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'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Remastered Deluxe Edition DVD Review

'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Remastered Deluxe Edition DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Special & DVD Details

Producers/Directors: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass / Writers: Jerome Coopersmith (teleplay), Clement Moore (poem) / Music: Maury Laws / Lyrics: Jules Bass

Voice Cast: Joel Grey (Joshua Trundle), Tammy Grimes (Albert Mouse), John McGiver (Mayor), George Gobel (Father Mouse), Robert McFadden, Allen Swift, Pat Bright, Christine Winter, Scott Firestone, The Wee Winter Singers (Clock Singers)

Songs: "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", "Give Your Heart a Try", "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand", "Silent Night", "Christmas Chimes Are Calling Santa"

Original Air Date: December 8, 1974 / Running Time: 24 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled or Captioned
DVD Release Date: October 5, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Frosty's Winter Wonderland ($9.98 SRP) and
in Classic Christmas Favorites Collection ($39.98 SRP)

Buy 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on DVD from Amazon.com:
Deluxe Edition with Frosty's Winter Wonderland Classic Christmas Favorites Collection


A Visit from St. Nicholas is perhaps the best-known poem about Christmas. Rankin-Bass is perhaps the most recognized creator of holiday television. A meeting of the two in the 1974 animated TV special 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (named after the poem's opening line and oft-attributed title) could and should have been legendary. But a gap exists between the two mediums.
The 1823 poem consists of just 56 rhyming lines which you could easily read and even dramatically recite in about two minutes. Rankin-Bass, meanwhile, generally made programs that ran at least a half-hour, or 24 minutes and change by mid-'70s commercial airtime.

To make up the difference, directors/producers Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass and their writer Jerome Coopersmith came up with an original story with which to frame the verses. Therein lies the problem. 'Twas the Night invents the perfectly forgettable plight of Junctionville, a town that has had all of its letters to Santa Claus returned to them undelivered. Apparently Santa Claus is none too pleased with the anonymous editorial printed in the town paper calling him a fake. I don't know that anyone previously thought about Santa's spiteful side, but it's clearly responsible for Junctionville's concern that they won't get to celebrate Christmas this year.

The writer of the letter is not a person but a mouse, a nerdy, negative young mouse named Albert (voiced by Tammy Grimes). Albert's father, Father Mouse (George Gobel), and his master, the human clockmaker Joshua Trundle (Joel Grey, not quite storyteller as his top billing implies) hope to prevent their town from getting slighted by building an ornate musical clock tower in Santa's honor. Alas, Albert breaks that too, dashing hopes of a Christmas of gifts, unless you are familiar with the poem.

Like he's approaching a tall piece of cheddar, Father Mouse (voiced by George Gobel) starts from the top, despite this special supposedly being "told and sung by Joel Grey." Dis Santa in your local newspaper and suffer the consequences: returned mail.

'Twas the Night was created not in the stop motion format for which Rankin-Bass is best known but in traditional cel animation. Stop motion obviously is a more painstaking and time-consuming process. Perhaps that nature of the medium explains why Rankin-Bass' stop-motion works generally impress more than their standard 2-D ones. More went into programs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town than into specials like 'Twas the Night or even the esteemed Frosty the Snowman. With less room for error, it seems like the producers strove to get things perfect before having their characters moved and photographed twelve frames per second.

Not that traditional animation is a piece of cake, even for veterans like Rankin and Bass, but the medium reliably seemed to conjure less magic and charm from the pair. 'Twas the Night isn't bad, but it's only good enough to get by, not something you'd likely wish to revisit every December or expect to find prominently aired on one of the big networks or represented in holiday merchandise sections.

It's even a bit of a stretch to say it deserves to sustain a DVD release all its own. And yet, that is what Warner Home Video has treated it to in this new Remastered Deluxe Edition DVD released early last month (October 2010). Previously, the special had stood as a bonus feature to the 1976 sequel Frosty's Winter Wonderland on its own and in the studio's annually promoted big Christmas TV collection, a 4-disc set presently titled Classic Christmas Favorites.

Brainy negative Albert Mouse learns how Santa is as important to Christmas the Easter Bunny is to Easter in the holiday-minded song "Give Your Heart a Try", which Wikipedia unconvincingly posits is dropped from TV broadcasts over the word "gay." The capped narrator of Clement Moore's famous poem is revealed to be clockmaker Joshua Trundle, seen here with his family.

Though it lacks some of the studio's most beloved works (which aren't Warner properties), a Rankin-Bass fan is likely to have that big set in one of its two incarnations. And I would bet that most who know and love 'Twas the Night are Rankin-Bass fans. That leaves this DVD release of interest to impulsive, unaware parents and fans of the poem.

Speaking about that poem, only in researching for this review did I learn of its authorship controversy.
Though initially published anonymously, it has long been attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. But in 2000 an English professor at Vassar College disputed the credit, claiming Henry Livingston Jr. was more likely the poem's writer. The claim has been taken seriously at least on Wikipedia, which sums up Moore as merely having "claimed to be the author."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though it's billed a Remastered Deluxe Edition and its files are recently dated, 'Twas the Night doesn't look all that great in its standalone disc. There is a bit of wear and tear to distract throughout and the visuals otherwise aren't too presentable. As usual for Warner (by far the leading provider of vintage TV animation on DVD), the colors are vibrant at least. Considering the age and modest origins, the watchable picture is adequate, but I doubt it's significantly better (if it all) than the special's earlier DVD incarnations. There isn't much to say about the DVD's Dolby Mono 1.0 soundtrack. It is dated but clear enough and subtitles are kindly provided (but not closed captioning).

In "Christmas: A Global Holiday", this unidentified elf discusses holiday traditions in the most secular way possible. I'd buy the Trundle Family's enthusiasm on the Special Features menu more if two out of the three extras weren't ads.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Though three listings adorn the bonus menu, only one item will meet most customers' definition of "special features." That is "Christmas: A Global Holiday" (8:45). As its title suggests, this featurette deals not with the featured program but with Christmas itself.
It disperses facts about how the holiday is observed in different parts of the world with someone pretending to be an elf narrating over crude artwork seemingly created on MS Paint. You gotta love a piece on Christmas that mentions Martin Luther but not Jesus Christ. Wow.

The other two entries are trailers for the LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 video game and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: 2-Disc 50th Birthday Edition.

The DVD opens with a promo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas and another for the Classic Christmas Favorites Collection.

The static menus resemble the cover design, with the main screen playing music from the special. There isn't even a scene selection menu.

Not a studio to shy from eye-catching packaging, Warner treats 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to a cardboard slipcover that is embossed on three sides and boldly holographic on all four. Too bad the cover art is neither appealing nor an accurate reflection of the special.

Spoiler warning: Santa Claus, his miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer make a climactic appearance, as expected and front cover advertised. Junctionville's Mayor gives respected clockmaker Joshua Trundle a warm introduction at the unveiling ceremony that's supposed to repair the town's standing with Santa Claus.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

'Twas the Night Before Christmas makes a fine addition to a holiday special TV DVD set, but it is just too darn slight and ordinary to sustain a disc of its own, unaccompanied by any meaningful bonus. Maybe those who really like this program would be happy to own it in a case bearing its title. But there just isn't a price low enough to make this release profitable for Warner and fit for buying and devoting shelf space to. Using just 1.57 GB, or well under half a single-layered DVD's capacity, this disc feels wasteful, especially when you can currently get the special along with Frosty's Winter Wonderland for under $6.

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy on Frosty's Winter Wonderland / Buy in Classic Christmas Favorites

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed November 24, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1974 Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. and 2010 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.