STUDIO:  Warner Home Video
MSRP: $39.98
RUNNING TIME:  322 Minutes
• Dr Seuss and the Grinch – from Whoville to Hollywood featurette
• Songs in the Key of Grinch featurette
• We Are Santa’s Elves featurette
• Stop Motion 101 featurette

The Pitch

See a bunch Rankin/Bass b-sides packaged together with one of Dr. Seuss’ most fantastic creations (fuck you Jim Carrey) together in time to rake in some holiday cash.

"Just over ‘yonder you can see animated Don Knotts jerkin off on some holly."

The Humans

Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, Andy Griffith, Heat Miser, Cold Miser, Mother Earth, Nestor, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Mickey Rooney, and Cthulhu.

The Nutshell

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The town of Whoville’s favorite cave-dweller has a seasonal change of heart in this Christmas classic.

Horton Hears a Who: A valuable lesson on the value and sanctity of life, no matter how minute in the tale of a friendship between a miniature city and the elephant that befriends and defends it.

A Year Without a Santa Claus: Santa Claus, who only works one day a fucking year, decides that’s too hard and packs it in. It’s up to the elves and some good old fashioned Americana to get him back behind the sled once more.

Nestor the Christmas Donkey: Ever wondered how exactly Mary and Joseph braved the torrential sandstorms that apparently plagued them on their journey to Bethlehem? Me either.

Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July:  Frosty and Rudolph agree to perform in a circus show to help make enough money so that a couple of crazy kids get married.  Little do they know that an evil warlock is attempting to entrap them in his evil plot to take over the Christmas game from Santa Claus.

Rudolph’s Shiny New Year: Happy, the New Year’s baby, has up and rocked his way right out of the cradle. Rudolph has to find him or else we’ll all be living with Dick Clark and a set of balls perpetually about to drop for the rest of time (on the cusp of puberty forever, basically). Ben Franklin and a whale with a clock built into it also somehow find their way into this.

Frosty’s Winter Wonderland: Frosty likes to dip his snow wick every so often. The kids sense this sexual frustration and make him a totally hot snowho’ for his very own. His nights won’t be silent anymore, ho ho. Snowballs of a different sort will be smacking faces this holiday season. And I’m spent.

‘Twas the Night before Christmas: Santa can be a catty, vindictive bitch: a dismissive letter from a townsperson causes him to stick it to everyone in the town by skipping them over this holiday season. It will take a holiday miracle, the local clockmaker must think of a Christmas miracle, and the rodents who live along with him must help him complete his mission in time for Santa to bring everyone pwesssents.

Santa’s watched Superman Returns one too many times.

The Lowdown

What a scattershot collection this is! Essentially, Warner Bros. is hedging their bets on people being more than happy to get a Christmas collection containing How the Grinch Stole Christmas and won’t pay much attention to the rest of the set being equivalent to a PTBNL in a major league trade. Luckily for viewers, even though these would be considered the second tier of Rankin/Bass productions (let’s be honest, nobody is clamoring for these titles beyond Year Without a Santa Claus), this is still a high-quality Christmas collection that contains a few classics along with the bizarre encapsulation of what the majority of Rankin/Bass Christmas specials were really all about.

One has to keep in mind that HGH wasn’t illegal in Whoville at the time.

Something that struck me as I started to watch the Rankin/Bass pieces spread out over the other three discs of the set is that they still feel fresh and inventive, even decades after the fact. As seamless as CG animation has proven to be and as CG effects continue to become more and more realistic in their integration into motion pictures, there’s some sort of magic alchemy that occurs when something hand-crafted is filmed in motion despite not being alive itself. As a viewer, I just believe in it more, because there’s something tactile there that you know you could reach out and grab. So even if there are some dated references, the style and energy put behind each special keeps it feeling just as relevant and interesting today. 

Even Santa himself wasn’t immune to the tabloid’s long reach, as news of his impotency spread like wildfire.

A Year Without a Santa Claus is the most successful of all of the features, and is easily the most fondly remembered of all those included on the set. However, it suffers from the same problem that the majority of these Rankin/Bass projects contain: there’s a weird slavish devotion to the demythologization of Christmas standards: they’re hell-bent on telling you how Rudolph’s nose got its glow (the Aurora Borealis made corporeal granted it to him as an effort to combat the snow demon’s attempts to take over Santa’s mantle as the figurehead of Christmas, and if you defeat the snow demon and his ice dragon he turns into wood) and how each new year is stored away on its own special island lorded over by the baby new year. These are cool concepts that are just violently stuffed into each film’s narrative, and the devotion to these explanations overcomes that of coherent and entertaining storytelling. The 2-d animated features fare a little better in terms of not having to deal with the labyrinth mythologies of their respective characters, but they’re visually less interesting versus the stop motion animation by quite a large margin.

Moreso than a tub of popcorn, Orville Redenbacher loved to sit back with a nice eight ball every now and again.

Nestor is the least of all of the features in the set. Despite it’s awesome David Lynch/CHiPS hybrid opening credits that led me to believe that it was going to be some sort of surrealist masterpiece, it’s actually just a lame passion play for the donkey that heaps punishment on its poor long-eared protagonist only to show that his long ears ended up keepin’ Mary warm before she shot out baby Jesus in a manger. It lacks the light touch or sense of wonder that makes the other specials work despite their flaws, leaving this one with only its flaws and a donkey with long ears.

Crowds gathered from miles around to view the Magnificent Fisto in action.

These aren’t the heavy hitters of the holiday season, these are the somewhat forgotten Rankin/Bass productions lumped together (Year W/O excluded) with the perennial Christmas classic that is the Grinch. However, even those these are what I guess could be called ‘minor’ works in the history of their production, they’re worth checking out simply for the manic energy and labyrinth mythology being established in a couple of them and for the artistry behind the stop-motion puppetry on display throughout the set. While not essential, it’s definitely recommended.

The Package

While the cover art isn’t anything to call home about (to be fair, there usually isn’t an artistic way to display multiple-title sets), the packaging is quite nice: it’s a snap-case that opens to reveal the first discs that then fold out to reveal the other two discs in the set underneath. Both the Grinch and Horton look magnificent in their transfers; the Grinch especially looks gorgeous in newly remastered form. The Rankin/Bass productions suffer a little bit from age and wear, but still aren’t so poor as to be distracting to the viewer, just noticeably lesser than the superb looking Grinch disc. 

Heath Ledger better be writin’ some residual checks.

The only real extras of note come on the Grinch and Year Without discs, the other two do have trailers as an option, but these are older releases repackaged for this collection so they are promoting discs that are ‘coming fall 2005’. On the Grinch disc you get the featurette ‘Dr Seuss and the Grinch – from Whoville to Hollywood’ which chronicles this particular story’s evolution from children’s book to staple of the holiday season (hosted by Phil Hartman, who makes the entire thing worthwhile with his energetic presentation). Also included is ‘Songs in the Key of Grinch’ which talks with the composer and singer of the canonical songs utilized in the flick (and goes into his accidental exclusion from the opening credits) as well as a pencil test and making-of featurette. There is a little bit of informational overlap, but anyone with warm feelings for the short will enjoy the material presented here. On Yw/oSC you get two featurettes: We Are Santa’s Elves, which goes into the production of this particular movie and the wonderful little featurette “Stop Motion 101” which displays interviews with the Chiodo Brothers (!) as well as Harryhausen (!) himself.  So while there isn’t a bounty of special features on display here, there’s a hefty amount of features to sift through for a couple of the features, so I’ll consider this set a success.

7.9 out of 10