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CLASSIC CHRISTMAS FAVORITES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Boris Karloff, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  393 Minutes
Release Date:  October 7, 2008

The Grinch got a wonderful, AWFUL idea!

Shows ***

For a kid growing up in the 1970s, Christmas meant a lot of things, and when you’re that young, sadly, many of them have little to do with the birth of our Savior.  No, it meant lots of toys, great food, colorful lights, trying to be extra good for a month to make up for the rotten twerp you were for the other eleven, and of course, those television specials that reminded you night after night and week after week how close you were getting to the big day.

Classic Christmas Favorites is a fun and colorful reminder of those carefree bygone days.  Warner Bros. has compiled a collection of ten assorted holiday faves in one four disc set that serves to remind you why these specials have lasted for so many decades…frankly, not much better has come along since.

That’s not a knock at these programs…classics are classics because they endure and because they easily become multi-generational traditions.  Kids who watched them in my day have since shared them with their own children, and one can only assume grandchildren are now in the mix…my, how time flies.

To be sure, many of these are less than stellar entries.  The set is anchored by two indisputable champions:  Chuck Jones’ immortalization of the classic Dr. Seuss story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and the stop-motion animated favorite from Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass “The Year Without a Santa Claus”. 

The Grinch is almost as stalwart a holiday visitor as the jolly old elf himself, and the whimsical tale of a grump who attempts to stop the coming celebration by making off with all the Whos’ toys, decorations and food only to learn a valuable lesson of the true meaning of the day has become the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” for my generation.  And the announcement of Santa’s retirement sends shock waves throughout the world in a musical tale that will have you singing the songs all holiday long.

“The Year Without a Santa Claus” is the deluxe edition version, which also includes “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year”, a sequel to the popular Rankin/Bass favorite, and “Nestor: The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey”, a special that wasn’t afraid to bring the events of Bethlehem into a holiday special.  Times have sure changed.  The disc with “The Grinch” also includes three programs new to disc:  “The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold”, “Pinocchio’s Christmas”, which I vaguely remembered, and “The Stingiest Man in Town”.

The third disc is Warner’s double pairing of “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” with “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, and the last disc is “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July”.  If there’s one complaint about the set, it’s the number of sequels and retreads of original characters in lieu of the actual premiere stories that made them perennially endearing.

But really, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with “The Year Without a Santa Claus” alone makes this a worthy set; consider the others extra features.  And with today’s busy schedules, this four disc compilation allows you to pick and choose your specials and watch them with your family in your own sweet time.

Video **1/2

Considering the age of many of the programs, the video quality is quite good.  “Grinch” and “Santa Claus” have had some work done over the years, and they come across the best.  Some colors seem a tad faded here and there, and there are the unavoidable marks of aging, but I’d have to say for the most part, they’ve held up over the last forty years better than I have.  Bah humbug.

Audio **

Likewise, the simple television mono soundtracks are serviceable, but nothing more or less than what you’d expect: minimal dynamic range, a touch of noticeable noise in quieter moments, decently rendered dialogue and music.  Good enough.

Features **1/2

The features are mostly for the two main films… “The Year Without a Santa Claus” has featurettes on the stop-motion technology and the immortal creators Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass.  “The Grinch” has a featurette on the book and the adaptation and TNT special featuring Phil Hartman, plus a look at composer Albert Hague and vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft, a biography gallery, song selections and original pencil sketches.

Summary:

There’s nothing like a good holiday special to take you back, and I enjoyed the nostalgic trip that the ten programs in the Classic Christmas Favorites collection afforded me.  It’s a great time to revisit them with your family.

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