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Western Animation / 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

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...not even a mouse...

This animated Christmas Special from Rankin/Bass Productions, which first aired on CBS in 1974, uses Clement Clarke Moore's famous poem as a hook for telling the story of one turn-of-the century American family and their Mouse World counterparts.

The plot begins when every piece of mail to Santa from the town of Junctionville comes back marked "Return to Sender." One family of mice investigates and soon discovers that Santa was offended by a letter to the editor published in the local newspaper which called him a fraud ("P.S. – The reindeer are phony, too!"). Father Mouse (George Gobel) quickly realizes that his know-it-all son Albert (Tammy Grimes) and his friends wrote the letter (and signed it "All of Us"), bringing the wrath of Ol' Saint Nick down on the town.

In an attempt at damage control, human clockmaker Joshua Trundle (Joel Grey) volunteers to modify the town's clock into a singing clock in hopes of mollifying Santa. Things go from bad to worse when the clock publicly malfunctions during its debut, but in the end – with help from a Jerkass Realization on Albert's part – Santa has a change of heart and brings Christmas to Junctionville after all.

Unlike most R/B productions, this features 2D ink-and-paint animation, rather than their usual Stop Motion "Animagic".

Not to be confused with the 2004 HBO special 'Twas the Night.

The special contains the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original poem just consists of a family settling down to sleep on Christmas Eve, when the father hears Santa Claus arrive and then observes him coming and going. This special, of course, gives the father a name and identity (Joshua Trundle the clockmaker), and adds an entire plot leading up to Christmas Eve, of which Santa's arrival is the climax and denouement. The poem's passing mention of "...not even a mouse" is also expanded on, as Father Mouse and his son Albert are just as important as the human characters.
  • Authority in Name Only: The Mayor has shades of this. He talks a lot, but other people are the ones who get things done.
  • Brought to You by the Letter "S": Albert wears a sweater and, later, a baseball cap with the letter M, most likely standing for "Mouse".
  • Celestial Deadline: The townsfolk are operating on the assumption that Santa will pass over their community at precisely midnight on Christmas Eve/Day.
  • Christmas Special: It's in the very title.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe:
    • The driving problem behind the plot is that Albert doesn't believe in Santa. His father tries to musically persuade him to believe in pretty much every legendary character affiliated with a holiday.
    • Joshua Trundle's clock tower project is similar — a public display of faith which will convince Santa that the town does believe in him.
  • Clock Tower: Where Trundle wishes to install his singing clock.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Zig-zagged. The Mayor's actually using his large words correctly, but he gets frustrated partway through his sentences and cuts to the point.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Albert's letter to the newspaper: "Santa Claus is a fraudulent myth, rooted in unconscious fantasies and emerging as a deceitful lie. P.S. The reindeer are phony too."
  • Depending on the Artist: Despite Rankin-Bass having done normal versions of Santa since Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this version is vastly different, with lead designer Paul Coker Jr. eschewing the usual full-facial beard for something more akin to an Amish beard without a mustache and being short and stocky, with an elflike appearance.
    • Another case is Trundle's daughter, whose outfit switches between pink and yellow a few times before settling on yellow.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: "Give Your Heart a Try"
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Really, Albert's fascination with the model should have been a warning to Father Mouse to keep him away from the real clock.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point:
    • Albert refuses to believe that Santa is real, even though all it takes to demonstrate he's real is looking up to the sky on Christmas.
    • Santa himself assumes that a letter decrying him as a fake, anonymously signed as "All Of Us," actually means "all of us in Junctionville".
  • Easily Condemned: Seriously, the townsfolk are much harder on Mr. Trundle (an established and respected tradesman) than is remotely justified in response to a failed demo.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • It could be argued that Santa never intended to hold a grudge against Junctionville after all. He's convinced to visit the town when he hears the clock playing the song... and he just so happens to have gifts for the town residents in his sleigh. Maybe he just wanted them to sweat a little.
    • Subverted with Albert. When he tearfully apologizes, his father tells him, "It's not enough to be sorry. You have to correct the thing you did." This inspires Albert to fix the clock - not because he believes in Santa, but because he's realized he has to make up for his accidental sabotage. Later, Father praises Albert's willingness to fix the clock with his mechanical know-how.
    • The citizens of Junctionville, particularly the Trundles, are quick to forgive Santa too, given that he was punishing all of them for the acts of a few malcontents.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Character example — the father of the mouse family is named... Father Mouse. Even Mr. Trundle calls him that.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Santa's existence is a demonstrable fact in this special. He makes no effort to hide himself when making deliveries, can receive (and return) mail, and even has switchboard operators representing him at the North Pole that you can call up at any time. Doesn't stop Albert from disbelieving.
    • Might also count as Arbitrary Skepticism. You live in a world of sentient talking mice, but think Santa Claus is ridiculous?
    • Albert also claims that "grown-ups never believe in Santa". Hard to see where he got that idea, since literally every grown-up in the special professes belief — even the pompous mayor authorizes a massive public works project just to please the jolly old elf.
  • From Bad to Worse: After the clock dramatically malfunctions, no one wants to give Joshua Trundle any work. Not only is Santa not bringing any gifts this year, he can't pay his bills or feed his family. This also affects the resident mice, since "meals don't fall from empty tables."
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Albert is ultimately able to fix the clock using a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, a book, and his determination.
  • The Grinch: Albert, who writes a mean-spirited letter denouncing Santa and his reindeer as "a fraudulent myth rooted in unconscious fantasies and emerging as a deceitful lie," signing the letter from "All of Us".
  • Have a Gay Old Time: ABC Family initially removed "Give Your Heart a Try" because of Father Mouse's "How about just about everything that makes a holiday gay?", but they put it back for later airings.
  • How We Got Here: The bulk of the story is told in flashback by Father Mouse in the three minutes before midnight.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Somewhat similar to the famous "War Room" example.
    The Mayor: A citizen? They're not allowed in here, this is public property!
  • Insufferable Genius: Albert, prior to his Character Development.
  • It's All My Fault: Albert tearfully blames himself for breaking the clock as he confesses to Father Mouse about what he had done.
  • Jerkass Realization: Albert doesn't regret his actions until he sees the family he wronged singing a song about how they need to keep their hopes up, do what they can, and try to have faith that things will turn out okay.
  • Just in Time: Subverted in that Albert doesn't get the clock working until about a minute after the midnight deadline, but Santa still hears the music and is convinced to visit the town.
  • Karma Houdini: Albert wrote the offending letter along with his friends, who never appear in the special.
  • The Kirk: Arguably, Trundle, who is in touch with his emotions but approaches the problem from a logical standpoint to try and fix things.
  • Letters to the Editor: The plot is kickstarted by one, an incredibly mean one written by Albert and his friends in which they decry Santa Claus as a fraud and a myth. All of the drama that ensues happens because they don't sign their names, but rather sign it as "All Of Us" — and Santa assumes that it means all of us in Junctionville.
  • MacGuffin: The clock.
  • Magic Countdown: Father Mouse stops to deliver the How We Got Here flashback at three minutes to Christmas. Fifteen minutes later the flashback ends and it is now three seconds to midnight.
  • Manly Tears: Father Mouse sheds a few and Joshua Trundle sheds one during the finale.
  • The McCoy: Father Mouse, who tries to teach his older son to "give [his] heart a try."
  • Measuring the Marigolds: In "Give Your Heart a Try," Albert is admonished to stop "asking why" so much and just enjoy life.
  • Mouse World: Which, unusually for the trope, freely interacts with the human one.
  • Must Make Amends: Albert, once he decides to fix the clock.
  • Narrator: The credits say this special is "Told & Sung by Joel Grey", who plays Joshua Trundle, but Father Mouse tells most of the story. Trundle only narrates the original Clement Moore poem at the beginning and end.
  • No Name Given: Most of the cast, including Trundle's two children and Albert's mouse siblings.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: The implication seems to be that most of the humans have a rodent equivalent who does the same job right alongside them. Trundle has Father Mouse helping in the clock shop; the postman has a mail mouse who makes deliveries to the mice at every stop, and so on.
  • Not So Above It All: Albert starts dancing near the end of "Give Your Heart A Try". When he realizes he's getting into the spirit, he stops, and gives an unimpressed look to the camera.
  • Santa Claus: Convincing him to come to town is the object of the story.
  • Santa Clausmas: The religious meaning of the holiday never once enters into things. If Santa cannot be persuaded to return to Junctionville, it's simply taken for granted that there will be no Christmas.
    • To further emphasize this, on Christmas Eve some of the townspeople are shown singing "Silent Night" – one of the most overtly religious Christmas carols – while holding a vigil for Santa Claus at the clock tower. Yes, a song about the birth of Jesus is being used to try and summon Santa.
  • Santa's Existence Clause: Albert doesn't believe in Santa Claus and claims no other grown-up does. This is despite the fact that Santa's existence is treated as a fact by every other person, and they freely interact with Old Saint Nick.
  • Saving Christmas: Santa takes a personal dislike to everyone in Junctionville because of the actions of a few, and a dramatic gesture intended to make amends goes awry, forcing the original culprit to fix both of his mistakes.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The Mayor strives for this, but usually runs out of steam midway through. Similarly, Albert's penchant for Little Professor Dialogue is what makes Father Mouse realize who wrote the letter that so offended Santa.
  • Single Tear: Joshua Trundle sheds one when he blows out his candle at midnight.
  • Sleeping Single: Averted, which is a bit surprising with the apparent time period. Both Joshua Trundle and Father Mouse share their beds with their wives.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Albert, who has several indicators of being a TV Genius, is one of the only characters in the special who wears glasses.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Father Mouse figures out that Albert was the one who wrote the letter because his son is the only person he knows that is so verbose.
  • The Spock: Albert, for a large portion of the special.
  • Stepford Smiler: Joshua Trundle becomes this on Christmas Eve, leading his children in a happy song about keeping faith and doing what you can... even though he knows there's nothing he can do and probably nothing to believe in.
  • Straw Vulcan: Albert, who repeatedly rejects the concept of thinking with his heart and that Santa Claus is real, even though the existence of Santa Claus is an objective fact in this world.
  • Sublime Rhyme: Trundle reads the Clement Clark Moore poem out loud, thus also resulting in a Title Drop.
  • Tears of Remorse: Albert cries as he admits to his father that he broke the musical clock.
  • Techno Babble: Albert spouts off several clock-related scientific terms, which his father doesn't begin to understand and refers to as "algebry."
  • To Make a Long Story Short: The mayor frequently makes long speeches on the subject at hand before giving up and making his actual point in two or three words. It's suggested that he can start well but never knows how to end his florid sentences and ham-fistedly resorts to Layman's Terms.
    You may build your clock, Mr. Trundle, and may the enchanting tones of its melody soar to the pinnacle of the celestial heights, where— ooh, aw, heck, get started!
  • Token Minority: In this case, an entire Token Minority family. Among all of the white families, there is one black family.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Each human family appears to have one son and one daughter, who look like little clones of their parents. The parents in each family also bear uncomfortable resemblance to their spouses.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Father Mouse's well-intentioned attempt to convince Albert that adults believe in Santa by showing him Trundle's clock leads to Albert messing up said clock while studying it. This ends up making things rough for the Trundles, for a while.
  • Vague Age: Albert is young, but he could be anywhere from a young child to a teenager. Heck, he could even be old enough to be starting university. All we can determine from what we're shown is that he's older than his brother and sister. (Father Mouse calls him "my older boy, Albert" when speaking to Trundle.) His voice is unchanged, since it's provided by a woman, but it's low enough to sound as if it's just on the verge of changing.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: All the mail is addressed to the residents of "Junctionville, U.S.A."


Father Mouse

Three minutes before midnight...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

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