The Year Without a Santa Claus (live version) -- an early look
When the networks all get together at their secret meeting. . . you know, the one where they laugh about how none of the mysteries will be solved on Lost and where they try to figure out how many more shows they can stuff into Thursday nights to cause our DVRs to have a meltdown . . . they need to adopt a new amendment into their secret constitution. An amendment that will be as important as the one that decrees that Cop Rock will never be duplicated, and the one that commands CBS to continually green light shows by Joe Pantoliano and then cancel them or keep them off the air entirely.
I'm talking about the amendment that prevents the networks from making live-action remakes of classic animated programs ever again. Especially if it is a remake of an animated holiday classic that millions of viewers still remember fondly. Because, no matter how hard they try to stay truthful to the original, they always manage to screw it up. Particularly when they decide to update the live-action remake of the animated holiday classic to reflect modern fads and values. When they try that disaster looms.
Case in point: the live-action remake of The Year Without a Santa Claus, which airs tonight on NBC. The remake is loosely based, in my opinion, on the 1974 stop-action animated special of the same name that was produced by Rankin-Bass. In the animated version Santa Claus (voiced by Mickey Rooney) wakes up with a cold and decides to take Christmas off. It's up to elves Jingle and Jangle to go out into the real world to find people who still believe in Santa Claus so they can convince the big, jolly guy to get back on the sleigh.
Santa, Jingle and Jangle are in the live remake, as well as the concept that Christmas is not about gifts (although my children would disagree), but everything else is different. This time around it's not Santa catching a cold that's the problem, it's that Santa Claus (John Goodman) has now become SantaCo., a new North Pole corporation run by head elf Sparky (Chris Kattan). Sparky feels that Santa is behind the times and tries to update his image with a new toy line featuring Goth dolls and fighting robots that explode. Santa feels that the holiday is getting too commercial and decides to take Christmas off, possibly for good. It is up to Jingle and Jangle (Ethan Suplee and Eddie Griffin) to go out into the real world to find someone who has the true meaning of Christmas in his or her heart.
While the original animated version of Year Without a Santa Claus was corny and charming at the same time, the live remake is cynical and almost too modern and hip for itself. John Goodman plays a cranky Santa who growls at everyone and really doesn't get much respect from his elves. I think he was channeling his role as the evil Santa Claus Robot from Futurama. Ethan Suplee plays Jingle like a slightly smarter Randy from My Name is Earl. I also think they could've found a better person than Chris Kattan to play Sparky the head elf, he just didn't fit into his character. Once again, too hip and modern.
Now, I haven't forgotten about the two most important players in Year Without a Santa Claus . . . Heat Miser and Snow Miser. Snow Mister is played by Michael McKean, who actually matches his animated counterpart fairly well in characterization. Heat Miser is played by . . . . ready for it . . . Harvey Firestein? Yes, I'm sure you're not reading it wrong. The gravelly-voiced actor plays Mr. Green Christmas. When he sings the little ditty about himself it sounds like someone stepping over crushed gravel. Yes, Snow and Heat Misers sing their songs like they do in the animated version. But, while the original version gave about 90 seconds for each Miser, the live version combines their performances into one. In addition, the Misers' minions aren't little versions of themselves; they're models dressed in bikinis. See the paragraph above about hip and modern.
So, if you are interested in watching The Year Without a Santa Claus then tune into the original animated version on ABC Family and forget this live version ever existed.