For my previous post, I reviewed the Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas special from 1974, The Year Without a Santa Claus. This time, I’m reviewing A Miser Brothers’ Christmas from 2008 (made not by Rankin/Bass, but by the new owners, Warner Bros). Capitalizing on the Miser Brothers’ popularity (34 years later…), we all know why this movie was made. (*cough* money *cough*) Nevertheless, I can at least appreciate the fact that they still made the movie using stop motion (rather than CGI or something), plus they got the same voice actors for Santa Claus and Heat Miser (Mickey Rooney and George S. Irving, respectively). Seeing as both men were in their 80’s at the time, that’s some dedication! Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Mrs. Claus or Snow Miser, as their respective voice actors (Shirley Booth and Dick Shawn) had passed away before this movie was made.
As expected, the Miser Brothers play a much bigger role this time around, along with a newly introduced character, their brother the North Wind (super obvious villain alert), for whom they both have a mutual animosity. North Wind, as your typical, self-absorbed bad guy (complete with a massive chin, a staple when it comes to this category of villainy) wants to take over Santa Claus’ job so that he can get all the attention and adoration that Old Saint Nick himself receives. But in order to get Santa out of the way, he sabotages Santa’s new sleigh and tries to make it appear as if the Miser Brothers’ feuding was responsible. For whatever reason, North Wind is supposed to take over if Santa Claus is incapacitated (because the North Pole is supposedly in his territory…even if the North Pole was technically under Snow Miser’s control in the first movie), but to punish the Miser Brothers for presumably shooting Santa out of the sky, Mother Nature decides they should take over Santa’s job this year, while Santa recovers from his back injury. I gotta say, considering these two are infamous for fighting with each other, I’m not sure how she expected this to work.
And so, of course, the expected antics ensue.
My biggest issue with this movie was the fact that it was aimed more at younger kids rather than a general, whole family sort of audience. In fact, much more than just the tone has changed, and none of it was really for the better, save for some smoother animation. For example, all the character designs have changed, with many of the characters now sporting these beady, little eyes. The new version of Mrs. Claus is kind of…creepy, and Mother Nature is completely unrecognizable. The only character who wasn’t drastically different was Heat Miser, though I feel like they made him…cuter or something? Was that really a change his character needed?
The most egregious change for me, however, was Snow Miser, who was my favorite from the first movie. His new appearance isn’t terrible, to be honest, though I’m not quite sure what was wrong with him before. His new voice and altered personality, however, are the worst things about him. I understand why they had to use a different voice actor, but they didn’t even try to find someone who sounded similar. His new voice is way too high-pitched, and he doesn’t even seem like the same character. Sure, he’s still hammy like the old Snow Miser, but he’s also way more obnoxious and immature. I can see why Heat Miser hates him. I kind of hated him, too.
Well, after a lot of fighting and rivalry, Mrs. Claus is able to convince the Miser Brothers to get along with each other by singing a rather painful song about brothers. Ugh, I’m sorry, but the music wasn’t very good in this movie, either. But hey, I’m being rather negative, and since we’re on the topic of music, let’s try for a few positives, eh?
As was the case with The Year Without a Santa Claus, the best song in the whole movie is the Miser Brothers’ song. (Though, without Snow Miser’s original voice actor, or a replacement that comes close, even this pales in comparison to the original. I know, I’m sorry; I said I was going to be positive.) So the Miser Brothers sing their song twice in this movie, complete with some fun animation to go alongside it. (This was the only time I actually liked Snow Miser. Sure, I still wasn’t a fan of his voice, but at least he was entertaining to watch.) The second time is when they’re getting along, so to change things up a bit, they sing the other’s half of the song, which is actually a nice touch.
While my overly analytical self still questions how quickly the pair managed to overcome what was surely millennia of fighting, I still really liked seeing the two actually being nice to each other for a change. The movie did have some funny moments, as well. I enjoyed one scene in particular during the family reunion when Heat Miser says that Snow Miser has been trying to give global warming a bad name, after which they argue over the names they gave to Iceland and Greenland. (Huh, I guess that finally clears up that conundrum….) All right, so I have to admit that, despite all my complaining about how much I dislike this new version of Snow Miser, both Miser Brothers are still, without question, the most entertaining aspect of the movie.
The rest of the movie goes pretty much the way you’d expect. North Wind screws things up by turning the brothers against each other again. North Wind is exposed for being the true culprit behind this whole mess (the way this happens is really lazy, though…). Having made up yet again, the brothers deliver presents in Santa’s place. And though they’re finally working together for realsies this time, Heat Miser admits with a smile on his face that he still can’t stand his brother, to which Snow Miser amicably agrees that the feeling’s mutual. Oh, and they both end up on the nice list for the first time, though I can’t imagine why two immortal beings, who have likely been around since the dawn of time, would really care about such trifles. (I mean, Heat Miser called Santa and his elves “goody-goodies” in the first movie and tried to shoot Jingle, Jangle, and Vixen out of the sky. While Snow Miser just watched and laughed. Clearly not two people concerned with being on Santa’s good side.)
As you most assuredly have noticed by now, I have mixed feelings about this movie. It was admittedly entertaining to watch (except for Mrs. Claus’ song about brothers, which still causes me physical pain because of the sheer amount of cringe), and for a Christmas special aimed at kids rather than a general audience, it could have been a lot worse. Nevertheless, as much as I liked seeing the Miser Brothers getting along, it did seem pretty forced considering what we know about these characters, plus I don’t really like when characters’ personalities are altered just to squeeze them into the desired narrative. (But there I go again, over-analyzing fictional characters from Christmas specials made for children. Because that’s just who I am.)
The original, though over three decades older, is always going to be the more memorable of the two movies, and I just wish modern studios understood that entertainment for children doesn’t have to be overly saccharine or goofy. Going back to my problem with Snow Miser, it felt like they changed him because they thought a silly voice and annoying personality would be more appealing to kids rather than just leaving his original personality intact. I know plenty of people watched the original Year Without a Santa Claus as children, and the Miser Brothers were everyone’s favorite part. They were so memorable, in fact, that people who had forgotten the name of the movie would describe it as “that one with the Miser Brothers”. Why change such universally adored characters unless Warner Bros either lost faith in the source material…or in the ability of modern children to appreciate these characters just as their parents did back in the ’70’s?
The old Christmas specials from decades ago had a certain magic that the new ones lack. I really enjoyed The Year Without a Santa Claus, and I plan for it to become a new yearly tradition of mine. A Miser Brothers’ Christmas really wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it falls into the same trap as so many other examples of children’s entertainment. By being mindless, generic fluff. Harmless, sure, but without any real substance. Just because something is child-friendly, that doesn’t mean it has to be childish.
Well, dear readers, I’d like to hear your thoughts on these movies. Has anyone else seen A Miser Brothers’ Christmas? If so, what did you think of it? Which Miser Brother was your favorite from the original, and did your opinion change while watching the sequel?