Next up in Rankin/Bass month is the 1974 short ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. This is a traditional animation take on the 1823 poem of the same name. The poem of course opens with the line ‘not a creature was stirring not even a mouse’. Well, this movie takes that quite literally and tells the story of both man and mouse in the house.
While the animation isn’t the best (particularly the eyes look strange throughout on the characters), this is a really cute entry from the Rankin/Bass team. It basically tells the story of a human cloc maker named Joshua Trundle who works with a mouse called Father Mouse to make the clocks. Unfortunately the mouse son Albert is overthinking Christmas and has written an editorial in the paper claiming Santa is a fraud.
Unfortunately Santa reads the letter and is offended and decides to send back all the town’s Santa letters, both mouse and human, and skip their Christmas all together, which is quite extreme when you think about it but it works!
So the mice must help appease Santa and convince Albert to believe in things he can’t see or explain with science. The plan is quite elaborate where they will build a singing clock that will entice Santa to come to their town after all. Albert eventually see’s the error of his ways and agrees to go inside the clock and repair it. It’s really a sweet little story here. Nothing that will blow you away but it is cute and has a nice message. It’s definitely not subtle but none of these specials are and this one surprised me with the creative storytelling without being too weird. I also felt like they treated Albert’s lack of a belief more kindly than some other more Christian based films might have.
The music is nice and the vocal performances by Joel Grey, George Gobel and John McGiver are all very pleasant. It’s only 25 minutes and so I would give it a watch if you get a chance. Its really adorable.
As I have said several times on the blog during Scrooge month I am trying to be positive and so if I completely dislike a version I will skip it. So far the animated versions of Christmas Carol have not been very entertaining (Mickey’s being the exception).
They are pretty much all musicals and the songs aren’t great and they end up feeling boring rather than entertaining.
However, there are a few that while not great have some things to recommend so I’ll cover them. So is the case with the 1978 Stingiest Man in Town. It is actually a remake of a version I’ve actually covered in my Basil Rathborne review.
They kept all the songs including the Santa Claus song which I wish they had skipped but most of the other songs are ok. The animation is done by the Rankin/Bass team who primarily focused on stop motion holiday specials such as Little Drummer Boy, Jack Frost, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman etc.
Like I said, it’s not a good movie. In fact, in some ways it’s terrible but it did just enough to warrant a review where I wouldn’t feel overwhelmingly negative.
Couldn’t find a trailer but here is the opening song to give you a feel.
Scrooge- Walter Matthau
B.A.H. Humbug- Tom Bosley
Marley- Theodore Bikel
Young Scrooge- Robert Morse
Fred- Dennis Day
Past and Present- Paul Frees
Bob Cratchit– Sonny Melendez.
Scrooge is voiced by Walter Matthau which like George C. Scott is a strange choice because his voice is so American. And why in an animated feature would you cast a different voice for young scrooge? Live action does this because an old actor cannot usually pull off a young look. In animation that isn’t a problem and our voices are basically the same.
So his voice just doesn’t fit Christmas Carol. Plus, I keep waiting for him to tell a joke. I’m so used to Walter Matthau meaning comedy and I know he played grumpy curmudgeons in movies like Grumpy Old Men but it didn’t quite work here.
Differences- Well, the big difference is there is a narrator voiced by Tom Bosley named B.A.H. Humbug (isn’t that hilarious Bah Humbug is his name?). Groan. He is very annoying. Makes Jiminy Cricket look like a seasoned pro.
As I mentioned they also include the Santa Claus song which doesn’t belong in this story. This is a story about Christmas and redemption. Leave Santa Claus to the Santa Claus stories…
Aside from the Santa Claus song the rest of the songs are fine. I’ve certainly heard worse. I can see why they were popular enough from the 1956 version to warrant a reuse. An Old Fashioned Christmas is a pretty good carol and the other songs are decent songs.
There are also segments that feel heartfelt and are pretty accurate to the book and the scenes with Isabel and Scrooge I liked well enough. So the content wasn’t that bad. It’s just the appearance and the voices and a few other odd touches that felt off.
All of these segments were pretty good.
The scenes in the Pawn Shop and with future are very well done and creepy. And aside from the bug and the Santa scene it is fairly accurate to the story so for kids it’s not a terrible way to introduce them to the story (although much better ways out there so why bother?)
The voicecast gives it their all and Theodore Bikel is very good as Marley. Also frequent Rankin/Bass collaborator Paul Frees is very good in his various roles.
Also some of the backdrops and settings are lovingly drawn. It seems hard to believe that many of Rankin/Bass went on to work for Studio Ghiblin and Hiyao Miyazaki. So different!
Well there are a lot. First of all, the animation is just weird. All of the characters look like bobblehead dolls with giant heads and small bodies. It looks so odd.
This is going to sound mean but they look like Sloth from the Goonies. I don’t know why they made that choice in the design?
Also like I said the Santa Claus and Matthau’s American comedic voice is distracting. But there is a heart to all the performances, the story and music that is sincere and pleasant. It just felt weird and I couldn’t get over the look of the human characters. Plus, the addition of B.A.H. Humbug was super lame.
I can picture if you like things that are a little bit strange and you like animation that is odd looking than you might enjoy this. Those are the big hurdles that kept me from enjoying it completely. It wasn’t for me but for a particular type of viewer I think it could be a lot of fun. Maybe I’ve just grown soft because of the bad animated versions I saw. I don’t know. With all its faults, this was at the top of the pack if you can believe it…
Things are looking better than ever for the Disney’s Christmas Carol. Definitely my favorite feature film animated version. Still will be reviewing the Tim Curry version and Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol also by Rankin/Bass I believe. Both by special request. We will see!