Directed By: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Starring: Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn
Trivia: This is the 2nd Rankin/Bass Christmas special where Mickey Rooney voiced Santa Claus
Following the success of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, its producers, Arthur Rankin Jr. and Charles Bass, turned out a number of stop-motion animated specials, for both Christmas (1970’s Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town) and other holidays (I always liked ‘71s Here Comes Peter Cottontail, an Easter-themed show, mostly because it featured Vincent Price as the voice of the evil bunny, Irontail). Of them all, 1974’s The Year Without a Santa Claus is my favorite. Based on a children’s novel by author Phyllis McGinley, The Year Without a Santa Claus features some interesting characters, and a handful of toe-tapping songs.
As the story opens, Santa Claus (voiced by Mickey Rooney) is thinking about canceling Christmas, partly because he’s not feeling well (he has a cold), but mostly due to a severe lack of Christmas spirit the world over. Hoping to prove there are still those who love Christmas, Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth), who also serves as the story’s narrator, recruits elves Jingle (Bob McFadden) and Jangle (Bradley Bolke) and sends them off into the world. Along the way, the two get sidetracked and end up stranded in the very warm metropolis of Southtown, U.S.A., where they meet a young boy named Ignatius (Colin Duffy), called “Iggy” for short. At first, Iggy doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but after receiving a visit from the big guy himself (who’s gone looking for his two wayward elves), the boy has a change of heart, and decides to help Jingle, Jangle, and Mrs. Claus in their quest to find some Christmas spirit.
The Year Without a Santa Claus marks the second time Mickey Rooney provided the voice of Santa, having done so four years prior in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (an origin story of sorts where we learn Santa’s history). This time around, though, he’s reduced to a minor character, with Shirley Booth taking the lead as the determined Mrs. Claus (her rendition of the song “I Could be Santa Claus”, where she contemplates standing in for her famous husband on Christmas Eve, is one of the film’s best musical numbers). But of all the characters in The Year Without a Santa Claus, the most memorable are the feuding brothers who control the seasons, Snow Miser (Dick Shawn) and Heat Miser (George S. Irving), both sons of Mother Nature (Rhoda Mann). At one point, Mrs. Claus tries to get the siblings, who can’t stand the sight of each other, to reach a compromise: Heat Miser will allow it to snow in Southtown, where a flake hasn’t fallen in many years, and Snow Miser will relinquish control of The North pole for one day. As expected, neither brother is willing to budge, forcing Mrs. Claus to take the matter up with their mother. The look of these two characters (Snow Miser is decked out in blue and has icicles hanging from his nose, while the much shorter Heat Miser sports fire-red hair) is itself enough to make them memorable, but it’s their respective theme songs (“I’m Mister White Christmas, I’m Mister Snow. I’m Mister Icicle, I’m Mister 10 below”) that seals their fate as the movie’s most intriguing characters.
While not as well-known as Rudolph, A Charlie Brown Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus is a very entertaining Holiday special, and one of the coolest that Rankin / Bass ever created.