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DVD Review: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

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It was 1822 when Clement Moore wrote a Christmas poem called “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore, a reticent man as the story goes, insisted that the poem which may have been sent to the New York Sentinel by a family friend be published anonymously. It first appeared in print on December 23, 1823. Years later he acknowledged his authorship and published the poem in a collection of his poetry. Since then it has become as much a Christmas tradition as mistletoe and Christmas trees. Its vision of jolly old St. Nick with his sleigh and its eight reindeer has become embedded in the collective unconscious so deeply that one might say it was Clement Moore and his poem, now more often known by its opening line, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” that created Santa Claus as we have come to know him, and, in some sense along with such other iconic works as A Christmas Carol and “Silent Night,” Christmas as we celebrate it today.

Given this pedigree, it is far from surprising that some enterprising creative team would look to Moore’s poem as a vehicle to compete with the Rudolphs, Grinches and Frosties that were flooding the December airways. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas an animated story about how a little town saves its children from a Christmas disaster wedged between a reading of the actual poem now available on DVD in a remastered Deluxe Edition from Warner Brothers Entertainment, is what they came up with. The fourteen quatrains of the poem are intact, but the real focus of the DVD is the new story they came up with to fill the twenty four minutes of its running time.

The story itself is pleasant enough. Indeed, young children will more than likely find it charming. In the little town of Junctionville, letters to Santa Claus have been mysteriously returned to children. Santa Claus, it seems, is upset because some anonymous St. Nick denier has written a letter to the local newspaper calling him a fraud. It turns out that young Albert Mouse, something of a scientific prodigy, is the culprit. Meanwhile, the town’s clockmaker comes up with a plan to build a musical clock to appease Santa; unfortunately when it is tested it bursts apart. This version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas tells the story of how Christmas manages to be saved for the children of Junctionville—human and rodent. The poem is a frame for the story.

The voice talent is first class. Joel Grey sings and narrates. Presumably it is he, along with some help from Santa himself, who reads the actual poem. John McGiver and Tammy Grimes are also featured. Comedian George Gobel plays the distraught father of the young culprit, Father Mouse.

The DVD also includes a short feature on Christmas celebrations around the world. Set against individual cartoon drawings an elf on roller skates explains some of the different customs of a variety of nations. In Holland children set out shoes instead of stockings for Santa to fill. In England they call Santa Father Christmas. In Japan they copy the American Thanksgiving tradition of having a turkey dinner (perhaps the only time during the year that they eat turkey). While the information is interesting, the presentation isn’t particularly impressive. An animated feature would certainly have been preferable.

In general ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is a pleasant enough story professionally produced with top notch talent. While it never quite rises to the level of some of the modern Christmas specials, some of which have achieved a status almost as iconic as the poem itself, this is a simple tale that will surely keep “visions of sugar plums” dancing in sleeping heads.

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About Jack Goodstein