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A Miser Brothers' Christmas DVD Review

Buy A Miser Brothers' Christmas on DVD from Amazon.com A Miser Brothers' Christmas
Special & DVD Details

Director: Dave Barton Thomas / Writer: Eddie Guzelian

Voice Cast: Mickey Rooney (Santa Claus), George S. Irving (Heat Miser), Juan Chioran (Snow Miser, Flakes), Catherine Disher (Mrs. Claus, Reindeer Elf), Brad Adamson (The North Wind), Patricia Hamilton (Mother Nature), Peter Oldring (Bob, Elf #1), Susan Roman (Tinsel, Dr. Noel, Elf #2)

Songs: "Joy of Christmas Season", "My Kind of Christmas", "Snow & Heat Miser Song", "Brothers Should Be Friends"

Original Air Date: December 13, 2008 / Running Time: 44 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French; Not Closed Captioned
Extras Not Subtitled or Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: October 6, 2009 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Keepcase in Shiny Cardboard Slipcover

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From the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s, Rankin/Bass animated specials were a staple of network television, particularly around the holidays. Since then, the company's largely stop-motion and musical canon has been viewed as a wonderful thing of the past. In recent years, many of the specials have been guaranteed to receive seasonal airings as part of ABC Family's heavily-promoted annual 25 Days of Christmas campaign.

Perhaps the greatest sign that Rankin/Bass programming remains remembered is that a number of sequels have come about this decade.
Among the most visible is this review's subject, A Miser Brothers' Christmas, which gained immediate admission into the 25 Days of Christmas lineup when it debuted on ABC Family last December. From all appearances, this new hour-long special marked a grand return for Rankin/Bass in the form they're best known for. But Arthur Rankin Jr. is in his 80s and Jules Bass in his 70s. Neither receives any credit for Miser Brothers, nor is it clear if they even had to sign off on this project.

The special's predecessor, 1974's The Year Without a Santa Claus, is among the eldest Rankin/Bass productions to have become a property of Warner Bros. The studio, which in 2006 produced a widely-panned live-action TV movie version of Year Without, stays truer to technique here, hiring Canada's Cuppa Coffee Studios to create stop-motion with characters modeled after their earlier incarnations.

Despite their polar opposite preferences, brothers Heat Miser and Snow Miser live next to each other. Santa Claus gives a thumb up to his newly-introduced chief mechanic Tinsel.

Supporting players in Year Without, the two Miser Brothers take center stage here. Once you accept the illogic of their names, you see there isn't much to the siblings/next door neighbors. Heat Miser (voiced again by George S. Irving) likes things hot and fiery, Snow Miser (Juan Chioran) prefers ice and cold. Hurling fireballs and ice bolts at one another, neither is stingy with the elements associated with their temperature of choice. Heat and Snow attend a family reunion, at which point this film's villain is introduced. Their egotistical brother North Wind, who looks like a caricature of Jay Leno, reveals himself to be quite the mama's boy. Secretly, he is also planning to oust Santa Claus, so he can take over Christmas.

Meanwhile, Santa (voiced again by the legendary Mickey Rooney) has gotten himself infirm after making a crash landing on his new super sleigh designed by his young mechanic Tinsel. Seeing no alternative, Mrs. Claus reluctantly agrees to Mother Nature's back-up plan, which lets Heat Miser and Snow Miser handle Santa's holiday tasks. Of course, the often dueling brothers have opposing views on what toys should be made and the like. North Wind and his tiny minions plot to use the Miser Brothers' differences to bring about their undoing, which is to then get Santa out of bed. Once that happens, the standardly diabolical North Wind can topple Santa and Christmas will be his forever!

Mother Nature plans to bring her sons together by letting them fill in for Santa Claus. Surrounded by mirrors illustrating his vanity, North Wind (not Jay Leno) sings a generically evil song.

A Miser Brothers' Christmas is not very good. Rankin/Bass' signature style proves tough to emulate here. Cuppa Coffee's stop motion is sharp and fluid, lacking the jerky, offbeat charm of the old specials' animation. Only the title characters stay entirely true to their existing design. Santa and Mrs. Claus get eye makeovers.
(At least they're here, which is more than can be said for Year Without elves Jingle and Jangle.) While the visuals may establish this project as an exercise in futility, the special's greatest weaknesses lay in its poor writing.

Rankin/Bass had a distinctive storytelling style, one that was blatantly formulaic but that regularly entertained. Not only does this 2008 special fail to honor that tradition, it simply fails, with an endless stream of hot/cold puns that could only amuse Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze. The pacing and tone is all wrong too. It's busy and noisy without rhyme or reason, as if Heat and Snow Miser's shallow, repetitive fighting needs speeding up to clock in under an hour. The best parts are a couple of musical numbers, which it turns out are recycled from Year Without a Santa Claus.

My disappointment doesn't stem from admiration for the predecessor. I only half-remember seeing it before, although I watched it again after this. Unsurprisingly, I found it better and fairly entertaining if not quite spectacular.

I wanted to enjoy A Miser Brothers' Christmas, but it's really tough to. The Rankin/Bass legacy is one I respect and appreciate more than I feel compelled to revisit. I appreciate an attempt to tell a new story in their universe and style. It's especially nice that the Miser Brothers creators were able to get Mickey Rooney and George S. Irving back for their parts. That was probably the best thing about this special, even if today's kids might find Rooney's slightly slurred delivery unsettling.

VIDEO and AUDIO

One area where this DVD cannot be faulted is presentation. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is both as perfect as this format allows. The immaculate picture pops with life and color. The soundtrack makes impact in a few places and always maintains a sufficient presence.

Animators Aaron Woodley and Bronwen Kyffin talk about "What Makes Stop Motion Go" in the bonus featurette. Accomplished octogenarian Mickey Rooney discusses his excitement of voicing Santa Claus, something he's done several times in the past. Samara McAdam speaks among puppets and sketches representing her wardrobe department's contributions to the special.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There is just one bonus feature, but it is a substantial one. "What Makes Stop Motion Go" (23:16) gives us a surprisingly thorough look at production, which this medium always makes interesting. Covered here are the puppets, the animation process, character and set design, the puppet hair, and the voice actors. The crew members interviewed are visibly passionate. And, as this terrific companion piece makes clear, their work isn't really at fault.
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It's the unmentioned script that supplies most of the problems (ones that should have been easy to fix before going through the painstaking animation process). The one small complaint is that the featurette and clips are presented in 1.33:1.

The disc opens with ads for the KidsWB website and Peanuts 1970's Collection, Vol. 1. The Trailers menu adds promos for The Banana Splits, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Christmas, the updated Classic Christmas Favorites set, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Ultimate Collector's Edition, and Mini Ninjas video games.

In typical Warner fashion, the menu screens are static, silent (except for the musical main screen), and populated by standard character graphics. The DVD is equipped with a shiny slipcover that repeats the artwork found beneath it (on the insert-free environmental keepcase), but in a reflective foil way.

We get a brief look at Snow Miser and Heat Miser's infancy in this flashback clip from the North Pole's apparently endless Naughty and Nice visual records. As in "The Year Without a Santa Claus", the big guy is bed-ridden here, though this time it's back problems.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

That classic characters and surviving original voice actors return makes A Miser Brothers' Christmas a project that should excite fans of Rankin/Bass holiday specials. Unfortunately, that demographic is the one most likely to be disappointed by this uninspired affair. With terrific audio/video and a solid bonus featurette that enhances one's appreciation for the program's technical achievements, the DVD is about as good as anyone could hope for. But, while not entirely without merit, the feature itself is a forgettable letdown, the kind of thing that'd be suitable to simply catch on TV, provided you can endure the many commercial breaks, intrusive ads, cropping, etc.

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Reviewed November 19, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Warner Bros. Animation, Cuppa Coffee Studios and 2009 Warner Premiere, Warner Home Video.
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