Even a Miracle Needs a Hand

I know Christmas is over, but it’s still Christmastide, so I might as well write this review now:

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) – I know I saw this as a kid, and I remember some of the music and that it involved mice, but very little else. It’s a Rankin-Bass production that uses hand-drawn animation instead of stop-motion, which means it looks pretty weird. The plot is also rather bizarre, and yet another example of a Christmas special with a temperamental Santa Claus. Inspired by the poem that might or might not have been written by Clement Moore, but really only using that at the beginning and the end, it’s the tale of a community where humans and talking mice live and work together.

When a precocious mouse child named Albert writes a letter to the local paper calling Santa a fraud, the big guy boycotts the whole town. Yes, the kid signed the letter, “From All of Us,” but isn’t Santa supposed to be able to suss out things like this? This is a version of St. Nick who apparently keeps up on the opinion pages of small-town newspapers, but doesn’t actually know whether individuals are naughty or nice? The mouse’s father, voiced by George Gobel (my wife and I know him from when the Game Show Network had on old Hollywood Squares; he replaced Charley Weaver in the bottom left square), tells him to start using his heart instead of his head. Since he’s also able to call the North Pole on his telephone for information on Santa, I’m not sure faith is even required in this case. I guess it could be a publicity stunt, but I don’t think it’s common for such hotlines to tell you that Santa is mad at you, your family, and your whole town. Seems like the best solution would be for someone else to write a letter to the editor saying, “This one kid doesn’t speak for the rest of us,” but instead the clockmaker the mice live with (voiced by Broadway actor Joel Grey, the emcee in Cabaret) decides to build a giant clock that, at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, will play a song telling Santa they still love him. Unfortunately, the clock falls apart during the dedication ceremony. Turns out that this is also the work of Albert, who wanted to see how it worked. This kid just screws up everything, doesn’t he? The failure of this clock also causes the clockmaker’s other business to drop off, and he’s not even allowed back into the broken clock to fix it. Finally, on Christmas Eve, Albert decides to fix the clock himself, bringing along a book on astronomy for some reason. Maybe some degree of astronomical knowledge is necessary to get a presumably non-electric clock to tell what day it is, but there’s a lot more to it than that. And even if he does have the know-how, wouldn’t he be too small to manipulate the parts? I mean, there were entire gears falling out of it earlier.

Regardless, it works, and Santa shows up to reenact the poem. Santa barely talks, which fits the line “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,” but combined with the fact that he bore a grudge against a town that he only lifted when they kissed his ass, it makes him seem a bit sinister.

Also, why do his reindeer look so much like the mice?

It seems like they don’t show any of these Rankin-Bass specials other than Rudolph and Frosty on network television these days. I think ABC Family might still air this and many of the others, but with cuts for more commercial time. I guess they want you to buy the DVDs. Beth found it on YouTube, but since it’s not officially sanctioned, I don’t know how much longer it will stay there. And you probably won’t want to watch it until next year anyway.

This entry was posted in Cartoons, Christmas, Holidays, Poetry, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Even a Miracle Needs a Hand

  1. marbpl2 says:

    This film (like other Rankin Bass cel animated specials like FROSTY) used designs by MAD magazine contributor Paul Coker.

    • Nathan says:

      I also read that many of the animators for Rankin-Bass would later work for Studio Ghibli. Just so long as we don’t have to see that creepy Santa in anything else.

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