to finish. While the featurette itself is interesting, I wish they could have had more interviews with the voice actors. Only Mickey Rooney (Santa Claus) appears in a brief sound bite about how it was to be Santa Claus.
Warner has released this film in a standard black keepcase with a cardboard slipcase. The cover features the two brothers surrounded by numerous decorative Christmas ornaments and Santa Claus. The back cover features more ornaments with some of the other characters on the show including Tinsel, Mrs. Claus, Mother Nature, North Wind, and assorted elves and a reindeer. It is a basic case with no frills, although I guess you could say the cardboard slipcase is shiny. There are no additional inserts included inside the case. The DVD art looks like the cover with Heat and Snow Miser prominently featured.
Ink And Paint:
As far as stop-motion animation goes, I think that the folks at Cuppa Coffee Studios have done a great job. The attention to detail on these types of movies can make or break a film and in this case I think that they have done the original animation justice. With new CGI technology, it must be tempting to just fix things later on the computer, but I was only able to spot a few computer special effects. Listening to the crew give interviews on the behind the scenes special, it became clear that they all seemed genuinely excited about participating in a Christmas special of this magnitude. In fact, the animation looked great and pretty faithful to the spirit of the original show. The film is featured in a matted 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio.
As a musical Christmas special, I was glad that Warner has released this with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Overall, the track is good, although really it’s just used for the musical sequences. As for the quality of the music, I can’t say that any of them are going to become Christmas classics. The original “Snow Miser/Heat Miser” song, which was featured in A Year Without Santa Claus, is great making the other songs pale in comparison. I did not actually like the opening number which I thought was slightly off-tune. I don’t think it had anything to do with the performers, and probably had more to do with the actual orchestration. That being said, there’s nothing particularly bad about the new songs. They’re just not as memorable or entertaining as the original ones. English and French subtitles are also available.
I don’t know if A Miser Brothers’ Christmas will become a new Christmas classic, but it does serve as a good companion to the original A Year Without Santa Claus. The characters are very entertaining in the original so it was great to see them being spotlighted in a new story. The story itself is standard Christmas fare with a message about brotherly love and family. I think what makes the show worth the time is the special attention to detail in both the character animation and in the sets. As a musical, I’m not sure it is very successful, but the songs are harmless and don’t really detract from enjoying the show. It all comes down to the two main characters and their charisma as they play off of one another. That is what is entertaining to watch and it makes for a fun special to watch at Christmas.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?