The original version of The Year Without a Santa Claus may not have been one of the very best Christmas classics. It must not have been terribly popular -- given that it took quite a while to come out on DVD, and was packaged with a couple of other obscure holiday titles when it was eventually released. Still, it deserved better than this remake.
John Goodman as Santa was about the only good casting choice. Some (Delta Burke) others are okay. Others (Chris Kattan -- "Mango" as an elf?) are just awful.
Jack LaLanne plays a retired Hercules. He and some other non-Christmas-related mythical figures appear in the movie. Maybe it was an homage to The Santa Clause, which featured the mythological characters such as the Tooth Fairy.
Carol Kane (the abusive Ghost of Christmas Present from Scrooged -- "the b**** hit me with a toaster") plays Mother Nature, and does basically the same character. She abuses Heat Miser, Cold Miser, and Chris Kattan's elf character in the same way she abused Bill Murray's character in Scrooged. Come to think of it, maybe that was an odd homage.
Examples of "updates" to the plot and lines, from my notes hastily scribbled during the show:
* The plucky mayor of Southtown is faced with a couple of slick salesmen trying to sell a big retail center (read: WalMart or large mall) in the town, but refuses them because "this town has a history" (the shysters' reply: "ghost towns have histories, too"). The town must hold a Christmas festival to raise money for their "endowment," so that they don't have to let the retail center into town. ("Hollywood has no agenda," part 1)
* In the remake, Iggy is the neglected child of the too-busy Mayor. In the original, Iggy had a non-dysfunctional family and the mayor was unrelated. In the original, the snow in Southtown is for the sake of convincing the Mayor of the elves' sincerity; in the remake the snow is intended to shut down the town so that the Mayor will have to spend time with his son. ("Hollywood has no agenda," part 2)
* Jingle: "What are we doing here?" Jangle: "It's a school; it's where kids hang out. Don't you watch South Park?"
* Heat Miser (attacking Cold Miser): "How's that for Shock and Awe?"
* In the original, Heat Miser and Cold Miser's "minions" were smaller versions of themselves. In the remake, they're scantily clad dancers.
* In the remake, Jingle and Jangle end up in an arcade playing, among other things, Dance Dance Revolution Extreme. The elves can break the laws of physics -- jump high a la The Matrix, get astoundingly good scores on video games. In the original, they were lost and stuck, but in the remake their super-powers make it harder to believe that their predicament is dire.
* Heat Miser vs. Cold Miser in a boxing match.
* Instead of Mrs. Claus going to Cold Miser for help, Santa Claus confronts the Miser Brothers over shooting down his elves. Instead of going to Mother Nature as a last resort, Santa summons her into the boxing ring to deal with her problem children.
* When Santa goes to pick up Vixen from the dog pound... Santa: "I remember you from when you were young." Dogcatcher: "I'm still waiting for that BB gun, Santa." Santa: "You'll shoot your eye out." (An homage to A Christmas Story?)
General thoughts about the remake:
* The original plot is essentially gone. In the original, Santa proves he is real by making it snow in Southtown. The Mayor declares Christmas a holiday for Santa -- sanctioning him to skip Christmas deliveries for a year, as he wished to do. All the kids around the world send letters and presents to Santa, reversing the usual pattern. Santa is moved to not skip Christmas by this outpouring of Christmas spirit. In the remake, Santa is moved by the mention of how the kids in the homeless shelter will miss him. ("Hollywood has no agenda," part 3). Christmas spirit as a motivation is replaced by guilt.
* The second-best song from the original ("So You're Too Old For Santa Claus") is missing from the remake. The best original song ("Heat Miser / Cold Miser") is butchered. The best "borrowed" song (Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas") is missing as well.
* In the remake, Chris Kattan's elf character tries to take over Christmas delivery, in the absence of Santa ("Sparky was my slave name; I'm Extreme Santa now"). He's the head elf -- "the CEO" of the toy-making company. But he is picketed by several elves who demand the real Santa make the deliveries, and then threatens to fire all elves who don't cooperate with him. ("Hollywood has no agenda," part 4). Apparently the remake is not "The Year Without A Santa Claus" so much as "The Year With A Substitute Evil Elf Santa Claus." I wonder why they didn't go with that more honest title.
Who could have read this script and believed it was a good idea to get involved with this project? It was available on DVD within days of being broadcast.
Maybe I'm approaching it with the wrong attitude, and this was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek romp with homages to several different Christmas specials. But why sully the memory of the original by taking its title, and then not even having an actual year without a Santa Claus as the plot?
My recommendation: if you're looking for a DVD, buy the original version The Year Without a Santa Claus / Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey / Rudolph's Shiny New Year instead, it's a fraction of the cost (as of the time of this writing) and about a thousand times better. If you just want to listen to the Heat Miser / Cold Miser song, check out Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's version on the album Everything You Want for Christmas.