Before we dive into the review of 'The Original Christmas Classics,' it is important to note that the review you are about to read is of the original three-disc release by ClassicMedia. Apparently, in the last year or so, they've changed this release to a two-disc one, but the actual content on the release remains unchanged to the best of my knowledge.
If you were lucky enough to be a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, no Christmas holiday was complete without the airing of the Rankin-Bass holiday classics. Although they created a few traditional animation projects (one of which is on this release), their claim to fame was stop-motion animation. Combined with some great acting talent and memorable songs, many of their projects became classics, including the headliner of this Blu-ray release and their very first stop-motion production: 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'
It's perhaps been lost in history, but Rudolph was originally created by the Montgomery Ward department store chain as a Christmas giveaway book promotion way back in 1939. Of course, Rudolph really took off in popularity when the story was adapted into a song (the first version being sung by Gene Autry in 1949), and the Rankin-Bass stop-motion special in 1964 would help make the shiny nosed mammal a permanent part of Christmas folklore.
I'm guessing there are very few of you who haven't seen 'Rudolph' at least once in your life, so I won't rehash the story in this review. Needless to say, everything's here in its original uncut version, including Rudolph, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snow Monster, and those great, great tunes sung by the late Burl Ives (playing the narrator of the story, Sam the Snowman).
Disc two of this three-disc set brings us 'Frosty The Snowman,' one of Rankin-Bass' traditionally animated specials. While only half as long as 'Rudolph' (at around 25 minutes), it takes the classic 'Frosty The Snowman' song (again, first sung by Gene Autry just a year after his 'Rudolph' hit) and turns it into a bigger story with a magician named Professor Hinkle trying to get his magic hat back from Frosty, and a young schoolgirl named Karen befriending the big lump of snow and trying to help him out by getting him to a colder climate before he melts.
Disc three contains the stop-motion 'Santa Claus is Comin' To Town,' which remains one of the best Santa origin stories ever told. In this one, the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger has banned toys (he hates children) and it's up to a young Kris Kringle (who comes from a family of toymakers) to both return joy to the kids of his hometown and find his true destiny for children around the world. While 'Rudolph' is easily the most popular special in this set, 'Santa Claus is Comin' To Town' gets my vote for the most original and best-written (although 'Rudolph' still has the better songs).
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Each special comes in its own blu-ray case housed within a cardboard slip case. As noted at the onset of this review, ClassicMedia has now changed the release to just two discs instead of three. The menus for each movie include options for chapter selection and audio selection. p>
While all three specials have been upgraded to HD, none of them are in spectacular condition, although all three look better than what is currently available on DVD or what is being broadcast on television.
'Rudolph' looks the nicest of the three, although there is still a lot of visible dirt and defects on the print (especially obvious when white snow is in the scene), while 'Santa Claus' is just a step down in quality from 'Rudolph.' It's hard to say if 'Frosty' looks duller than it should or if it has always looked this way, but the colors just don't "pop" for me like you'd think a traditionally animated movie would, and it also shows visible defects in the print.
All that said, this is still the best-looking version of these specials you can find, but one wishes (especially in the case of 'Rudolph') that the time and money could have been invested for a frame by frame restoration to provide generations to come with something truly spectacular.
The audio is presented in English 5.1 Dolby True HD, as well as English 2.0 Stereo and Spanish and French mono for all three specials, with the exception of 'Frosty,' which inexplicably does not contain a French track. The audio is fairly crisp and clear, but not very active, so I'm not sure we're getting a whole lot more from the 5.1 tracks as we are the basic 2.0 ones.
There's no doubt that these are three well-loved Christmas classics, but the rather average video/audio transfer here and the almost inexcusable lack of bonus materials lead me to suggest renting these instead of buying them. Heck, you might as well just set your DVR if you see one of these being aired, as you're not going to get a whole lot more in terms of quality with these discs.