OD'ed on fruitcake? Reached your patience limit with your family, no matter how much you love them? The lazy hometowns bringing you down during the holidays? Fear not, deliverance from ennui is nigh. Check out Rankin and Bass's classic The Year Without a Santa Claus (TYWSC) available on DVD, sample clips of it available on YouTube (see them below).
Out of all the holiday specials, The Night Before Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, A Christmas Carol, Rudolph's Shiny New Year, and many others, it is TYWSC (1974) that I remember best and most fondly.
TYWSC is an animation masterpiece by the remarkable Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rankin/Bass had a prolific stretch of productions using stop-motion puppet animation (“Animagic"), beginning with the ever-popular Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1962.
Many of these Rankin/Bass “Animagic” productions are interesting on several levels, since they often pulled the holiday away from religious moorings (with a couple of exceptions) and contributed to the huge holiday commercial machine (music, decorations, TV, now video and DVD) but at the same time celebrated the secular humanist qualities of Christmas, such as cheer and the pleasure of giving or sharing for their own sake. TYWSC, like some of these others, is in fact a pagan, feminist, and still moralizing tour de force.
The plot follows basic script-writing rules by introducing problems that must be resolved by a cast of heroes, foes, and helpers. The magic is in the details.
Santa (Mickey Rooney's voice) is under the weather and is uninspired, thanks to the ingrates around the world. Christmas has lost its spirit and become reduced to a hollow, ugly "gimme gimme" entitlement to things detached from any deeper human principles. So Santa decides to leave his red suit in moth balls this year (yes, there are moths in his North Pole chateau).
Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth) is the heroine of the story. Behind the male lesser hero is a strong woman, and Rankin and Bass foreground her. In this sense, the production is a kind of unveiling of the hardly self-made cheer-giver by showing how dependent he is on his generous yet assertive wife. Mrs. C sees Santa is depressed by what he generalizes as a loss of Christmas spirit and cheer in the humanity he has served so generously over the years. So she sends two elves and a reindeer down to Southtown in search of evidence that will dispel Santa's suspicions and re-inspire him. But Jingle and Jangle, the charming and hapless elves, get into trouble and their tiny reindeer Vixen falls prey to a villainous dogcatcher.