The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

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This is one of two entries that I am writing as part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society (PEPS).  You can check out all of the first day participants here:

https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/the-happy-holidays-blogathon-has-arrived/

While the rules state that the blogs should be about holiday “films”, I appreciate them allowing me to write on what is my favorite television holiday special – The Year Without A Santa Claus from 1974.

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Rankin and Bass Productions produced many holiday television specials.  Many of these were based on songs (1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1968’s Little Drummer Boy, 1969’s Frosty the Snowman, and 1970’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town).  Along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, these holiday specials were something that I (and many children) looked forward to watching every year.

So what makes these specials so special?  Here are my thoughts: First of all, many of them were produced using a stop-motion animation process called “Animagic”.  Animagic was used on shows like Puppetoons, Gumby, and Davey and Goliath.  Compared to the advances we see in animation today, these specials shot with this primitive process still hold up and are entertaining.

Second, many are based on familiar Christmas songs.  We know the songs and the stories, but the specials elaborate on them.  We know the story of Frosty – but the song doesn’t mention Professor Hinkle (and we know we need his magic hat).  We know the story of Rudolph – but there is no mention of Yukon Cornelius, Hermie, or Bumbles in the song (and we know Yukon saved Rudolph’s life).  We know the story of Santa Claus – but the song doesn’t mention the Burgermeister Meisterburger (who is responsible for him going down chimneys) or the Winter Warlock (who gives Santa his magic snowball so he can see if you’ve been bad or good).

Next, you have the wonderful musical score and additional songs throughout the specials.  Maury Laws, who sadly passed away in March of this year at age 95, was the music director for almost every Rankin and Bass production.   He conducted and arranged so much of the wonderful music heard in these specials.  Along with the title songs, who can forget “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “We Are Santa’s Elves”, “Silver and Gold”, “There’s Always Tomorrow”, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”, “No More Toymakers to the King” and so many others?!

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the voice work of some very talented actors and actresses make the Rankin and Bass specials so very entertaining.  I read somewhere that they really tried to find unique voices for their characters.  They did have their own company of actors (Paul Soles, Larry Mann, Billie Richards, Paul Klingman, and Paul Frees), but they were able to get some “star power” for narrators and other characters.  Think about the voices of Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon (who was known for his blue comedy work), Buddy Hackett, Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, and Burl Ives.  They all had very unique voices that were perfect for these characters!

The Year Without A Santa Claus

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The Year Without a Santa Claus originally aired on the ABC TV Network on December 10, 1974.  The story is not based on a song, but is based on a poem/book.  In 1956, Good Housekeeping magazine published the poem “The Year Without a Santa Claus” which was written by Phyllis McGinley.  It was so popular that it was turned into a picture book the following year with illustrations by Kurt Werth.

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In 1968, 6 years before the Rankin and Bass special, just a few months before he passed Boris Karloff (who narrated How The Grinch Stole Christmas) narrated an LP record version of the story/poem that was available on Capitol Records.

The poem tells of a year where Santa decides to take a vacation because he is feeling old and worn out.  As the children of the world hear of this, they become very sad and cannot imagine a Christmas without Santa.  There is one boy, Ignatius Thistlewhite, who takes a stand and explains that even Santa needs a vacation.  He explains that Christmas is not only about receiving, but about giving.  The children of the world launch a big campaign to give back to Santa and send him gifts to show him how much they love him.  He is so moved by this gesture that he decides not to take the vacation and goes out on his annual flight like every other year.

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(Note:  Spoilers) For the most part, the special follows the poem/book, with some minor and major changes.  Shirley Booth plays Mrs. Claus, who tells us the story.  This would be Shirley’s last acting role, as she retired after her part was completed.  Santa is played by Mickey Rooney, who also played Santa in the Rankin/Bass special Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

In the special, Santa is sick.  He is advised by his overly honest and grumpy doctor to stay home.  The doctor also tells him nobody care about Christmas, and that no one believes in him anymore!  Santa, feeling that his doctor may be right, decides to cancel Christmas for the first time ever.

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Mrs. Claus, however, feels that it wouldn’t be fair to the children, and has a plan.  She sends two Christmas elves, Jingle and Jangle, along with reindeer Vixen into the world to prove that there is still Christmas Spirit and that children still believe in Santa. Jingle and Jangle provide some comic relief (I always sensed a Laurel and Hardy vibe with them).  Bob McFadden voices Jingle, while Bradley Bolke (best known as Chumley in the Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons) voices Jangle.

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Santa knows his wife is up to something and gets her to explain just what she’s got going on.  He is aghast to learn that the elves and Vixen are heading into the world.  In a bit of foreshadowing, he mentioned that they’ll be lucky to make it past the Miser Brothers.  The Miser Brothers are easily two of the most memorable characters ever created by Rankin and Bass, more on them shortly.  As the elves fly directly into their path, the are shot down by Heat Miser (who calls them members of “the Santa Claus Gang”).  Vixen and the elves narrowly escape and wind up landing in a place called Southtown USA.

While in Southtown, they find a lack of Christmas Spirit, and children (one of them Ignatius “Iggy” Thistlewhite, mentioned earlier) skeptical that Santa even exists.  Things go from bad to worse in Southtown, as the elves receive a ticket and then Vixen is taken to the pound by the dog catcher (who thinks she is a dog).  The elves are told by the policeman to see the mayor if they want to free Vixen.

Santa, who is now on a mission to save Vixen and the elves, has also flown down (on Dasher) to Southtown in search of them.  He seems to be a step or two behind them.  He runs into Iggy as he is coming home, introduces himself as “Mr. Clowze” and asks if he has seen his friends.  Iggy replies that he has, but when Santa sneezes, Iggy’s mom invites him in for tea to help his cold.

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While at the table, he learns that the elves were asking if he believed in Santa Claus.  Iggy asks the old gent if HE believes in Santa Claus.  He admits that he does in song, and we learn that Iggy’s dad actually saw Santa as boy, and he still believes.  Iggy then tells Santa about the mess that the elves were in and that the dog catcher has their “dog”.  Santa, worried about Vixen, jumps on his reindeer and flies away, not caring that he is in plain sight of the family.  Iggy now realizes who Mr. Clowze really is and decides he is going to help Jingle and Jangle.

Santa pays a fine to the dog catcher and decides it is best to take Vixen home.  Meanwhile, Iggy and the elves tell the mayor their story and the mayor laughs in disbelief.  He does not believe that they are Christmas Elves, or any bit of their story!

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He does, however, agree to free Vixen (and give Santa a holiday) if they can PROVE they are elves (who he says can do magic) and make it snow in Southtown, where it hasn’t snowed in over 100 years! Knowing that they are in a spot, they call Mrs. Claus to help.  When she arrives, they go to see Snow Miser.

The Miser Brothers, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, are the offspring of Mother nature.  Snow Miser controls all of the cold weather on the earth, while Heat Miser controls all the warm weather.  There is no doubt that these two characters are the stand outs in this holiday special.  The characters are larger than life.  They are two step brothers, who obviously dislike and despise each other.  We got a glimpse of them both early on, but now we get their official “introductions”.

Each Miser Brother has his own introductory song, with choreography and dancing minions.  Each song is a boost to their egos as they admit that they are both “too much”!

Snow Miser is voiced by the amazing Dick Shawn, while Heat Miser is voiced by George S. Irving.  Both were very well known character actors and each play their roles to the utmost.  Shawn’s Snow Miser is a friendly guy who is full of puns and energy, while Irving’s Heat Miser is a miserable grouch!

It would just be wrong for me NOT to post a link to their songs – which are truly the highlights of the special!

Mrs. Claus arrives and asks Snow Miser for a snow storm.  He will gladly oblige!  However, when he hears where they need it to snow, he tells them he cannot help because the South is under Heat Miser’s control, and they must get his permission.  Upon arriving at Heat Miser’s volcano, and listening to his song, he is obviously miffed at his visitors.  He even accuses Santa of going out “doing commercials” for his brother.  When the ask to let it snow in Southtown, he refuses at first, but then says he will allow it to snow there if he can provide a nice sunny day at the North Pole. The two brothers bicker on the phone and Mrs. Claus stops them and says that she is going over their heads.  She is taking this to their mother – Mother Nature!

Despite the fact that the brothers, the elves, and Mrs. Claus are all a bit scared of Mother nature, she is a pleasant lady.  She summons her boys with thunder and lightening (very reminiscent of the old Chiffon margarine ads that featured Mother Nature).  With some initial bickering, she eventually gets the boys to agree.  Snow Miser will allow a nice warm day at the North Pole and Heat Miser will let it snow in the south.

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Once the snow hits Southtown, the mayor finally believes Jingle and Jangle and gets on the phone with all the mayors around the world.  They officially declare a national holiday for Santa.   The newspapers proclaim this “Day Off For Santa!” and the word spreads from pole to pole! With this news, all of the children begin to send letters and presents to Santa to show their appreciation for him and wish him a happy holiday.  Santa receives one letter from a little girl who says she’ll have a Blue Christmas without him (and the song accompanies this)…

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Santa is very moved by this letter, and the outpouring of gifts and love by the children of the world.  He decides that it is ridiculous for him to take the night off!  Christmas is back on again!  He tells the elves to load up the sleigh and his ride begins by going down “Santa Claus Lane” in Southtown, USA.

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At the end of the special, Mrs. Claus reminds us that somehow, “yearly, newly, faithfully, and truly” Santa ALWAYS comes!

Final Thoughts

In 2006, NBC remade this classic into a live-action special that was a huge disappointment.  In 2008, ABC Family aired “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” which, despite having a few of the original voice actors, was also something that never achieves the magic of the original.

Had The Year Without a Santa Claus simply told the story of the poem or book, it would easily be classified as a typical and standard Christmas special.  However, Rankin and Bass take it above and beyond that.  They make it a truly wonderful story with great characters, wonderful voice actors, well known and original music that brings a smile to my face each and every year!  When I listen to the radio and hear “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, “Frosty the Snowman” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” from other TV specials, I find myself wondering why stations don’t take a chance and play the Miser Brothers songs?  Every time I mention this special to someone – they IMMEDIATELY know them and their songs!!  It’s a missed opportunity!

I can still remember the first time my brother and I sat in front of the TV to watch this.  I remember over the years checking the TV guide to see if and when it would air again.  When it was available on home video/DVD, I made sure I had a copy.  It was one of the first specials I shared with my sons.  I still tear up when Santa is reading about the little girl’s Blue Christmas.  I sing along with the Miser Brothers.  My heart doubles in size when Santa declares that Christmas isn’t cancelled.  And every time I watch it, I am laying on the floor in front of the TV with my younger brother next to me … and I am 6 again.

Thanks to the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society for allowing me to participate in this blogathon!  Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top 20 Favorite Christmas Characters

Growing up, I loved watching all of the various Christmas specials that were shown on TV every year.  With the availability of almost all of them on DVD, we can watch them whenever we want – even if it’s not during the holiday season!  My brother and I would sit in front of the TV and watch Jimmy Durante tell us the story of Frosty the Snowman, Fred Astaire delivering mail while telling us about Santa, and Burl Ives shared the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t care who you are or how old you are, if you have kids – it’s still just as special watching these specials together.  I even know some people my age who have no children – they find themselves watching them on TV, too!

Technology has come a long way from when these TV specials were made!  Today, the cartoons and animation are above and beyond what these classic specials had.  While some of the specials were animated – most of the favorites were done by Rankin and Bass and were done in stop animation.  It had to have taken a long time to shoot these specials for sure!  What make these so memorable are not only the stories and songs, but the characters and the people who voiced them.

There were some pretty talented voice actors and big stars who provided voiced for these iconic characters!  They had many memorable lines, too.  Here now, are my Top 20 favorite characters from the Specials of Christmas Past (and Present):

20 – Jingle Bells (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Jingle Bells (right) is the #1 elf at the North Pole.  He is partnered up with Jangle Bells (left) and they remind me of a Laurel and Hardy type team.  Jingle is the smart one, Jangle – not so much.  Together, they get in some trouble while trying to find some Christmas Spirit. It’s Jingle who suggests they call Mrs. Claus for help.

19 – Sally Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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One thing that I loved about the Charlie Brown Christmas special is that the voices are done by real kids.  As someone who has had to record children for commercials and such, I can tell you this is no easy task.  You often have to feed them lines one at a time and edit them together.  This is obviously what happened with the girl who plays Sally. Listen to her say  – “Will you please write a letter to Santa Claus for me?” next time you watch it … you can hear the edits.

I love Sally because in her letter she gets on Santa’s good side by asking how his wife is and then goes on to say she has included a list of things she wants and for him to “note the size and color” of each item.   LOL!  When Charlie Brown questions her – she tells him that she just wants her “fair share”

18 – Doc Bobbin (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Santa is sick, so Mrs. Claus calls the doctor.  This guy is just miserable!  He’s cranky and angry!  He’s an example of someone with no Christmas spirit.  He tells Santa he’d be surprised if anyone still believed in him and is just plain rude.  His appearance is a short one, but my favorite line from him is “Nobody cares a hoot and a holler for you (Santa) or Christmas!”

17 – The Grinch (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

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The Dr. Seuss classic – not the new one or the Jim Carrey one! This guy reminds me a lot of Ebenezer Scrooge.  He’s a mean one, as the song suggests, and yet in the end, he finds the true meaning of Christmas and he is a changed Grinch.  It’s a bonus that the great Boris Karloff is the narrator for this cartoon.

16 & 15 – Mr. and Mrs. Claus (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth!  What’s not to like?  Mickey played Santa in Rankin/Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming To Town and did and amazing job.  It’s a treat to hear him revisit the role – his vocal inflections (while acting like he has a cold) are perfect.  The playfulness of Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus is just as good.  She is our story-teller and plays and all important part in the story.

14 & 13 – Rudolph and Hermey

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Now, to be honest, I wasn’t going to include Rudolph in this list.  However, when I thought about Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist), I felt that Rudy should go with him.  These two are here because they are truly a “couple of misfits”.  They are different and you know what?  That is ok!  Be different!!!  Be spectacular!

Recently there have been rumblings about the lessons taught by this Christmas special, and in all honesty, the talk is annoying to me.  Something offends everybody and everybody is offended by something these days!  Hey!  Get a grip!  In order for the wonderful ending of this tale to mean anything – there had to be mean reindeer and a mean elf!

12 – Professor Hinkle (Frosty the Snowman)

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Here is a nasty man.  He is a crappy magician and he has no idea how important his hat really is!  He’s on the list because he is voiced perfectly by Billy De Wolfe.  One of my favorite lines of his is: “When you’re grown up, you’ll realize that snowmen can’t come to life!”  Oh, how wrong he was!

11 – Lucy Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Lucy is a real piece of work.  She bosses everyone around, has an opinion about everything, and is a know it all.  She’s also kind of a jerk.  So why is she on the list?  Because of all the things I just mentioned and this quote: “Look, Charlie Brown, we all know that Christmas is just a big commercial racket.  It’s run by a big Eastern Syndicate, you know?!”

Maybe it is not run by a syndicate – but one thing is for certain – Christmas is, and continues to be, a big commercial racket!

10 – Santa Claus (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Ok, yes … Santa is already on the list.  That, however, is the Mickey Rooney Santa.  This Santa is different and is played in a whole different way.  I agree, he was a jerk to Rudolph.  However, he does come around at the end and Rudolph saves the day.  Why is he #10?  He says one of my favorite lines: “Every year I shine up my jingle bells!”

Take that however you want.

9 – The Head Elf (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Just like the above Santa, this guy was kind of a bossy jerk!  Think about it, how many bosses have you had that were jerks?  That is what some bosses are good at – being jerks.

At any rate, this guy gives Hermey a hard time.  Not only does he have a workshop to run, but he also has to run Elf Practice!  I mean – how else are elves gonna learn how to wiggle their ears, go “hee-hee” and “ho-ho” and “important stuff like that”?  He was probably thankful that Hermey’s dental practice was able to get him in so soon after Christmas……

8 – The Winter Warlock (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by Keenan Wynn, the Winter Warlock is yet another character who has a change of heart.  He is a mean man who is frigid and cold – that is, until Kris Kringle gives him a toy.  The ice and cold melts away to show he is really a gentle old man.  He tells Kris he really is a mean and “despicable creature at heart” and tells Kris how difficult it is to “really change”.   Kris tells him that changing from bad to good is “as easy as taking your first step” which leads into the great song “Put One Foot In Front of the Other”

7 – Linus Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Linus is Charlie Brown’s friend.  He is often there to give him insight on issues that he is dealing with.  He often prompts Charlie to think about things a little differently.  It is Linus who says the crappy little tree that Charlie Brown picked out isn’t so bad and just needs a “little love”.

It is also Linus who gives an amazing little speech about what Christmas is all about quoting from the King James Bible Luke 2: 8-14.  Linus, who carries around his security blanket at all times, does something really unique while reciting these verses.  To the casual observer, it may go unnoticed, but I think it is amazing how this kid who needs this blanket so badly, drops it when he says “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy”.  That’s powerful.

With so many people offended by things, I am truly amazed that there isn’t an uproar about this special because of Linus’ speech.

6 – Sam the Snowman (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Voiced by one of the familiar “voices of Christmas”, Burl Ives, Sam the Snowman tells us Rudolph’s story.  He’s like a gentle old grandpa telling us the story.  Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing Burl’s version of Holly Jolly Christmas – which is just one of the songs he sings in this special.

He tells us the story with bits of info (First castle to the left) and humor (“haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?”) Even though he is telling a story, he still is frightened by certain parts of it (the Abominable Snow Monster of the North), enough so that he hides under his umbrella!

I have to admit, I often find myself singing lines from Silver and Gold every year when I trim the tree.  As a kid, I remember making a snowman and then sliding behind him, making a trail – so it looked like he glided into place …. just like Sam.

5 – Charlie Brown

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How many of us can relate to Charlie Brown – not just at Christmas, but all year round? He tells Linus, “I’m just not happy. I don’t know the way I am supposed to feel.” While this is a real issue for many people, Linus tells Charlie Brown that he is the only kid he knows that “can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem”.

He’s a “blockhead”, but he means well.  He tries and he fails – but he never stops trying.  He is the director of the Christmas play and louses up the production, but in the end, it all comes out ok.  He buys a scrawny tree, and his friends make it something special they wish him a Merry Christmas.

Charlie is a simple kid and we are all a little bit like him.

4 – Burgermeister Meisterburger (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by the great Paul Frees – this guy is a presence on screen!  Just what the hell is a Burgermeister?  Well it is a sort of mayor – he is an executive.  Our Burgermeister is the head of Sombertown (why would anyone want to live there?).  He makes it clear that he hates toys and children too, apparently!

The story could have gone very differently, as the baby Claus shows up on his doorstep and he orders his soldier to “Get the brat out of here!”  Good thing the soldier, Grimsley, loses the baby on a sled and it shows up at the Kringle house…..

He isn’t all bad – he does love playing with a yo-yo!

3 – Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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How can you not love Yukon Cornelius’ sense of adventure!?  Here is a guy who is out looking for gold and silver!  He is on the hunt with the mindset of striking it rich!  He knows no fear!  He makes his own rules!  He isn’t afraid of that Abominable Snow Monster of the North, whom he downplays by calling him Bumbles, and actually attacks him.  Sadly, he goes over a cliff with the monster during the attack.

He is a scene stealer and there is a sense of sadness when he tumbles off the cliff, but he is friggin’ Yukon Cornelius!  He shows up later with Bumbles to everyone’s amazement!  How did he survive?  Well…..Bumbles Bounce!!

2 – Heat Miser (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. Green Christmas!  He’s Mr. Sun.  He’s Mr. Heat Blister.  He’s Mr. 101!

To me, when you talk about the Miser Brothers from The Year Without a Santa Claus, everyone knows Heat Miser first.  Some would say that he should top this list.  I can see your argument and it’s a good one – but a close one.

Voiced by George S. Irving, Heat Miser obviously doesn’t care about Santa.  He asks Mrs. Claus is Santa is “out doing another commercial” for his brother.  He describes Santa a “traipsing around in that stupid sleigh of his!  Stirring up cold winter breezes and causing everyone to think fondly of snowball fights and – urgh – ice hockey!”

Not only does he not like Santa, but he certainly does not care too much for his brother!

1 – Snow Miser (The Year Without A Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. White Christmas.  He’s Mr. Snow.  He’s Mr. Icicle.  He’s Mr. 10 Below!

The Snow Miser tops my list.  He’s just a bundle of energy and damn funny!  Voiced by Dick Shawn, he conveys a carefree attitude and is just a fun dude.  When he is summoned by his mother (Mother Nature), he and his brother are arguing and they are told to stop.  His response is “If I can’t have any fun, I might as well leave.”   While he and his “hothead” brother don’t get along, he loves Santa and Mrs. Claus.  He tells “Mrs. C” to make sure she brings him with her next time she comes and they’ll have “a blizzard”. He is a friendly, loveable, and fun guy who loves “chilly humor”.

I have always been amazed that when radio stations play Christmas music, they will play songs from various Christmas specials, but they never seem to play the Miser Brothers songs….and that is just sad! You mention the Miser Brothers and the first thing that happens is someone starts singing their songs!

Closing thoughts

As I look at this list – there are some good guys and bad guys.  Maybe there are more bad guys than good … I don’t know, I didn’t count.  Here is an observation, though that fits into what’s going on today.

Without bad guys, there can be no heroes.  You kind of need bad guys, bullies, and jerks to make the end of the story a happy one.  Good conquers evil!  Good wins over bad!  Sure, the bad guys may be doing things that we don’t agree with, but they are necessary to the plot to get us to the happiness at the end!  Imagine A Christmas Carol without Scrooge!  Imagine It’s a Wonderful Life without Mr. Potter!  It feels better and more special when the good guys come out ahead….doesn’t it?

What characters are your favorites?  Who is missing from my list?