Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town Deluxe Edition Blu-ray Review

Fred Astaire Narrates This Rankin-Bass Christmas Classic

Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass created cultural touchstones with their line of animated holiday specials on television in the 1960s and 1970s. Known to the world as Rankin/Bass Productions, their company started a lasting American Christmas tradition beloved by millions. It’s a testament to their creativity and storytelling that programs like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer are still beloved today, decades after they were first shown on CBS and ABC.

Using their trademark animation method known as Animagic, the term used to describe their lovingly crafted brand of stop-motion puppets, they finally tackled the origin of Santa Claus for one of their specials in 1970. Originally broadcast on ABC in December of 1970, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town has Fred Astaire narrating the tale this time, much like Burl Ives hosted Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Written by regular Rankin-Bass writer Romeo Muller, he provides a coherent backstory for Santa Claus and gives an explanation for just about everything known about him. Inventing new aspects of Santa’s background from scratch, it was a creatively bold gambit.

The journey has the story of Kris Kringle growing up as a young man, and sharing toys as a token of friendship and love. It’s a simple, sweet message told with care. After being discovered by a family of elves, the orphan baby Claus is raised by the Kringles and grows up to become a toymaker. The friendly Kris decides to leave home, striking out into the wider world.

Wanting to share his toys with the children of Sombertown, Kris must overcome the nasty Winter Warlock and Burgermeister Meisterburger. The villains of the story, they throw obstacles in the young Kris Kringle’s mission to share toys across the world. Burgermeister Meisterburger has done the dastardly thing of banning all toys in his town.

Along the way Kris will get help from Miss Jessica, a school teacher, and Topper the penguin. Based once again on a popular Christmas song, it’s a surprisingly intricate and thought-out backstory for Santa Claus with some nice character moments. Some might even say the special is too complex for the children it was designed for as family entertainment.

A surprisingly intricate and thought-out backstory for Santa Claus with some nice character moments

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town is one of the more popular Rankin-Bass holiday specials, though it’s a distant third or fourth behind classics like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman in most people’s minds. The characters aren’t quite as catchy or endearing as those better specials. Topper is a lame animal sidekick that does little but honk his way through the program. There is also a burning desire to explain away every little thing known about Santa, from why he wears a red coat, to why he lives at the North Pole. That removes a little bit of the mysterious magic from Santa Claus and his background.

Probably the most touching moment in the special is when Kris marries Jessica and she becomes Mrs. Claus. The special does a great job building up Jessica as a love interest for Kris. Incorporating Jessica into his backstory is a wonderful addition to Santa’s mythos.

Make no mistake, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town remains one of most beloved Rankin-Bass specials. The wholesome family entertainment still delights today.

Video

Universal does their best with what appears to be an older, somewhat lackluster transfer. The print lacks overt damage but little appears to have been newly restored. It looks like an older film scan with serviceable definition and inconsistent detail.

The grain structure isn’t terrible but scattered ringing pops up at times. It’s tough to say this release represents a clear improvement in picture quality over prior Blu-ray releases. The Rankin-Bass specials are begging for complete film restorations.

The 1080P video preserves the original 1.33:1 broadcast presentation. Running 51 minutes, the AVC encode is given generous parameters on a BD-50. High-def resolution does make the monofilament wires, used to create the illusion of motion with the puppets, visible. Their appearance is at least one indicator the transfer hasn’t been overly filtered for high-frequency information.

Audio

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack has serviceable audio fidelity. Produced in 1970 for television, limitations in the recording prevent a truly discrete surround mix. The audio is a bit thin and distant. Even the popular songs from this special don’t have immaculate audio. Dialogue takes center prominence, whereas the musical songs by Rankin-Bass music director Maury Laws and lyricist Jules Bass have a slightly fuller, more expansive soundstage.

Optional English SDH and French subtitles play in a white font. A Spanish 2.0 DTS dub is included.

Extras

Universal releases Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town in a deluxe solo edition and as part of The Original Christmas Specials Collection. Both versions of the special are identical in terms of content, so go with the better value found in the larger collection.

By my count, this is at least the third time someone has issued the Rankin/Bass special on Blu-ray. The last issue of this special had problematic pressings that needed replacement, caused by their quick fade-outs in a few scenes. That problem appears to have been fixed by Universal. For some reason, the original mono soundtrack has only been issued on the older DVD editions.

The Animagic World of Rankin/Bass (47:00 in HD) – The same fantastic, new documentary included on Universal’s other deluxe editions for Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph. It’s a well-rounded, complete look at the legendary production company known for their iconic Christmas specials made for television. The quality documentary interviews Hollywood talent, animation specialists and others looking back at what made Rankin/Bass so special.

Audio Commentary – Animation historian Greg Ehrbar gives this rather droll discussion of the special that wastes far too much time describing what’s happening on screen and the most obvious observations. There are some insightful moments but it comes off as someone that doesn’t really like the show.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray release was provided to us for review by the distributor. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page to learn more about DoBlu’s editorial policies.

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  • Extras

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town Deluxe Edition

The popular Christmas special from Rankin-Bass doesn’t stray far from their successful formula and finds much the same magic found in earlier specials like Rudolph.

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