DVD Talk
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
HD DVD / Blu-ray
International DVDs
Theatrical
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
DVD Stalk
DVD Savant
High-Def Revolution
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum
Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

DVDTalk Info
Review Staff
About DVD Talk
Advertise
Newsletter Subscribe
Join DVD Talk Forum
DVD Talk Feeds


Sponsored Links
Search: For:
Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Original Christmas Specials Collection (Blu-ray)
The Original Christmas Specials Collection (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // October 16, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted December 10, 2018 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
P R I N T
Printer Friendly
There's good news and not-so-good news regarding The Original Christmas Specials Collection, a 5-show set of enduring holiday season shows produced by Rankin/Bass, who came to specialize in such product. The five specials included, not at all clear from the front cover art, are Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Cricket on the Hearth (1967), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970).

The good news is that this set includes some fine new extra features, including several informative audio commentaries and a feature-length documentary about the coThere's good news and not-so-good news regarding The Original Christmas Specials Collection, a 5-show set of enduring holiday season shows produced by Rankin/Bass, who came to specialize in such product. The five specials included, not at all clear from the front cover art, are Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Cricket on the Hearth (1967), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970).

The good news is that this set includes some fine new extra features, including several informative audio commentaries and a feature-length documentary about the company and its workings. The bad news is that the high-def video masters are singularly blah, looking no better than earlier Blu-ray releases, and not much better than even earlier DVDs. They're still on the soft side, and don't "pop" like that should. Partly this may be due to the fact that Rankin/Bass library has changed hands almost relentlessly. According to Wikipedia: "General Electric's Tomorrow Entertainment acquired the original Videocraft International in 1971. The pre-1974 library, including the "classic four" Christmas specials, remained under the ownership of GE. In 1988, Lorne Michaels' production company Broadway Video acquired the rights to the 1960-1973 Rankin/Bass television material from GE. In 1996, Golden Books Family Entertainment acquired Broadway Video's family entertainment library and was later folded into Classic Media in 2001. In 2012, DreamWorks Animation bought the studio, and renamed it DreamWorks Classics. In 2016, Dreamworks Animation was bought by NBCUniversal." Where the original film elements for these shows currently resides, and whether its current rights holders are even interested in properly remastering these titles is anyone's guess. For now, the shows in this set look just okay.

If you were a child of the 1960s or ‘70s, these specials were a very big deal. Miss ‘em and you had to wait an entire year to see them again, if they were repeated at all. (Four of the five usually were.) With the possible exception of The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), the one with "Heat Miser" and "Snow Miser," Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa Claus is Comin' particularly represented the apex of the form. Their only real competition through the years has been A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), but those, of course, were adaptations of other works, clever and artful though they certainly are.

The Rankin/Bass shows often used popular holiday songs as a jumping-off point, but were mostly profusely original. Beginning with Rudolph and refined slightly over the years, Rankin/Bass built a team of uniquely talented people, and produced their specials in unusual, varied ways. Most were supervised by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, with scripts by Romeo Muller, music by Maury Laws, and character designs by Paul Coker, with the actual animation, whether stop-motion or cel animated, commonly done in Japan, frequently under the supervision of people like Tadahito Mochinaga and Kizo Nagashima.

Each contributed monumentally to the success of these early specials. Maury Laws, for instance, wrote songs for many of these that effectively turned them into Broadway show-like mini musicals. They made such a strong impression that, even back in the day when they aired once and only once per year, audiences would remember their great charm. Who can't recall lyrics like "We are Santa's elves, filling Santa's shelves," "Put one foot in front of the other," and so many others. Laws, presumably, also orchestrated the incidental music on these specials, and his arrangements are funny, sweet, and sentimental in the best sense of the word. I'd be surprised if a big Broadway musical adaptation of his Rankin-Bass music didn't eventually become a hit show, if only for limited, holiday season runs.

Similarly, Paul Corker's designs are as emblematically Rankin-Bass/holiday special as Laws's music. I prefer them three-dimensional, puppet form to cel animation, perhaps because as stop-motion puppets, they look like Christmas ornaments come-to-life.

Rankin-Bass also had a knack for picking a unique blend of talent to voice their characters. Many were busy, establish voice actors like Paul Frees and June Foray but the company was not averse to improbable but oddly effective choices, like raunchy former strip club comedian Jackie Vernon as the voice of Frosty the Snowman, or folk singer-songwriter Gale Garnett as a femme fatale in Mad Monster Party? (1967), a Rankin-Bass feature. Rankin and Bass were likewise groundbreakers securing Hollywood A-list to narrate or do leading parts in their specials: James Cagney, Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, Greer Garson, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Booth, et. al. It wasn't until The Jungle Book (1967) that Disney regularly filled out the casts of their animated features with Big-Name movie stars and familiar character actors. Could the Rankin-Bass shows have accelerated this strategy? Maybe.

Rankin-Bass continued producing Christmas pop-mythology specials until that mine was played out and then some; their attempts to build specials around other holidays lacked the honest sentiment of the earlier shows. Often with the same team, more or less, they dabbled into feature films, again often co-producing them with Japanese companies, resulting in oddly endearing titles like King Kong Escapes (1967) and especially The Last Dinosaur (1977), a TV-movie that, despite its Lost World-type action-adventure plot, has many of the same qualities as something like Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town.

Video & Audio

As noted above, the five specials don't look all that special, and I don't see a whole lotta difference picture-wise between my old DVD of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and this new Blu-ray, even though the 50-minute show gets its own disc. At various points since the demise of Rankin-Bass as a production company, the rights to these specials seem to have fallen into hands that really couldn't care less about them, beyond the money they regularly rake in via television sales, home video, and streaming. Done right, new Blu-rays of these programs could and should be almost revelatory experiences, especially annoying given how often they're repackaged, again and again. Except for The Little Drummer Boy Cricket on the Hearth, which are DTS-HD 2.0 mono only, the titles also have ho-hum 5.1 remixes as well as English and Spanish tracks.

Extra Features

Supplements include "The Animagic World of Rankin/Bass," an excellent feature-length documentary about the company. Also included is "Restoring the Puppets of Rudolph," an original pencil test from Frosty the Snowman, and two excellent audio commentaries, on Frosty and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. Strangely, a condensed remake of Rudolph, a theme park attraction film, is also included, but while that was in 3-D, what's presented here is in 2-D only: no 3-D Blu-ray, much as it cries out for it, especially as that would have been a great extra otherwise. Of considerably less interest: "Reimaging Rudolph in 4D," about the ride, and "TEAM Rudolph and the Reindeer Games," a "video storybook." Be warned.

Parting Thoughts

Kids won't particularly care that that these shows could look so much better, or that the extra features are real hit-and-miss. With reservations, Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

Find the lowest price for 'The Original Christmas Specials Collection (Blu-ray)'
Popular Reviews
1. Bad Times At The El Royale
2. Succession: The Complete First Season
3. 10 To Midnight
4. The Jerk - Shout Select 40th Anniversary Edition
5. Waterworld: Limited Edition
6. Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries
7. Operation Finale
8. The Puppet Masters: Special Edition
9. 24 Frames: Criterion Collection
10. Fireworks


Sponsored Links
DVD Blowouts
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Alien [Blu-ray]
Buy: $19.99 $9.99
8.
9.
10.
Sponsored Links
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use