I love stop animation. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for December to roll around so I could watch Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus — heck, even the Little Drummer Boy. I had no choice but to wait; there was no streaming, no DVDs or video tapes. (Yeah, I’m old.) Even if there had been, my mother would have confined such Christmas delights to the Christmas season, which officially began when Santa showed up at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ended on New Year’s Day. There was no way she’d have allowed us to listen to a Christmas album in July; that would be diluting the special time that was Christmastime.
These days, diluting holidays or other special things is what America is all about, which is why you can buy Halloween decorations and Christmas decorations at the same time. But that’s for another rant. This rant is about how Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, founders of Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc., and purveyors of wonderful stop-motion and animated holiday specials, added additional characters to the story The Year Without a Santa Claus and got those characters wrong.
First off, it may be more accurate to say that William J. Keenan got it wrong, since he is the one credited with writing the 1974 teleplay for The Year Without a Santa Claus, which was based on the 1956 rhyming story of the same name by Phyllis McGinley. Ultimately though, it was a Rankin/Bass production, so I’m choosing to blame them.
McGinley’s original book tells the story of how Santa awakes feeling a bit under the weather and decides he needs a vacation and will take Christmas off. When the news gets out, children around the world are distraught until one young go-getter, Ignatius Thistlewhite, declares it’s only fair that Santa takes a break and proceeds to organize a worldwide movement of children sending gifts and well-wishes to the jolly fat-man, which is extremely impressive when you realize this was before social media and, for a lot of people, phones. Eventually, Santa, overwhelmed by all the good cheer and lack of space to store both the presents sent to him and the ones already in his inventory, decides to do the right thing and make his annual trek around the world. In the end, Thistlewhite’s giant guilt trip pays off.
The Rankin/Bass stop-motion special loosely follows McGinley’s story but adds a number of new characters throughout, most notably Heat Miser and his brother Snow Miser, who control the weather over parts of the world when not singing catchy show tunes. As you learn fairly quickly once they make their appearances, the brothers are opposites who don’t really get along.
Perhaps I’m being a bit pedantic here, but if they’re opposites, shouldn’t their names be Heat Miser and Cold Miser? Ultimately, even if their first names had been more appropriate, that wouldn’t fix the bigger issue I have with the characters. It’s a pretty big error in my opinion, but one that is perpetually overlooked or ignored due to the wonders of stop-motion and and a well-crafted earworm.
Their surname is Miser.
Their names don’t make sense. Miser implies they are stingy. Their full names suggest that Heat Miser is stingy with heat, and Snow Miser is stingy with snow. That is far from the case. Snow Miser wants everything to be cold and snowy. He doesn’t hold back nor does he want to. Heat Miser would make everything a 101 degrees if he could. Based on their names, however, Snow Miser should be hoarding snow; he should never want to part with his precious frozen water, and Heat Miser should never want to share his heat, like Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of A Christmas Carol or my brother anytime I’ve been to his home in the winter.
Who knows why they named those two characters the way they did. It was probably an honest mistake that everyone just rolled with, especially once they wrote the song. Heat Waster and Snow Waster probably wouldn’t have had the same impact, though they would have been more appropriate and still fit the syllable requirements. In the end, I suppose it really doesn’t matter how the names came to be. They are what they are and have been delighting children and adults alike for nearly 50 years, which is almost as long as it took me to realize that Rankin & Bass got it wrong.