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With: Fred Astaire, Jimmy Durante, Jose Ferrer, June Foray, Paul Frees, Greer Garson, Burl Ives, Roddy McDowall, Mickey Rooney, Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas
Written by: Romeo Muller
Directed by: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass, Larry Roemer
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 205
Date: 11/02/2021

The Original Christmas Specials Collection (2021)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Right as Reindeer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

These Christmas specials have been released on Blu-ray before, notably in 2015 by Classic Media, but Universal's slim new Steelbook The Original Christmas Specials Collection, released in time for the 2021 holiday season, is still highly recommended. If you already own the 2015 box, stick with it, but this one features nicer packaging, and excises the unnecessary Frosty Returns (1992), and also Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962), which I loved as a kid, but sadly does not hold up.

The five titles included start with the all-time greatest stop-motion animated Christmas special, the one to lead them all. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) was the first Rankin/Bass Productions holiday TV special, and it led to countless others. In a plot filled with laughs, romance, thrills, and even some tears, Rudolph joins an outcast elf (who wants to be a dentist), and a loudmouth, but kindhearted prospector to save Christmas and rescue the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. Burl Ives plays the narrating snowman and sings "A Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Silver and Gold" as well as the title song. I grew up on this one, and I can only wish others the same delightful fate.

Frosty the Snowman (1969) is another of Rankin & Bass's most beloved Christmas specials, or at least it was when I was a kid. It's notable for its use of hand-drawn animation rather than stop-motion, and the wonderful narration of Jimmy Durante. It always breaks my heart when Frosty enters the greenhouse to keep his little friend warm. Jackie Vernon is the voice of Frosty and the great June Foray is the little girl Karen, who becomes Frosty's friend; of course, there's a bad guy who technically owns the magic hat that brought Frosty to life (he receives a stern talking-to by Santa).

Another favorite, the 50-minute, stop-motion musical Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970) is Santa's origin story, showing how he is adopted by the loving Kringle family, falls in love with a pretty schoolteacher, clashes with the toy-hating Burgermeister Meisterburger (voiced by Paul Frees), and becomes the toy-delivering jolly old eld we all know today. Mickey Rooney voices the adult Santa, and Fred Astaire narrates and sings. It's a heartwarming treat, full of goodness and kindness.

The set also includes the hand-drawn Cricket on the Hearth (1967), based on Charles Dickens's novella. Roddy McDowall voices the cricket, who tries to protect a toymaker and his blind daughter from the evil miser Tackleton. The final film is The Little Drummer Boy (1968), narrated by Greer Garson, about the poor boy who plays a song for the Baby Jesus (and another one that affected me quite deeply as a kid). Bonuses in the new set include "The Animagic World of Rankin/Bass," "Restoring the Puppets of Rudolph," "Reimagining Rudolph in 4D," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Attraction Film," audio commentaries, and more.

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