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The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) Movie Review

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: a Rankin Bass Christmas Classic
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Shirley Booth, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden
Director: Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
Release Date: 10 December 1974
Language: English
Length: 51 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb86_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

Santa (voice by Mickey Rooney) wakes up one morning and decides he is too old, too tired and too sore to deliver Christmas presents this year.  Even his doctor assures him that no one will miss him if he doesn’t go out on his yearly sleigh ride to deliver presents.  But Mrs. Claus (voice by Shirley Booth) knows that the children around the world will miss Santa!  So she sends two elves (voice by Bob McFadden & Bradley Bolke) on a baby reindeer to find some holiday spirit.  Will Mrs. Claus and the elves be able to save Christmas?

Review:

This is one of my favorite Christmas specials to watch.  I look forward to seeing it every year around the holiday season and never tire of watching it.  I believe Sick Santa Clausthat these old Rankin-Bass Productions are the best Christmas shows to watch for children young and old.  This special has the old-fashioned stop-motion animation and it is the animation style that I equate with the best Christmas specials.  They make the motion look pretty dang good for claymation figurines!  It is a little jerky, but I think that it only adds to the charm.

The vocal talents are top-notch.  Mickey Rooney spoiled every other holiday special for me as it is just not the same to hear a Santa speaking that does not 00302291have his voice.  I am not very familiar with the woman who plays Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth).  She narrates and sings in the special and has the perfect voice for Mrs. Claus – old, but spritely and a little mischievous.  The other characters were chosen for their memorable, unique sound.  Jingle (Bob McFadden) & Jangle (Bradley Bolke) are very distinct and I feel like their voices added to the charm and character of the film.  And who can forget Heat Miser (George S. Irving) & Snow Miser (Dick Shawn)?!  They are simply perfectly cast, as are all the speaking parts in this film.  Even the children’s voices add that special touch of charm and distinctive sound.

The best part of the Rankin-Bass specials is the music.  There are 8 distinctive songs in this 41-minute special, plus 1 reprise and they are all fantastic!  The special begins and ends with “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” a peppy little number that has some talky/singy action to explain what is going to happen in the special.  Mrs. Claus shines in “I Could Be Santa Claus,” where she sings about Heat Miser, Snow Miser & Mother Naturehow anyone can be Santa if their hearts are in the right place.  She is concerned that Santa won’t get up to deliver presents and is considering doing his job for him, but gives up on the idea after the elves think it’s a bad idea.  “I Believe in Santa Claus” is a beautiful, heartfelt number that I did not appreciate when I was a kid.  It is a ballad that talks about believing in Santa Claus like believing in love – as more of a feeling than a real person.  “It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie” is a fun, upbeat song that helps move the plot along as well as pick up the pace and make you tap your toe along.  The mayor is making fun of the fact that the elves promised them snow in Southtown, which is in Heat Miser’s territory and has never had a white Christmas.  “The Snow Miser Song” and “The Heat Miser Song” are probably the most famous songs that came out 00323473of this special.  They are such a fun addition to the show and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get a smile on their face while these two stepbrothers are singing about their hatred of each other.  The last two songs are not written by Rankin & Bass, but they are some holiday classics that I never tire of hearing.  “Blue Christmas” gives the children of the world a chance to let Santa know that, while they understand him wanting to take a year off, they are going to have a sadder Christmas without him.  “Here Comes Santa Claus” was the perfect ending to this special as Santa Claus comes sailing into Southtown and all of the children cheer as they realize that Santa didn’t let them down after all.

The story is absolutely wonderful and has a positive message as well as plenty of silly moments.  By thinking about Santa Claus taking a year off, we realize that presents are not the most important part of the holiday.  In fact, when the children realize that Santa is serious, they all send Santa gifts and let him know that they understand, which I thought was really cute.  Of course, Santa saves the day in the end, but he also brings about some extra subplots that kept me Children Giving Presents to Santa Claussmiling throughout the special.  Mrs. Claus sends Jingle and Jangle, two of their dimmest elves, to find some examples of the holiday spirit, but they get into all kinds of trouble.  Their baby reindeer, Vixen, ends up in the pound, where she gets really sick, and they try to ask the mayor for help, but he doesn’t believe they are really elves.  To convince him, they have to make it snow in the southern US, where it never snows.  So Mrs. Claus, Jingle and Jangle travel to the Miser brothers and from there to Mother Nature (voice by Rhoda Mann) to make that happen.  Meanwhile, Santa Claus is trying to find the elves and the reindeer in Southtown, where he meets Ignatious Thistlewhite (voice by Colin Duffy), who is too old and too cool to believe in Santa.  Bottom line is, this special touches on one of the hot spots of Christmas: are you ever too old to believe in Christmas and Santa Claus?

If you have not seen this Christmas special, you are really missing out on a special holiday treat.  It is on TV every year on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas event and is also available on DVD.  Even though it was made in the ‘70s, it is still a classic and has held its age very well.  A must see for the December Christmas holiday!

Content:

There are a few scenes of mild peril.  Recommended for viewers of all ages.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Christmas, Fantasy Movies

The Last Dragon by Silvana De Mari Book Review

The Last Dragon

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Last Dragon by Silvana De Mari

Author: Silvana De Mari
Publisher: Miramax (October 2006)
ISBN: 0786836369, EAN: 9780786836369
Page Count: 368 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: children ages 10 and up
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

When Yorsh’s home in the Elf Reserve floods, he has no choice but to leave and try to figure out a new home for himself.  But Yorsh, born lately, does not fully understand the world of humans and manages to get himself in a lot of trouble before he stumbles across the last dragon in the world.  Safe at last, Yorsh promises the dragon that he will never leave him and so they pass 13 years in peace and utter boredom.  Meanwhile, in the human world, the governor of the city of Daligar has slowly been taking over all other villages.  A young orphan girl, Robi, dreams of a handsome prince who will rescue them on his huge dragon.  When Yorsh finally emerges with the dragon to seek out a young bride for himself, he still doesn’t know much about humans – but that doesn’t keep him from changing the fate of the world…

Review:

This book really felt like two books in one to me.  Indeed, The Last Dragon, is divided into two parts by the author.  I enjoyed the first third of the book (part I) much more than I enjoyed the last two-thirds (part II), which was rather unfortunate as the part I enjoyed the most was the shorter section.  In the first Boy Elfthird, Yorsh, whose real name is very long and sounds like a sneeze or a burp, is a young elf or, as he terms it “born lately.”  His mother died when he was very young and he hardly remembers her.  His father was a great explorer and was killed before Yorsh was born.  Yorsh was raised by his Grandma who chose to die in the flood that leveled his home.  Yorsh doesn’t realize it, but he is the last elf in the land.  He is very lucky to stumble across a human woman and her dog who takes pity on him and allows him to travel with her.  Then a hunter joins them.  Both man and woman quickly regret taking Yorsh along with them as his ignorance gets them into all kinds of trouble!  Of course, the trouble is quite hilarious from a reader’s point of view and I was constantly laughing and smiling over Yorsh’s misadventures here at the beginning.  The last section of the book still had some humorous moments, but Yorsh is now a young man and still very ignorant of the world around him.  When humans see him, he inspires both terror and wonder as humans do not have magic like elves do.  Yorsh doesn’t believe he can perform any great feats, but he can raise small animals from the dead, heal grievous wounds, light fires and much more.  A young human girl named Robi, whom readers will immediately recognize as the daughter of the man and woman who helped Yorsh so long ago, tells part of the story with Yorsh telling the other part.  There is a great deal of suffering and selfishness in the world and it was very sad to read about what one power-hungry man had managed to do to the section of the land that was near Daligar.  I missed Yorsh’s innocence from the beginning of the book and I was concerned as I knew that the book was heading towards a bittersweet ending.  Still, the book was full of fascinating characters and I did enjoy reading about Yorsh’s adventures.

The world that Silvana De Mari has created here was a very original one.  Humans, fearing the elves and their powers, rounded them all up and placed them into Elf Reserves.  They were forced to wear yellow (when everyone knew that the elves’ favorite color was blue) and not allowed to leave the reservation. Elf Warrior What the humans never seemed to understand was that each elf possessed different magical abilities and that they had no need to fear.  It it true that the elves once were fearsome warriors, but now they cannot bear to harm any living being with independent thought.  This includes humans and animals.  Elves no longer consume meat and literally suffer the pains of the dying animals or humans that they slay.  These traits brought quite a bit of levity to the first half of the book as the human man and woman are always trying to sneak food without Yorsh seeing them eat meat!

The dragons were also given a bit of a remake in this book.  Erbrow, the dragon whom Yorsh promises to stay with, is not at all like a typical dragon in fantasy books.  He refuses to leave his cave, cries at the least provocation and cannot even remember his name!  It is only in the second part of the book that we learn that Erbrow was brooding over his egg and that they suffer like this for 13 years while they wait for their dragonet to hatch.  The baby dragon needs a caregiver Green Dragonand Erbrow is relying on Yorsh to provide that care.  One of the most entertaining sections of the second portion of the book was reading about Yorsh’s attempts to teach Erbrow the Younger anything about being a dragon – especially since the baby dragon had already incinerated many of the books in the library and accidentally crushed the other portion with his out-of-control tail.  I really liked Erbrow the Younger as a baby dragon, but I confess that I did not like him as much after he started flying and immediately became aware of all dragon knowledge throughout time.  Still, props to the author for being so creative and original with her revamping of elves and dragons to give this book a fresh, new take on a fairly classic fantasy tale.

I found this book to be more intriguing than likeable.  I kind of have mixed feelings about it, but there was something so creative about The Last Dragon that I gave it a high rating regardless of how I felt at times while I was reading.  The creativity and originality of the book helped raise it at least a star and the delightful humor found inside definitely pushed the rating higher, as well.  Again, as a reader, I found this book a bit frustrating at times, but I think that is because I was expecting Silvana De Marito give me a more traditional fantasy tale so I was never quite sure where she was going to take the characters and the story.  The Last Dragon offers closure, but does not end the tale so I am on the lookout for The Last Elf, which I am assuming is a sequel.  If you enjoy fantasy and are looking for something that is a little bit different with amusing characters and an insidious villain, give The Last Dragon a chance.  Hopefully this author will continue to write and share her talents with us.

Content:

This book contains prejudice and segregation of non-human races.  Good men and women are hanged until dead, imprisoned, starved and treated poorly by the government.  Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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Ellie and the Elven King by Helen Rosburg Book Review

Ellie and the Elven King

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Author: Helen Rosburg
IllustratorFortin & Sanders
Publisher: Medallion Press (November 2003)
ISBN: 0974363901, EAN: 9780974363905
Page Count: 85 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adult
My Rating: 3/5 stars, Disappointing Story with Beautiful Illustrations

Synopsis:

Elliana Munson believes she is trapped in a loveless marriage to a boorish man in modern-day Great Britain. When her beloved sister, Rhiannon, dies and leaves her a fortune plus a horse farm, Elliana acts out for once in her life and leaves with the couple’s only car to fulfill her sister’s dying request. All Rhiannon asks Elliana to do is to mourn her the way the two girls had mourned the death of their mother – by laying down in the fields and letting the horse mares come and help take the pain away.

When Elliana awakens, she believes she still slumbers, as the first sight she sees is two lively and lusty fairies, who don’t seem the least bit dismayed to be caught ‘in the act’ as it were. Deciding that she must still be dreaming, Elliana goes along with her make-believe fairies, who lead her into a magical wood, where Valdemar, the Elven King, rules over his subjects and protects the magical horses in his care.

Elliana is stunned when Valdemar claims that she is to be his next queen. Sure, he is stunningly handsome and everything she always wished for in a man, but he is an Elf! He is also the saddest man she has ever seen and that is because he mourns the loss of his Queen – Elliana’s sister Rhiannon. How can Elliana ever take her beloved sister’s place in the Elvish kingdom? And how can she marry another when she is still wed in the mortal realm?

Review:

I was very excited to read this book as it sounded like such a lovely story and it had some beautiful illustrations, but I was sadly disappointed. The story is very simple and unsatisfactory. Elliana fell in love with Valdemar at first sight and just went along with everything that he said. She had no backbone and was a very simple character, without anything to recommend her. Valdemar was a little more interesting, but mainly because of Fortin & Sanders’ lush illustrations of what they imagined him to look like. The illustrations were by far the best part of this book and are very lovely. I must say that I would certainly have enjoyed the book more if I had not paid so much for it. If you have the opportunity to borrow this from the library, you can read it in less than an hour and will forget the story as quickly as you read it.

Content:

This book is fairly clean with little to no sexual content between the leads, despite being classified as a romance. There are some randy little sprites who keep popping up throughout the book, but they were much more amusing than offensive and they are not the focus of the story. They did bring some welcome comic relief and appear to have no shame to an audience, as it were, but they were also the most sexually active characters in the story. Elliana’s husband is a loser who acts as if she isn’t there and there is no portrayal of a happy marriage. There is no real abuse or anything, but Elliana is definitely treated as a second-class citizen and eventually must decide whether to abandon her husband for a better offer. Nothing inappropriate is portrayed in the illustrations. This book may look like a typical hardcover children’s book, but it is definitely an adult fairy tale appropriate for ages 16 and up.

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