Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mr. White Christmas: The fabulous world of Heat Miser and Snow Miser!!!

The Year without a Santa Claus has got to be hands down the most entertaining Christmas special ever made for television. I know some of you are probably partial to some of the other classics from the golden age of Christmas specials, works such as Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- and I'll admit that both of those beat out The Year without a Santa Claus in terms of overall artistic merit -- but neither can hold a candle to it in terms of random, wacky fun!!!

The Year without a Santa Claus is the show that proves that colorful characters and memorable scenes are far more important than trivialities such as internal consistency or a plot that makes sense.

Who could forget the sweet, clever, and conniving Mrs. Claus? Or the cordial yet no-nonsense Mother Nature (who starts by using gentle persuasion to get her kids to help out, but -- when that doesn't work -- doesn't hesitate to threaten them with lightning bolts, yikes!) Or the Miser brothers? What a pair!!!

Snow Miser controlling the Northern part of the world turning everything into icicles, and his nasty brother Heat Miser keeping the South so hot there was nary a snowflake a year! With their theme castles, their identical miniature dancing minions, and their high-camp rivalry for Mommy's affection, these guys have definitely earned a spot in the canon of beloved Christmas characters. Right up there with the Grinch, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Santa, Rudolph, the baby Jesus, the li'l drummer boy, etc.

Some of you are probably wondering -- given that I claimed that James (from Thomas the Tank Engine) is gay -- if I will also claim that Snow Miser is gay. Because if James the Red Engine is gay, then Snow Miser is really, really gay. Just compare his "I'm Mr. White Christmas" number with his brother's "I'm Mr. Green Christmas" number, and you'll see what I mean. Snow Miser just sparkles with fabulosity!!!

But I think we concluded here that while there's a correlation between gayness and fabulosity, they aren't one and the same. So who knows? Maybe Snow Miser is gay, or maybe he just happens to be fabulous. ;-)

Regarding the plot holes, I'd always assumed that either the writers were on drugs when they wrote this script or they decided to forgo the script thing altogether and just wing it.

Then, while watching the opening credits a couple of years ago, I saw the key that made that little light-bulb of comprehension light up over my little head: the special has a songwriter, plus a screenplay writer, plus it was based on a book by someone else.

This was my answer for why big chunks of the special are written in rhymed verse but most of it isn't. I'd thought they'd started in verse but decided it was too much work and switched to prose, then for fun went back to verse at the end. But maybe it was really that the parts written in verse are quotes from the original text.

What an epiphany! A lot of things that had never made sense were explained by the fact that there were three writers who were not at all on the same wavelength. For example, take a basic question like: How did the kids of the world react when they heard Santa Claus wasn't coming this year? Were they sad? Happy? Indifferent?

Let's ask the song lyrics:

And the children they cried,
they thought Santa had died,
every eye shed a blue Christmas tear.

And what does the rhymed text have to say about it?

Fast as a hurricane children hurled
the happy message around the world.
Over each continent, isle, and isthmus:
"Let's give Santa a Merry Christmas!"

And the screenplay?

Iggy: Hey, you're dressed up like a couple of Christmas elves! Haven't you heard the news? Santa's taking a holiday.
girl: Yeah, it was in all the papers.
Jingle (elf): Well, you don't seem to be very upset about it.
Iggy: Upset? Why should I be upset?
girl: Yeah, what's the big deal?
Jangle (elf): You mean you don't care if Santa Claus comes or not? None of you?
kids: Nah!

I was thrilled by this new insight, and immediately wanted to use textual analysis to divide the special into the components written by the different authors the way the Biblical scholars isolated the "book of J" from the sections written by the other anonymous authors of the first part of the Old Testament. (Yes, I know, I should be telling this to a psychiatrist and not to a blog, but blogging is cheaper...)

This idea explained annoying contradictions like the fact that the opening song recounts what Santa says when he wakes up on the day decides to cancel Christmas. Then the prose dialog shows the same scene, and it's completely different!!

Plus the one that bugged me most as a kid: Mrs. Claus does this whole song-and-dance routine explaining her plan to dress up as Santa Claus -- saying specifically "I'll make sure they only see me from the back!" Yet (in the spoken dialog) when the elves recognize her from the front she immediately decides she might as well scrap the whole plan and move on to plan B...

I developed a whole elaborate theory about which parts of the script were paraphrased from the original, and which parts were made up by the screenwriter. As a guide, I assumed that original made sense, and blamed the screenwriter's additions to explain oddities like "Why is it Heat Miser and Snow Miser instead of Heat Miser and Cold Miser? Why does Snow Miser say they're 'step-brothers' if they have the same mom? Why are they called misers since they don't hoard heat or snow for themselves but instead do exactly the opposite?"

I know, I know, you've got the shrink's number handy, but hear me out. The thing is that once you notice this show is treasure-trove of non-sequiturs, it becomes a fun game to try to find as many of them as you can. I'll be listing some more below, so if you want to play, stop reading now and go watch it again!!! See if you can find more of them than I did!!!

I especially hoped to figure out an explanation for the fact that the main reason they go see the miser brothers in the first place is to free their reindeer from the dog pound. Yet Santa takes care of that problem before they even set off. Also, after they make such a huge deal about the bargain being "one day of snow in Southtown in exchange for one Spring day at the North Pole," how come it was snowy for more than one day in Southtown? And whatever happened to that warm day at the North Pole? Oops...

After devising an elaborate theory about which parts of the prose screenplay were possibly paraphrasings from the book (and posting the theory in even more excruciatingly boring detail than this to exmo-social), it hit me that the division was simpler than I'd thought: Now I suspect that none of the prose dialog was based on the book. I got this idea when I noticed that if you just take all of the verse parts and paste them together, they make a complete and coherent story alone. I think the writers of the special basically copy-pasted the whole book into the script, but since it wasn't nearly long or interesting enough for a special, they just made up that entire sub-plot about the elves going to Southtown and then meeting the Miser brothers and Mother Nature and all that.

This second realization meant that to explain the truck-sized holes in the screenplay I'd have to go back to my "on drugs" and "making it up as they went along" theories. One of my favorite non-sequiturs is entirely confined to the prose dialog: Upon arriving in Southtown, the elves get a citation for (among other things) "wearing funny looking suits on a Sunday." From there they go to the school to talk to the kids. And there they find the all kids of the town in attendance. But wait, wasn't it Sunday?

You end up so confused by the story that you don't even notice the weird ethnocentricities like the fact that "the northern part of the world" is cold and the southern part hot, or that children of every country celebrate Christmas, or that there are no black people at all in Southtown, U.S.A. Or even random weirdities like the fact that when the mom discovers some strange man talking to her young son, her immediate reaction is to invite him in and offer him some tea. Um... Okay....

Now if you've read this far without ever having seen The Year without a Santa Claus, you're probably wondering why I would find it amusing to tear apart such an easy target. But the thing is that -- in spite of all of this -- it's a fun piece to watch. The same writers that filled it with nonsense are the ones that created those fabulous characters and scenes. It's kind of like Plan 9 from Outer Space that way, only perhaps a tad more professional.

The fact that it doesn't need to make sense in order to delight is part of its magic. :D


Sean Carter said...

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Kalv1n said...

WHere oh WHERE can I get a copy of this on DVD. I think my favorite part was thinking of children being hurled by a hurricane, and that was even within something that sort of made sense!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kalvin!!!

I think it's pretty easy to find wherever DVDs are sold, particularly this time of year. And definitely worth it -- if nostalgia motivates you to pick up a Christmas special this year, make it this one!!! :D

AnnM said...

Too funny. I'd probably have played it a little dryer, but that probably explains why most people don't recognize my humor.

Glad to have you back.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, this is hilarious!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Noell!!!

And thanks Sam-I-Am!!!

That reminds me -- when are you going to be up and blogging again? I was very sad when I finally had to move your blog to the "Irregulars" category in my sidebar... ;-)

-Domokun- said...

That is one of my favorite Christmas movies! So much that a couple of years ago I bought it and had my kids watch it with me. They weren't as favorably impressed with it as I was, until the Misers started fighting, then my boy perked up and started to pay attention.

I agree about all of the plot holes, but if you analyze ANY children's movie, it's the same thing. After watching Mary Poppins for about the twentieth time, you start to think that Mary Poppins is pretty messed up, and doesn't exactly teach the kids very good values, and isn't that great of a nanny.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Domokun!!!

My kids like the fighting part too!!!

It's true the writers of a lot of children's stories aren't that careful to make the plot make sense, but some are worse than others...

I agree with you about Mary Poppins, but if I understand correctly, the character in the book she's based on was actually worse...

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I was forced to sit and watch this and couldn't stand it. I'm sorry. Am I a scrooge?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey SML!!!

Yep, you're a scrooge!!!

J/K, I guess you don't have to like it, but the fact that somebody might not like this special goes against all of my theories of film aesthetics... ;-)

C. L. Hanson said...


Anonymous said...

Personally I've never considered analyzing Christmas specials to determine whether the characters are gay or not.

However, not everything you've pointed out as a *non sequitur* is a non sequitur -- non sequitur simply means "It does not follow."

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinsiter Porpoise!!!

I'm mostly joking about guessing whether fictional characters are gay or not...

Also, I know that non sequitur means "it does not follow." The one plot oddity I called a "non sequitur" was that it was Sunday, yet later that day ordinary school was in session. It seems to me that that doesn't follow, but perhaps I should have just called it an inconsistency?

C. L. Hanson said...

I'm getting some search queries for the lyrics of the "Mr. White Christmas" and "Mr. Green Christmas" numbers, so as a public service here they are:

I'm Mr. White Christmas
I'm Mr. Snow
I'm Mr. Icicle
I'm Mr. ten-below!
Friends call me Snow Miser,
whatever I touch
turns to snow in my clutch!
I'm too much!

I never wanna know a day that's over forty degrees!
I'd rather have it thirty, twenty, ten, nine
and let it freeze!

(The chorus repeats the initial stanza: He's Mr. White Christmas, etc.)


I'm Mr. Green Christmas
I'm Mr. Sun
I'm Mr. Heat Blister
I'm Mr. hundred-and-one!
They call me Heat Miser,
whatever I touch
starts to melt in my clutch
I'm too much!

I never wanna know a day that's under sixty degrees!
I'd rather have it eighty, ninety, one hundred degrees!

(aside: Oh some like it hot, but I like it reeeeeeeally hot!! Ooo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!!!)

(Chorus repeats He's Mr. Green Christmas, etc.)

By the way, that reminds me of another ethnocentricity of the film I forgot to mention: Snow Miser and Heat Miser measure temperature in Farenheit... ;-)

MyWeeklyMTObsession said...

OMG I have been obsessed with this for years and the Heat and "Snow" vs Cold has ALWAYS bothered me.