'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)

Yes, we're embarrassed about this one. What about it? After being sure we'd done every Rankin/Bass Christmas special, we're still discovering that some slipped through the cracks.

It only added to the surreality that while watching this, both Erin and I became convinced that we'd seen this at some point in our lives. I guess it just wasn't in the last 13 years.

This isn't a stop-motion special, rather it's traditional animation in the Rankin/Bass style. The voice cast does good work, the dialogue isn't bad, the songs are pretty catchy. So why is this holiday special on the more obscure end? Maybe because the story is just a bit... odd.

It starts out late on Christmas Eve with the first eight lines of Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," of course, as recited/experienced by Joshua Trundle, a clockmaker. Then the story is taken up by a father mouse living in the wall of that house who is decidedly stirring. He tells us that everyone in town is worried that Christmas might not actually come. 

In a flashback, we learn that in the town of Junctionville, everyone got their letters to Santa back marked "return to sender." Folks are naturally upset. Mr. Trundle proposes a solution: he will build a big clock that will play a whole song about how much they all love Santa at midnight on Christmas Eve. 

In the meantime, Father Mouse calls the North Pole mice to find out what the problem is, and it turns out that a nasty letter to the editor in the town paper claimed that "all of us" think Santa is a fraud. The perpetrator was none other than the Mouse family's nerdy son, Albert. 

[Side Note: this entire plot (town on the naughty list, trying to tell Santa it's a mistake) is somewhat similar to the plot of Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation, but in that case, the reason for the town being ignored by Santa is because of evil super-science, so it's much more realistic.]

Albert and Father Mouse have an awkward confrontation about whether Santa is real, and Father Mouse wins the point with a song about how Albert should at least open his heart to more fanciful ideas. (This starts with a bit about fairies and leprechauns that is obviously an allusion to the "Yes, Virginia..." editorial.) The song is fine, although the real problem was that Albert was a jerk about other people's fun in public and that Santa was short-sighted and vindictive enough to blacklist an entire town based on one kid's snide comments. Is that really the guy you trust to come down your chimney while you're asleep?

Mr. Trundle finishes his clock, but it malfunctions during the presentation ceremony. Instead of letting the guy fix whatever's gone wrong, everyone gives up. Trundle is banished from the clock building and his business dwindles. His family (and therefore also the Mouse family) become very poor and hungry. 

On Christmas Eve, he tries to convince his kids to not lose hope with a song about how miracles only happen if you help them happen. This is a fine message, but I'm not sure what they are actually accomplishing during this montage, as it never seems defined. Meanwhile, Albert Mouse is crying, and reveals that he broke the clock by accident because he wanted to see the inside workings. Albert decides that he can help make a miracle happen and rushes off to try to fix it. Why didn't he mention this weeks ago?

He's still trying to fix things while Mr. Trundle and Father Mouse wait and worry for the stroke of midnight. And nothing happens... But there is some singing in the square. And I thought for a moment that it was about to pull a Grinch and use the townspeople coming together in place of the clock. 

But then the clock works. So... we don't need them, I guess? 

The clock (recording?) sings about how much we love and need Santa, and the elf himself turns toward town. 

And suddenly we jump right back into Moore's poem. While watching, Erin and I honestly laughed a little at this because the shift in tone, language, music, and style is so abrupt and jarring. The rest of the poem is illustrated based on the text and that's the end.

Overall this was fine. The mayor character who appeared several times as pompous comic relief was a lot of fun, and as I said at the top, all the voice actors did good work. But the themes of belief vs. making change don't really gel and the specifics of the plot are fairly forgettable. 

I'm not going to recommend it, but I'm not going to say it should be avoided either. It's just a brisk twenty-ish-minute piece that is neither a waste of time nor especially worth seeking out.